In my mind, Glenfarclas is the manly way to drink sherry. You can faff about with your wine glasses and your tea cosies and your green olives. Or you can drink sherry the way God intended – by having it soaked up by some paint-stripper strong alcohol in a stinking old oak barrel for 25 years and served in a glass designed to channel the fumes into your hairy nostrils.
Alongside some notable distilleries – Arran, Kilchoman, Springbank and others – Glenfarclas has managed to cling to its independence like only a stubborn old Scotsman can. This has meant 150 years of perfecting the art of whisky-making, and this is clear from the moment you first raise a glass of the stuff. Like bitter rival GlenDronach, Glenfarclas has a “house style” – namely big, sherried whiskies that are joyfully free of colourant and aggressive on quality cask selection.
My first ever Glenfarclas was the whopping great 25-year-old expression – here’s how it goes down:
Phwoar. Dark ruby gold.
Oh god, won’t someone think of the children? Glenfarclas 25 is complete and utter sherry monster. Next to the 12-year-old, the difference in Spanish-cask-absorption (either via age or refill status) is night and day. Buckets of powerful, fruity sherry on the nose – breathtaking stuff. Dig a little deeper and you get a (surprising) mild smokiness, then some malt, honey and citrus.
Like many older whiskies, this is a slow drinking, complex whisky that requires time and patience to unpack. Bursting with flavour. And I’m happy to report they’re all working perfectly together here: The sherry provides its share of sweet red fruits, raisins and peaches. That gentle peat smoke is present, along with a mild pepper and spice. Some toffee sweetness, and a dark chocolate development (as advertised!).
Earthy, and spicy – there’s some cinnamon and pepper on the finish, along with the tail end of that dark chocolate. Yikes!
A few drops of water… is something you’ll want to do here. Although the alcohol didn’t feel overwhelming, a little water rewards you with a slightly sweeter experience and a small (but not unwelcome) reduction in the fruit overload. Just don’t ice it.
While I believe all Glenfarclas whiskies have some proportion of bourbon cask in the mix (typically one third, according to the website), make no mistake – these are sherry monsters. And the Glenfarclas 25 is the monster-iest sherry monster I’ve had so far, one that’s excellently distilled and brilliantly blended.
But let’s talk value-for-money for a second. Older Glenfarclas whiskies seem to be significantly cheaper than their big-brand counterparts. For instance, the 21-year-old Glenfiddich and Glenlivet are about 50% more expensive than Glenfarclas 21. Highland Park 25 is three times the price of Glenfarclas 25. Some speculate that Glenfarclas has lower prices given the lack of expensive and obnoxious marketing campaigns, or over-the-top “luxury” packaging (even older Glenfarclas bottles come in simple cardboard tubes).
Despite this, Glenfarclas 25 is hardly an affordable, everyday dram – there are few times I’d ever buy a bottle this expensive. Particularly when the majestic (and equally delicious) GlenDronach 15 Revival is one-quarter of the price… and bottled at higher strength. Ouch.
This is a must-try whisky, however – order a glass/sample if you can, but if you need a bottle then check out the Glenfarclas 17 or the GlenDronach 15/16/18 before you decide!