Glenfarclas: a family firm


As Glenfarclas prepares to release the second batch of its Family Cask bottlings, Will Wrightson explains what makes this family-run Speyside distillery – and its whiskies – so remarkable

There was a day earlier this spring, when, inexplicably, Speyside – in the highlands of Scotland – was the hottest place in the UK. That I had the good fortune to be there on that sunny day was down to the Grant family, owners of Glenfarclas, who let us look around their fabulous site.

Glenfarclas, which means “valley of the green grass” sits at the head of a wide glen which winds down to Glenlivet, bordered to the east by the imposing Ben Rinnes mountain. Within this verdant landscape sits a collection of dark stone barns peppered by splashes of bright red: the iconic doors of the Glenfarclas warehouses.

Glenfarclas is a rare beast in the Scottish whisky world, family-owned and fiercely independent, and – most excitingly for whisky-lovers – with huge reserves of stunning, Sherry-cask-matured whisky. Given thatthe majority of Scottish whisky distilleries is owned by a relativehandful of multi-national companies, this is more than just a neat piece of marketing. It defines who they are and how they operate. George Grant, the sixth generation of the family, described their board meetings as comprising three people and lasting a matter of minutes. It is their ability to make bold decisions quickly which brought about the subject of our conversation: the Family Cask range.

The Family Cask range is a collection of vintage whiskies all drawn from single casks that have matured quietly behind those iconic red doors. During our visit, after an excellent dinner with George, he pointed to a nook in the wall and said help yourself. All 43 vintages from the Family Cask range were there, and we spent a happy couple of hours tasting them and discussing which were our favourites.

He mischievously explained that part of the reason behind the launch of the range was to rebuff claims by a certain distillery that they had the largest collection of old whiskies in Scotland. The range also allows whisky-lovers the chance to experience the evolution of the famous Sherried Glenfarclas spirit over multiple decades. Launched in 2007, the inaugural bottlings ranged from 1952 to ‘94; this autumn we will be offering every available vintage from 1954 to 2003.

George Grant is a man who has travelled the world flying the Glenfarclas flag and, as such, has a very keen sense of the state of the burgeoning whisky industry. I couldn’t resist asking him what his analysis was. He was circumspect, as you’d imagine, and recognised the positives that all these new consumers brought, but lamented the number of bottles being squirrelled away into collections. Of course, he knows that when you make whisky you don’t get to choose what people do with it. With the memory of tasting those vintage whiskies still rich my mind, I can’t imagine someone not wanting to crack them open.

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