Posts Tagged With: Tasting

Distillery Visit: Glenfarclas

When the WU guys were putting together a trip to visit Speyside, needless to say that we were spoilt for choice. With over half of Scotland’s distilleries being based in the area surrounding the meandering River Spey, and none of our 4-strong troop having been to the region before, we were living and breathing the grown-up equivalent of being kids in a sweet shop.

Between us, we had found a great looking cottage in the village of Archiestown for a long weekend in March (yes, that’s how long it’s taken to write this up) which we then used to triangulate a Speyside visitor centre hit list. With the cottage being roughly equidistant from Cardhu, Aberlour and the region’s giant, Glenfiddich, that had pretty much settled it without having to look much further, but as the title suggests, we couldn’t visit the region without also going to Glenfarclas.

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Double Thumbs Up for Glenfarclas

What had particularly attracted us to the distillery – other than having enjoyed their whiskies on numerous occasions throughout the years – was the fact that it was still a family run distillery and hadn’t succumb to the big money ownership that many distilleries have (and that many have had to). What that meant to us was that we were expecting a smaller distillery with more humble staff than your standard big-budget-backed whisky-maker, and it certainly delivered.

Located just off the A95, the roadsign to the distillery was almost too easy to miss, but luckily enough the classic red font of the Glenfarclas logo stood out from the snow-covered roads and fields, directing us up a narrow farm lane to the car park. As we shimmied and skidded our way along the icy track we noticed a giant tour coach parked just outside the visitor centre (which we narrowly missed) and as we drove around an old and ornamental still, we managed to find one of a few dug-out parking spaces.

Glenfarclas Visitor Centre

Having taken some 9 hours of travelling from our southern England starting point, we bundled out of our car and looked on in awe at the picture perfect distillery. Covered in snow and with the warmly-lit interior beckoning us inside, we entered the visitor centre to welcoming smiles and hellos from the staff – and this was with just 45 minutes left on the clock of their working day.

The visitor centre is of course, first and foremost, a gift shop and upon walking in you are instantly drawn to the remains of another still and the multitude of glass cabinets adorning the room’s walls. Each cabinet was themed with past releases and current offerings all nestled amongst the rare and ancient drams from the distillery’s past. These were also accompanied by price tags that ranged from reasonable to eye-watering. Our attention was particularly drawn to the distillery’s “Family Cask” section, filled with bottles in chronological order from the date that they were first distilled from 1952 onwards. We each sought out the bottle from our respective years of birth, and were content with just looking through the cabinet doors, rather than shelling out the £3,500 each!

Family Cask Display

Given the timeframe, we were not in time to undertake any tour, but we had plenty of time to enter the tasting room, and join up with the coach trippers (who were probably all 40-50 years our senior) now at the fun end of their tour: the tasting. The room itself was like a Victorian dining hall, with a set of long tables down the middle, with a few smaller tables dotted around and more wooden cladding than Ron Burgundy could ever have wished for. The whole room was covered with old advertising posters and newspaper clippings from yesteryear. There was a real sense of history and nostalgia here, with a clear emphasis on family.

Tasting Room

To the matter at hand, our troop found ourselves a seat and were presented with a sample of their opening gambit, the Glenfarclas 10 year old. Our new host then reeled out a well-rehearsed but still well-delivered spiel about the history of the distillery and we were all ears. As we listened, we savoured our first dram of the day, picking out the flavours that stem from the family’s longstanding use of sherry casks. The 10yo proved to be a fairly light dram, enjoyed in no time at all with its Pear drop sweetness and pretty quick finish getting our tastebuds going.

‘Farc-ing Bliss

Our temporary curator then plied us with a serving of the Glenfarclas 15yo and that’s when the sherry influence really hit home. This whisky had a much fuller, fruitier nose, and the 46% alcohol gave for a fuller taste and body too. It wasn’t all sherry flavourings though as a little bit of time and water released sweet vanilla and a little citrus into the mix. An excellent whisky that seemed to knock its younger sibling out of the park.

Please!!!

As the history lesson turned into more of a flowing Q&A session, we were presented with the third of the distillery’s post-tour offerings, the mighty Glenfarclas 105 (Unfortunately not 105 years old – can you imagine?) Whilst I had experienced and loved this whisky before, my senses still took a battering, as did the other guys’, as it’s 60% ABV natural strength delivers a real punch. It has a BIG nose leaving you fighting the alcohol but some fruitiness (raisins?) and sweetness still manage to poke their way through. Without the aid of water, the 105 pretty much attacks the palate but not the throat strangely enough. After some taming though that fruitiness really comes through with faint sherry this time.

It was at this point that the coach group were being hustled up by their weary-looking driver, and a little bit of minesweeping was afoot. As the congregation filtered out though, we keen-beans had pretty much settled on acquiring a bottle of the 15yo but our host didn’t seem to want to rush us out and after a little cajoling he went to the backrooms to bring us samples of their 21yo! Despite its years, this dram was still surprisingly light and whilst it had a good nose and those sherry-like fruity and sweet flavours were still present, it didn’t quite meet the standard that the 15yo had set. With our conversation starting to wind down and the 25yo or older expressions remaining firmly locked away for the evening (we tried) we were fully sated and couldn’t leave without making a purchase or four…

Whatcha Doin’?

By the time it came for us to leave, we realised that the staff had actually kept us indoors well after their closing time and were still happy to talk (mostly). Their head honcho however was starting to purposefully look at his watch and with our purchases having already been made before they had to close the till, we were also ready to head off and set ourselves up for the long weekend at the cottage. With some parting pleasantries and a few snaps, so ended a brief but memorable trip to Glenfarclas. If you get the chance to go, then you should definitely do it! We certainly will. Again. And again.

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Categories: Glenfarclas, Tasting Notes, Venues | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Aberlour – Casks From The Past

It is fair to say that, as appreciators of scotch whisky, a trip to Speyside had got the Whisky Unplugged boys into high spirits (so to speak), and one of the experiences that we were most looking forward to was the cask strength whisky tasting booked in at Aberlour. At £35 per head, this was one of the priciest tastings/tours that we had booked in, but it proved to be well worth the cost.

The morning started a little sluggishly (more on that in later posts) and after a short taxi ride into the town of Aberlour, we walked up to the distillery and took in some of the brilliant scenery. The first thing that struck me about the visitor centre was that adorning the building’s wall was an old sign stating “Aberlour Glenlivet”. A quick inquiry on the inside revealed that a lot of distilleries in the Speyside area used to take advantage of the Glenlivet’s worldwide successes to try and attract some more attention back in the day, and that they were not actually associated or owned by The Glenlivet. [Our legal eagle amongst us found out that there was once a legal battle which made it mandatory to hyphenate Glenlivet if genuinely affiliated with the distillery….zzzzzzz….]

Aberlour Glenlivet Distillery

Aberlour Glenlivet Distillery

After a quick introduction and escorted trip through the grounds by tour guide and proud Yorkshireman Jonathan, we were treated to a private tasting in their James Fleming suite, which is contained in a converted distillery manager’s house. This was an excellently appointed building with stylish designs and nods to local produce, nature and, of course, whisky. I for one have never seen a bar stool made from antlers before! One of the features was a cased original Aberlour bottling from 1894 and an impressive set of chandeliers made from whisky glasses and decanters.

Aberlour Glenlivet 1894

Aberlour Glenlivet 1894

To the matter at hand, and before us (in front of a giant wall of underlit Aberlour bottles) sat 4 bottles of cask strength expressions, all of which are from within the family of distilleries and stock acquired by current owners Pernod Ricard.

Casks From The Past

Casks From The Past

First up was a a 37 year old Inverleven – a distillery that is no longer with us and therefore started to warrant the entrance fee. At its remaining cask strength of 49% ABV, this expression is still available in Chivas Brothers’ Deoch an Doras range, and had a really sweet nose. Like candy peel. In fact, it reminded me of the sweet nose that Chivas’ Strathisla 12 has. Despite the alcohol volume this was a really light dram, with light floral notes throughout and had a great balanced finish. Incidentally, the still that made this whisky is now the Ugly Betty still in Bruichladdich that makes their Botanist gin, and there was certainly some light botanicals in this dram.

Second on the agenda was a 15 year old Aberlour expression that had been solely matured in bourbon barrels – rather unusual for Aberlour as they usually mature or marry their releases with sherry casks. The results were a very light nose with apple sweetness and the smell of cut grass (the power of suggestion from our guide taking me on that one). The taste was punchy and full of vanilla from the first fill bourbon barrels, but not as punchy as you would expect for 53.7% ABV. The finish was fairly quick and sweet but had a very more-ish quality.

Drams From The Pasts

Drams From The Pasts

Third up was bit of a treat, as our little group became Aberlour’s guinea pigs for the day, as we became the first people to commercially taste their newest release – a distillery exclusive release – a 17 year old marriage of first fill oloroso sherry cask and first fill bourbon. Despite being slightly older than the previous dram, this packed in a bit more alcohol, notching up to 55.3% ABV, and had a very, very full sherry nose, with a strong fruitcake smell. The taste was also fruity but needed quite a bit of water to open up the fruit flavours to counter the alco-burn. The sherry concluded the story on the finish too and this was a slightly sweeter dram when compared to their all-sherry matured A’Bunadh releases.

The last of the drams of the day’s experience was another release from the Deoch an Doras series – which literally translates to “dram at the door”, or more colloquially “one for the road” – which was a 30 year old Glenugie. This is another lost distillery, having closed in 1983, and that seems such a shame as this dram, at (the very accurate percentage of) 52.13% ABV, was a delight. This also featured a very strong fruitcake nose, courtesy of the first fill sherry casks that the whisky had only been matured in, but unlike the other drams, this had hardly any sting and coated the throat as it went down – almost medicinal – with those strong currant-like flavours continuing throughout.

Wall Of Aberlour

Wall Of Aberlour

Overall, the morning (yes, morning!) and experience was great fun, and that was greatly helped by the healthy drams and good compere work from Jonathan. A little inebriated, very merry and totally enamoured by the 15 year old release (bottle #2), we proceeded to a separate room to fill and sign our own bottles – completely suckered by the marketing move here – and we bought up bottles 368-370 of the bourbon-only Aberlour release. Unfortunately the device was on the blink so we had to take something that had been filled by hand that morning, but the wooden presentation box was a nice touch and now sits very prettily in my whisky cabinet. Next up was lunch at The Mash Tun for a debrief and whisky geek out…

Glass Lamps

Glass Lamps

Aberlour Glass

Aberlour Glass

Cool Stools Cool Stools

Purchases

Purchases

Categories: Aberlour, Gleneugie, Inverleven, Tasting Notes, Venues | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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