Glenfarclas 15-year-old vs Glenfarclas 25-year-old

Glenfarclas is a family-owned independent distillery in Ballindalloch (Speyside), and it’s one of those bottlings that avid collectors of all vintage years aim to show off on their shelves. After all, The Family Casks, a collection of 43 single casks bottlings starting from 1952 to 1994, is the largest in the world. Luckily for you, it’s still available for sale for about £120,000, and if you buy it, the family will fly you out for dinner at the estate. I’ve yet to acquire one from the 70s – alas, they won’t get cheaper if I wait. Meanwhile, the official introduction to this malt on these pages was back in December of last year, when I compared Glenfarclas 105 vs the Mortlach 13-year-old (see who won!), and today I’m checking out a bit more of the range, trying the 10-year-old alongside the rest, at Milroy’s. So let’s get down to business, but first, music! Now playing: Abul MogardIn Immobile Air.

A few more particulars worth mentioning about Glenfarclas before we begin. The distillery has six stills, which are the tallest in Speyside. These are bulb-shaped, offering the spirit the most contact with copper, and are being heated directly by gas burners (a particular technique that gives the whisky that slightly burnt character). The many other traditional distillation methods (including the condensation by using cool mountain water) give this spirit that “time-honoured” quality. Everything is aged in the ex-Oloroso sherry European oak casks (personally selected by John Grant from a family-run Bodega in Spain), and all of the malts (at least what I’ve sampled) are non-chill filtered and of natural colour. The “Made To Age” range includes the 10-year-old bottled at 40%, the 12-year-old at 43%, and the 15-year-old at 46% ABV, where I am making my first stop. This dram is golden amber, with plenty of sweet caramel on the nose, honey and toffee on the palate, and a long-lasting sherried finish. It is a vatting of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd fill casks (apparently, the 4th fill is the last possible cask re-use, after which the barrel is discarded for garden furniture). It’s a viscous and simply delicious single malt, which I can spot at about £58 per bottle and would fulfil any sherried lover’s desire. “We bottle this at 46% simply because my grandfather preferred it at this strength,” says John L.S. Grant, and I tend to agree with his grandpa’s assessment.

The subsequent bottles in this range include the 17-year-old at 43% and the 21-year-old at 43%, which I am not trying tonight. There are also the 30-year-old and the 40-year-old if your wallet allows you [the latter is only about £1,000 at bargain hunters]. But we skip straight to the 25-year-old – the next on our Glenfarclas journey. And at about £150 (if you can find it), it’s a pretty accessible bottle. This one is also at 43% and is clearly older just from the nose. This, by the way, is also known as “overaging” – that is the process when even older whiskies [then what is stated by the label] are used. This is sometimes explicitly mentioned on the bottle (but I honestly haven’t seen that before). At first, I thought I had this dram, having recently purchased Glenfarclas, but as soon as I tasted it, I knew I was wrong [I checked afterwards, and I’ve got the 185th Anniversary Bottling, which has no age statement on it]. It’s slightly lighter on the palate due to the lower alcohol content, but it is still chewy, meaty, and full. It almost tastes dark, with a bit of burnt caramel in all the right places. Hints of coffee come in on the sides, dissipating in a very long finish. I am tempted to add just a drop of water, but at 43%, I leave this dram alone and drink it neat. This is a beautiful, after-dinner, celebratory whisky, one which has won many awards for reasons clear from each sip. I only wish that I could have more – alas, this evening has come to an end [well, not exactly true, we’ve also had the 105 to cap the night, but that is for another story].

So, here we are, folks. Time for a call. I think it’s almost too easy to choose the 25-year-old as the winner. But frankly, I was more impressed by the 15. There are a few specific reasons for this fondness. The 25-year-old has met my expectations from the start. They have been high, and 25 has hit the mark on all the points. But the 15 has gone beyond my predisposed assessment of the age. The extra 3% in ABV has also given it an extra nudge, and for that reason, I think I will proclaim that the 15-year-old wins this round.

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