Monday 7 September 2015

Glenfarclas tasting with George Grant (Tasted #212 - 216)

Having run this blog for a few years now, we're lucky to get regular invites to various industry / media / trade events - many of which you end up reading about here. There's still the odd event though that we stumble upon completely by chance - this one being a perfect example. 

A few weeks ago I was at Tiffany's New York Bar in the Intercontinental Grand Stanford Hong Kong, enjoying a cold beer (respite from the stifling summer heat) ahead of an epic Islay whisky dinner, when I got chatting to their affable resident manager John. In the course of conversation, John mentioned that in just over a week, George Grant of Glenfarclas (Brand Ambassador and 6th Generation family member) would be hosting a tasting at the bar, and would I be interested in joining? You don't have to ask me twice! This would be the second noted Speyside figure I'd be meeting in Tiffany's in just a few months (the other being David Stewart of The Balvenie, back in June), and a good chance to speak to "the man behind the brand", after Steph and I had just visited the distillery a few weeks earlier.

There are some great whisky bars in Hong Kong, and Tiffany's (in our opinion) sits up there with the best of them. The range mightn't be the largest in Hong Kong (though it's quickly getting there), but they have an eclectic mix of IBs, OBs, and even some of their own cask finished whiskies (and if there was ever a bar with a décor that screamed "whisky bar", this would have to be it. Warm, welcoming, classy, elegant.)

Arriving on a hot Monday night, we took our seats and admired the lineup of drams, consisting of:
  • Glenfarclas 12yo
  • Glenfarclas 17yo
  • Glenfarclas 25yo
  • Glenfarclas 105
  • Glenfarclas "Mystery Malt" (which we knew was a Family Cask, and later turned out to be the 1995 Release IX)

Having been to our fair share of tastings over the years, we've discovered there are brand ambassadors / master distillers who really need to work to hold the attention of a room, and there are those to whom it comes naturally. George clearly falls into the latter group, with his open, honest and humorous demeanour befitting his family-owned distillery perfectly.

Explaining the family naming convention (John, then George, George, George, his father John, and George himself), George recalled being slightly shocked at first seeing a grave with "his" name on it (actually his grandfather's), but slightly more at ease when he walked into one of the warehouses and realised there were also 55,000 casks of whisky with his name on them (enough to put anyone's mind at ease, we think).

Translating to "Valley of the Green Grass", Glenfarclas remains wholly family-owned to this day, which makes their global reach (76 markets until they added the Caribbean, bringing the total to 102 countries) all the more impressive. It was interesting to note that Germany is their largest market, and was the sole driver for their recent "Trilogy" series. George also had some other interesting insights, such as the myth of the "great Chinese whisky market" (which in his opinion, doesn't exist) and the growth he's seen in whisky in HK, having previously lived here for 12 years.

After a few more anecdotes and (truly interesting) insights into different whisky markets, we dived into the tasting...

Glenfarclas 12 year old (43% ABV, 12yo, Speyside, Scotland, $600HKD / $89.95AUD)
Colour: Golden caramel (ironic given Glenfarclas' staunch lack of caramel colouring)
Nose: Flint, spice, a hint of smoke. Definitely sherried, but a "fresh" sherry - vibrant and youthful.
Palate: Spice, cinnamon, oat cakes and Brazil nuts. Slightest hint of smoke.
Finish: Medium length, spicy. Slightly "thin" towards the end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100. A simple, easy drinking, every day dram.

Glenfarclas 17 year old (43% ABV, 17yo, Speyside, Scotland, $1,100HKD / $160AUD)

Originally released exclusively for Japan, then HK, then other Asian markets, and now everywhere.
Colour: Orange gold
Nose: Well-rounded and sweet. Dried fruits, cherries. Almost port-like notes, and a lot of crème brûlée.
Palate: Smoother than the 12, but still with some of the spice the 12 showed. Much sweeter though, more "chewy", and more legs on the glass. More mouth-filling, more Oloroso notes.
Finish: Medium to long. The spice tones down and the Christmas cake notes amp up. Lots of Brazil nuts.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100.

Glenfarclas 25 year old (43% ABV, 25yo, Speyside, Scotland, $2,400HKD / $189.90AUD)
Colour: Bright orange.
Nose: A hint of flint, orange peel, a little crème brûlée, and strangely, a hint of salty sea air.
Palate: Much more sherry influence than the nose suggests. Lots of raisins and other dried fruits, nuts, but also big citrus notes.
Finish: Long. Slightly drying, bitter dark chocolate-dipped orange slices.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100.

Glenfarclas 105 (60% ABV, NAS, Speyside, Scotland, $790HKD / $119.95AUD)
George's grandfather's favourite apparently - so much so that he was secretly squirrelling away 6 bottles a week - 3 from George, and 3 from George's father!
Colour: Dark copper.
Nose: Huge toffee notes. Overwhemling(ly good). Dark chocolate. Thoughts instantly turn to dessert.
Palate: Big, slightly hot, lots of dark chocolate. A few drops of water adds some heat and orange zest.
Finish: Long, slightly hot, but smooth. Oranges and toffee.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100. Yes please.

Glenfarclas Family Cask 1995 Release IX (55.2% ABV, 17yo, Speyside, Scotland, no longer available in HK / AU it seems)
I tried this a few weeks earlier at the distillery, and enjoyed it just as much the second time around. As the notes show, quite different to the previous drams!
Colour: Dark dirty copper.
Nose: Sugary sweetness - cola bottle lollies, and some pine nuts. Quite a mix!
Palate: Honied sweetness gives way to Brazil nuts, all with an undertone of those cola bottle lollies (which I loved as a kid). Unique, different...which really is what you want when you're paying significantly more than the standard 17yo!
Finish: Medium to long, with some residual barbecued meat notes at the end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100.

Soon after the drams were tasted, out came a birthday cake - it turns out it was George's birthday! (Lucky him, getting to spend it with us.)

Happy Birthday George, and thanks for a fantastic tasting (and for signing my bottle of £511.19s.0d)!

Keep an eye out for our write-up of the Glenfarclas distillery tour shortly.

Martin. would like to thank InterContinental Grand Stanford Hong Kong for the invite, and George Grant for giving up his time (on his birthday no less).

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