GLENFARCLAS & ABERLOUR
After having a bit of a rest from whisky and distilleries yesterday, we got back into it today with a visit to Glenfarclas and Aberlour. We decided to try the Connoisseurs Tasting at Glenfarclas which included a tour of the distillery. Our guide was Mathew, a Kiwi, who had moved to Speyside a few years earlier seeking a life change. He had sent a letter to all the independently-owned distilleries in Scotland and was lucky enough to be given a chance at Glenfarclas. He worked through the winter doing different jobs at the distillery, then became a tour guide in the summer, before being offered a full-time job as manager of the visitor centre and has been there ever since.
The tour was as expected, not a lot different from other distillery tours, however I did find the water situation at Glenfarclas to be interesting. All of the distillery’s water comes from the nearby Ben Rinnes (the highest peak in the area) and is collected in a small reservoir behind the visitor centre.
While waiting for the tour, Dad and I had met one of the distillery staff who was measuring the water level to see if they needed to change their production schedule. There had been three weeks of unseasonably hot and dry weather in most of Scotland and it was affecting the distillery’s water supply. Glenfarclas use about 1 million litres of water per day and of that, about 2% is used to make spirit with the remaining 98% used for cooling in the mash tun heat exchanger and the still condensers. Production had already reduced to three mashes a day and if the weather continues they may need to halt production entirely; the last time that happened was in 2014.
One fun fact I found interesting from the tour was that Glenfarclas used to malt their own barley until 1972 and if you taste a Glenfarclas produced prior to 1972, you may notice a slight peat influence.
Back in the visitor centre we began the tasting part of the visit. We got to taste five whiskies, the Glenfarclas 15 and 21 year olds, the silly named £511.19s.0d Family Reserve at 43% (extra points if you know the significance of that name), a distillery exclusive 2004 12yo port cask at 58.5% and finally a 2004 distillery exclusive single cask at 57.5%.
I was a little disappointed with the 15 and the 21 year olds being included, since I am quite familiar with those two, but the standout for me was the 12 year old port cask. I think what I liked most about it was that it wasn’t sherried. Glenfarclas can taste very samey with there being only subtle differences between most of the core range. This port cask tasted different, it had more of a stewed plum flavour rather than the usual Christmas cake and dried fruits so common with Glenfarclas; I really enjoyed it. Overall, I found the Glenfarclas experience to be a bit underwhelming and perhaps not worth the £40 asking price. One for the mega-fans only I think.
Next up was Aberlour, my dad’s favourite distillery since discovering A’Bunadh.
Speaking of A’Bunadh (pronounced ‘a-boo-nar’), we learnt at the distillery it has recently gone up in price. Now at £80 per bottle, it costs more at the source than it does in Australia! So combining this news with Aberlour A’Bunadh recently being awarded ‘Whisky of the Year’ at the 2018 International Whisky Competition and you can guarantee a significant price rise is coming to your local market, if it hasn’t happened already.
Our Aberlour tasting for today is the Chronicles of the Cask, which doesn’t include a full tour of the distillery, but you do visit the still house and one of the warehouses which are the best bits of tours anyway. We were met by the lovely Susan who took us the James Fleming Bar, named after the distillery’s founder. Here we learnt some history about the distillery and sampled our welcome dram, an Aberlour 18 year old. From there we visited the still house and No.1 Warehouse where three casks waited for us. The casks were a 21 year old ex-bourbon barrel, a 24 year old ex-bourbon hogs head and a 26 year old ex-sherry butt. We were invited to nose each cask and would soon return to the James Fleming Bar to sample each whisky, but in black glasses. I would love to say I nailed the blind tasting test, but I didn’t – I obviously need more practice. All the whiskies were superb however and the tasting went well over time as we chatted with Susan at length about whisky in general. Highly recommended.
Tomorrow we head to Speyside Cooperage to get an insight into how whisky casks are constructed.