This is a post that warrants something of a potted history lesson.
Glenfarclas was founded in 1830 in what is now more commonly known as the Speyside region of Scotland [ed: though they still prefer to call themselves a Highland single malt]. That distillery has been run in the hands of the same family since 1865. Originally bought by John Grant along with the Rechlerich Farm, the distillery is currently run by Chairman John LS Grant – the fifth generation of the family – with the sixth generation working on site. That’s nearly 160 years of family ownership!
The Glenfarclas 105 tasted here has its own history to it, dating back to 1968, when it was the first official cask strength single malt whisky of its kind. Due to that feat, the name is actually a reference to the alcohol strength of the whisky, i.e. 105 proof – the equivalent of 60% ABV by modern (and much easier to calculate) standards.
The whisky is bottled at that dizzying strength featuring a combination of Glenfarclas spirits matured in ex-sherry and ex-bourbon casks, which, as a basic rule of thumb, are between 8-10 years old – but it’s the 105 profile and the 105 strength that the Grant family use as their yardstick for this release.
Well, not surprisingly the first smells are rich sherry. That’s what a Glenfarclas is known for, and this has it in spades. What is surprising though is that it’s quite a tight smell to begin with. Maybe just all the flavours and ABV jostling to get out. With some patience though you can appreciate the big nose it has to offer and then comes the wave of flavours: well seasoned oak, sultanas, cherries, figs, cinnamon, and walnut, to name a few.
And whoosh. That ABV kicks in. It tingles the tastebuds and tonsils with some vigour. Once you acclimatise you can taste some dark chocolate bitterness in addition to the sherry-influenced orange peel, sultanas, and figs. There’s spice a plenty too with ginger, clove, mace, and nutmeg. Speaking of nut: I can taste walnut (maybe that bitterness), almond, and hazelnut.
Loooong and peppery. The oak spice and boozy burn rule the roost as the Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut flavours subside.
Hello daddy, hello mom. I’m your Sh-sh-sh-sherry bomb! 💣
It’s not even so much about the sherry flavour though – it’s the prickly heat and fiery black pepper spice from the sherry soaked casks that deliver here, with the bourbon casks presumably bringing some of that sweetness and some of its own oak spice.
I have not had enough in this sample to dabble with dilution but as one of the cheaper cask strength whiskies out there, you will definitely get more bang for your buck if adding some water to your whisky. With a full bottle you could really go about moderating it to your own tastes and, with enough alcohol strength to spare, you could really experiment, explore, and unpack this beast and find some more of those fruity flavours that lie beneath.
When I was first getting into single malts, this was the first cask strength release that I tried and it certainly left its mark! I also have a soft spot for Glenfarclas as it was the first distillery that I ever visited in Speyside – which was appropriate as they had one of the first distillery visitor centres don’t you know! The folk were really welcoming and accommodating even though we turned up without a booking as we had managed to arrive early before our accommodation was ready for us. (See post here). The flavours and fierce fizzle of this malt take me straight back to that day every time.
It is too easy to get caught up with new releases, indie bottling this, and limited edition that, but this is just simply a classic to fall back on. It’s got a reputation and cult following, and I can see why.
Sample disclosure: This sample was purchased from Master of Malt using Drinks by the Dram. All notes are intended as an honest, fair, and independent review of the whisky, and not as a promotion. Please drink responsibly. Please drink wisely.