Glenfarclas is one of the few remaining family owned distilleries in Scotland, having been purchased by John Grant in 1865 and remaining in the custodianship of his descendants ever since. There are other family owned distilleries of course including most notably Glenfiddich, but the others cannot say they are family run compared to Glenfarclas. If you have visited the distillery which is nestled alongside the road to Aberlour, then there’s a good chance you may have spotted a current Grant at work in the distillery.
This hands on approach and guidance endears Glenfarclas to many enthusiasts today, as they have largely stuck with the traditional methods that have served them well for over a 150 years, including a preference for sherry casks. Speaking with workers from distilleries elsewhere in Speyside, it seems everyone has an admiration and soft spot for Glenfarclas.
The distillery was founded in 1836 as we know it today, by Robert Hay who was a farm tenant. This is the legal formation of the distillery and history suggests that there was a farm distillery on the site going back supposedly into the late 1700’s. The abundance of barley and a nearby water source from BenRinnes mountain, makes this a fertile landscape for producing whisky. For a short period, the distillery is known as Glenlivet and the Grant family leases it to John Smith from the Glenlivet distillery we know today. A skilled and experienced distiller, John Smith has plans to start his own distillery and succeeds when he establishes Cragganmore in 1870 – you can read about his journey via our Cragganmore distillery page. John Grant assumes control again and the ownership will pass through the generations of his family thereafter till reaching the sixth generation today.
It’s widely known that suitors have made offers to the Grant family over the years for their distillery, but these have been politely refused. Even during the Pattison Crisis of the late 1890’s which heavily affected the distillery; the family were able to pull through this difficult period. Despite having refurbished Glenfarclas just prior to the events that forced several distilleries out of business. The Pattison brothers came closest to owning Glenfarclas and since then, the Grant family have not allowed anyone to come as close.
Thereafter it wasn’t until 1960 that further changes were carried out at Glenfarclas, with the number of stills being doubled to 4. This was increased to today’s total of 6 in 1976, with the traditional method of floor malting coming to an end in 1972. Other changes have been dabbled with, but if this affects the style of the new make spirit, then any change is rolled back. For this reason, Glenfarclas still uses direct heat for its stills and if you do visit the distillery, which offers an excellent variety of tours, then you will see an unusual device sitting beside each wash still. It’s best described as an industrial rotisserie but in the whisky industry is known as a rummager. This device drags a metal chain around the inside of the bottom of the still, ensuring the spirit is heated as consistently as possible without difficulty.
Glenfarclas is widely favoured by blenders and does mature spirit in ex-bourbon casks but its preference is the sherry casks from Jose y Miguel Martin. These form the mainstay of their range, with releases that are numerous and impressive, noting the distillery produces around 3.5 million litres annually. The No Age Statement entry level is called the Heritage and then the age statements arrive ranging from 8, 10, 12, 15, 17, 21, 25 and further ages at 30 and 40 years of age. If anything there are too many, but a favourite is the 17-year-old intended for export that offers a lovely combination of sherry, toffee and spices being a midway point.
Widely available is 105 Cask Strength bottling and throughout the year Glenfarclas will release special limited expressions for events such as the Spirit of Speyside Festival. The pinnacle of the releases are extensively matured single casks to widespread fanfare. Yet the iconic range is the Family Casks that represent each year of distillation since 1954 and continue to be released annually to widespread demand. A Glenfarclas whisky can be epic in scope and flavoursome, particularly if you enjoy a sherry influence to your whisky. The age expressions offer a progression towards the more heavily dominated sherry style and discovering which number suits your palate is a quintessential whisky journey.