Sometimes people show up at K&L to have us taste their products. Most of the time it's a vendor or producer trying to find a market for a new wine or spirit that could use a push from a retailer like K&L. I look forward to those opportunities because you get to discover exciting prospects and try to get in on something big at the beginning stage. However, I really enjoy getting to meet the brand ambassadors from Scotland's whisky producers because it's a chance to taste products we already sell! When I took over the spirits buyer position, I inherited a whole line of whiskies that I have continued to buy because we have always sold them, not because I knew too much about them. Many of our whiskies already have a captive fanbase who have continued to deplete their stock from my shelves, without me having to say or write a word. A perfect example of this scenario is Glenfarclas.
I knew that Glenfarclas was a Highland malt that was distilled in Speyside. I knew that they used mostly sherry barrels to age all their whiskies and I was somewhat aware that they have always been family owned. In fact, the Glenfarclas story begins and ends with one family: the Grants, who since 1865 have hardly changed a thing in the way they produce their single malts. From John Grant (born in 1805) to John and George Grant today, the family tradition has been passed from father to son for over 140 years. In an age when Diageo and LVMH seem to be acquiring new distilleries daily, to see an independent producer like Glenfarclas succeed is heartening, indeed.
The Grant family success is due to the taste of their fine whiskies and the fact that they have never changed them. While other malts are tinkering with cask finishing, double-maturation, and other enhancement experimentation, the Glenfarclas has always been and will always be about the expression of sherry-matured Scotch at various ages. Having never tasted one of them until today, I was delighted when Edward Minning walked into the shop with a case full of open bottles. We gathered in the tasting bar and got down to business.
10 Year Old $39.99 - Classic sherry nose of dried fruits, malty cereal, and hints of honey. This is a simple malt, but it's still great - light and easy-going. A black T-shirt isn't interesting, but it's classic and it always looks good. This 10 year is the same thing. A kiss of sweetness of the finish.
12 Year Old $49.99 - Only two years older than the 10 year, but far more aromatic with an enhanced sweetness lingering with honey, cereal, and baking spice. Richer and fatter in mouthfeel. This is a real deal for the price, but I have a feeling that all of them are going to be deals.
17 Year Old $89.99 - Darker amber color with sweet butterscoth aromas. This has a rounder, softer profile with a more viscous mouthfeel. It's full of complexity and really exemplifies how delicious a used sherry butt can mold a fine whisky. I think 17 years is just about right for a single malt, so I'm going to bet this is the best of the bunch for me. Outstanding.
21 Year Old $129.99 - Insanely complex nose of dried fruit, spice, wood, and earth. The palate however is not nearly as fat as I expected. It's the opposite - delicate and gentle. With hints of vanilla, the dark golden color is beautiful, but it's a very specific style for people who like older malts. Not the full-bodied, richly sweet whisky you're expecting. It's very graceful.
25 Year Old $159.99 - Holy Christ! This is amazing. The best of the bunch by far. Golden amber color, wildly haunting aromas of honey, fruit, vanilla, spice, and earth. It's the perfect combination of the rich weight in the 17 year with the flavorful complexity in the 21 year. This thing goes on for 5 minutes after you swallow. It's top of my list right now for any 20+ year malt in the store. My highest recommendation. (I just ordered 6 bottles so it's coming tomorrow).
1974 Vintage $259.99 - It's hard to believe this is a whisky. It looks, smells, and tastes like a sherry. It's dark brown, and has the nutty aromas and flavors that I like in a good Oloroso. It's earthy as hell, too. Definitely one of the most interesting malts I've ever tasted and it's got plenty of kick at 57.4% alcohol. A true experience and a very very rare bottle.
I left the tasting knowing that I was going to come home tonight and write this all up for the blog. Meetings like today are what get me excited to do my job better. When I taste incredible whiskies that are family made and independently owned - I get giddy. I knew that I wanted to support Glenfarclas, but now I know that I personally want to drink Glenfarclas and recommend their whiskies to others. I'm starting right here and now. If you haven't dipped into their selection, you're truly missing out.