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Drink Review: Glenfarclas 21 Year Old

A dark amber-gold, full sweet vanilla delicately smoked with a rich and long lasting finish. Glenfarclas 21yo is delicious stuff, and a bargain at this price.

Glenfarclas 21 Year Old Review:

Last year, I was lucky enough to visit the Glenfarclas distillery and write about it here . I was sat opposite Gerald Bush, one of Glenfarclas’ large family (over 200 of them) in the still room, with barrels in front of us and offering me sips of the spirit from his bottle. A young man in his late teens came up to us, and started discussing whisky with Gerald. It was clear, this was one of their sons, and he was most interested in getting into the industry. It was all rather exciting.

As it turns out, this young man is Duncan, Head Distiller and Managing Director of Glenfarclas. He was very interested in what I had to say, and I sensed at the time that the various independent bottlings of his whisky from independent bottlers were having an impact on his own business. While he continued to talk to me, his son was whisked off for a tour of the Glenfarclas distillery at the back of the malting floors I was sitting in.

Glenfarclas 21 Year Old Review:

For those unfamiliar with Glenfarclas, it is a scotch whisky distillery in Ballindalloch in Banffshire. It sits on a side road that runs south off the A-957, not far from Speyside’s main market town of Elgin. In addition to the main distillery, there is a visitor centre and a separate “research and development” (R&D) bottling plant about a mile away, where we sat and drank whisky in the visitor centre’s bar.

Because they no longer needed to rush the bottlings, it was clear that Duncan and his team were able to select a certain aged character, and then bottle and sell only the very best part of the spirit once its flavour profile had aligned with where they wanted to be. The Glenfarclas 14yo is an excellent malt, but it does not have the depth and strength of flavour in the nose that this 15yo has.

Glenfarclas 21yo Review & Tasting Notes:

A dark amber-gold, full sweet vanilla delicately smoked with a rich and long lasting finish. Glenfarclas 21yo is delicious stuff, and a bargain at this price.

Duncan introduced me to an independent bottler. Duncan offered me a sample of his own whisky directly from an official distillery bottling. Duncan and the independent bottler sampled my spirit with Glenfarclas and compared notes. Duncan then chose the wood he wanted for his whisky, and applied the independent bottlers to bottle his whisky.

The whisky itself is inconsistent. Sometimes, it is an old timers 1970, rather than a 1990 or 2003. There is also a lot of bottles labelled “Old Malt Cask”, which is very confusing, given that Glenfarclas do not age their whisky in “ships hulls” in old bottlings, but in old oak after distillation. There is even a bottle labelled a 2006 which is quite wrong, as it is bottled at 52.1%. All of these are very confusing, and I know that in the eyes of most people, this relegates it to not being a ‘true’ independent bottling of Glenfarclas 21 year old.

I must admit, it irks me a little bit too. Duncan’s whisky is far better than most other independent bottlings, but this is largely because he is able to blend the best whiskies together. It is also evident when you compare it to his official bottlings, which do not always feature his name beside them. A consequence of this is that he does not have the time to bottle whisky from the miniscule amounts of spirit that independent bottlers have to make a living on. There are 300 US blenders that can afford to do this, as opposed to 3,000 independent bottlers.

Given the above caveats, I must say the whisky smells and tastes a lot better than you would expect an independent bottling to. It has clearly benefited from being part of a huge volume of whiskies with high levels of sherry, rather than whisky from one cask. Given the competition, it is the Glenfarclas best independent bottling to date. Duncan’s whisky has the complexity, strength, depth and texture of flavour of far more expensive official bottlings, and I would recommend it.

Written by Mark Adams

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