Whisky Review #65: Glenfarclas 105 Cask Strength

Glenfarclas is a distillery that is well known for two things: Quality sherried whisky and one hell of an independent streak. They tend to make whisky according to their exacting specifications and the quality is of such a good level that it is actually a fairly important component in several of the largest blended whiskies out there.

I realised that the only expression of Glenfarclas that I had previously reviewed was the stellar 25 Years Old (which remains my favourite of the range), so it was only fair that another review of the distillery’s produce was warranted.

But before we get stuck in, let’s delve into the history of one of the most resilient distilleries out there.

The distillery was founded in 1836 by Robert Hay on the same site as an illicit still which was operational from 1797 and remained under his control until his passing in 1865. The distillery was then purchased for £511.19sd by John Grant and his son George that same year and they then leased it to John Smith of The Glenlivet distillery.

Interesting fact: While Glenfarclas states on the label that it is a Highland Single Malt, the distillery is located within the Speyside region of Scotland. That being said, they are technically correct as there were originally only four recognised regions (Lowland, Highland, Campbeltown and Islay) and Speyside was a later addition.

John Smith only ran Glenfarclas for 5 years before resigning from his post in order to establish the Cragganmore distillery, do the distillery was taken over by J. & G. Grant Ltd (which was a company established by John and George Grant). Both father and son ran the distillery until 1889, when John passed away and control of the distillery passed on to George.

George himself passed away the following year and his widow Barbara took over the distillery license while George’s sons John and George (I’m beginning to sense a pattern here) took control of the distillery operations.

In 1895, John and George Grant formed The Glenfarclas-Glenlivet Distillery Co. Ltd with the infamous Pattison, Elder & Co (who were the culprits behind one of the most damaging cases of fraud which brought the whisky industry to its knees in 1898).

Interesting fact: The Pattison crash had a widespread impact on the whisky and blending industry as a whole and more information about it can be found here: The Pattison Crash.

The bankruptcy and subsequent imprisonment of the Pattison brothers for fraud shook the entire whisky industry and Glenfarclas encountered some serious financial problems as they had overhauled and expanded the distillery in ancitipation of meeting future demand for whisky from the Pattison brothers.

They survived, barely, by mortgaging and selling their stock of maturing whisky to R.I. Cameron, a whisky broker from Elgin who had grown to favour the produce from Glenfarclas greatly.

The distillery endured and celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1948 (which was 9 years later than the original date of active licensing due to the outbreak of WW2) and the post-war period brought with it a period of prosperity as the distillery was expanded several times in order to cope with the demand.

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The Glenfarclas visitor centre (Picture credit: Malt Vault)

Interesting fact: Glenfarclas has historically sold approximately half of its annual production to blenders and this practice continues to this day due to its importance in shaping the character of several well-known blends on the market.

The distillery became the first to release a cask strength single malt in 1968 and this was later given the name Glenfarclas 105 Cask Strength. The 105 refers to the whisky being at 105 proof, or 60% abv.

Glenfarclas is known for having one of the most extensive cask portfolios in the industry and this inventory stretches back to 1953, which was the first bottling in the legendary Family Casks collection which was launched in 2007. The distillery also periodically releases whiskies in excess of 50 years old and these are destined to be collectors items.

The distillery has been the subject of takeover approaches on many occasions and it is no surprise that the likes of Diageo, Pernod Ricard and Edrington have tried (and failed) to add the distillery to their ranks. However, the Grant family remain resolutely steadfast in their mission to keep Glenfarclas a truly independent concern and have rebuffed all approaches so far.

In terms of equipment, the distillery sports a 16.5 tonne semi-lauter mash tun, 12 stainless steel washbacks with a fermentation time o 48 hours and 3 pairs of stills with the wash stills being equipped with rummagers (which is a thick rotaing copper chain at the bottom of the still that prevents the solids from sticking to the copper. This is a common occurrance in direct-fired stills).

The distillery currently conducts 13-14 mashes on a 7 day working schedule and this equates to an annual production capacity of 3.4 million litres.

The core range from the distillery includes:

  • Glenfarclas Heritage (A lightly sherried NAS offering which was originally released for the French and Swedish hypermarket trade)
  • Glenfarclas 105 Cask Strength
  • Glenfarclas 10 Years Old
  • Glenfarclas 12 Years Old
  • Glenfarclas 15 Years Old
  • Glenfarclas 17 Years Old (Originally released for USA, Japan, Sweden and Duty Free)
  • Glenfarclas 21 Years Old
  • Glenfarclas 25 Years Old
  • Glenfarclas 30 Years Old
  • Glenfarclas 40 Years Old

The has also been an 18 Years Old expression released as a Travel Retail Exclusive and limited releases include a 25 Years Old expression matured exclusively in quarter casks, a 31 Years Old expression matured in port casks, a 47 Years Old expression which was a vatting of three separate Fino sherry casks, a 50 Years Old expression, a 58 Years Old Oloroso single cask as well as a 58 Years Old Fino single cask.

2014 also brought with it the oldest ever bottling of Glenfarclas, which is a 60 Years Old expression and only 360 bottles are available worldwide. These releases further underline the depth of the distillery’s cask portfolio and they continue to release stunningly old releases such as these on a fairly regular basis.

This week’s review focuses on the Glenfarclas 105 Cask Strength, which as mentioned above is bottled at 60% abv and is a part of the core range. It has been matured in a mix of sherry casks which I believe are mostly first-fill and the approximate age would be anywhere between 8-10 years old.

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Glenfarclas 105 Cask Strength, paired with a Blue Mountain Espresso truffle at The Single Cask.

Glenfarclas 105 Cask Strength (60% abv)

Colour: Burnished copper

Nose: Initial entry presents a pronounced sherried note coupled with a hit of astringency which one would typically expect from a cask strength expression. With time, the astringency tones down and allows the other aspects to shine forth, revealing dense red fruits such as apricots, raisins, plums and raspberries.

There is an intense note of dark cocoa which radiates right through this dram and its accentuates the other aspects of the nose. Sweet sherry, berry compote, icing sugar and wood spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom also make an appearance.

Give this enough time to mellow in the glass and the heat from the alcohol dissipates and allows for the various aromas to fuse together and work in harmony. Incredibly complex and inviting nose. (22/25)

Palate: Initial entry presents a lot of heat, astringency and oaky dryness coupled with the rich red fruits which were detected on the nose. With time, the heat mellows out and the dram does become sweeter and the spices provide a nice tingly sensation on the palate.

The heat on the palate evolves from the type brought on by the alcohol strength to the type that one would expect from the veritable melange of spices within this dram. The cinnamon is particularly apparent and the oakiness helps to mellow out some of the fire on the palate and round out the proceedings.

Barley sugar, chewy malt, icing sugar and berry compote emerge later on and there is a pronounced hint of tobacco pouch and supple leather which gives this dram a heightened level of sophistication. The quality of the Oloroso sherry casks is also undisputed and the complexity from the nose carries through the palate. (23/25)

Finish: Long and lingering on the finish, with the heat finally fading away and the sweetness taking over alongside a pronounced dryness on the palate. The astringency, which faded into the background as the dram mellowed out, lingers in the background but doesn’t influence the proceedings as much as it initially did.

The sherry, red fruits and spices are the definite stars of this dram though. (22/25)

Balance: While the initial heat of this dram threw things off kilter, the time it takes to open up and mellow in the glass cannot be underestimated as it allows the various aspects of the flavour profile to come together and work in tandem.

With so much going for it and there being a good level of complexity within this dram, it was never going to be easy to maintain a good balance. But this dram manages to pull it off in the end and it just works very well. A stunningly crafted cask strength offering from a great distillery! (22/25)

Rating: 89/100

Credit has to be given to Glenfarclas as they have produced an exceptional cask strength NAS offering which was and is a great challenger to Aberlour’s generally stellar A’Bunadh range of cask strength whiskies. The value for money of the 105 is also not in doubt and it is no surprise that it remains a favourite among those who have had the pleasure of sampling it.

This expression is definitely not for the novice drinker as it is rather robust and would probably suit the more seasoned whisky drinker who is aware of the nature of cask strength whiskies.

Nevertheless, this remains one to be tried and I would highly recommend this to everyone and it should be an ever-present in whisky cabinets all over.

The Glenfarclas 105 Cask Strength can be purchased at The Whisky Exchange for £37.29 ex VAT and at Master of Malt for the same price, but these prices are exclusive of shipping, customs duty and GST. Singaporean customers can also purchase it from The Single Cask for $182.40 per bottle.

Until the next review, have a great week ahead.

Slainte!

Brendan

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2 thoughts on “Whisky Review #65: Glenfarclas 105 Cask Strength

  1. What a drop. I saw this review and promptly poured myself a dram. Now, while I like the A’Bunadh, in my opinion, this is the better whisky. It’s everything I want in a sherried cask strength: no subtlety at all. And I love it!
    Slainte!
    Keep on waffling,
    Nick

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s an amazing drop! Although, do keep an eye out on the back of the label if it says Glenfarclas 105 10 Years Old though. It was recently pointed out to me that the new 105s are NAS and the difference in colour is very noticeable tbh.

      Best to stock up on the 105 10s while you can as it won’t be around for long! =D

      Slainte!
      Brendan

      Like

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