The Water of Life has a bias towards small and independent distilleries. Given how hard it is to build and grow a distillery and ensure its survival away from the financial safety net of a giant multinational corporation, we like to draw attention to these producers, particularly when they produce great spirits. And Glenfarclas represents possibly the greatest success story of any independent distillery.
Although Glenfarclas was originally granted a license in 1836 (having probably been distilling for some 40 or so years already), it was purchased by one John Grant in 1865. It has remained in the Grant family ever since, spanning six generations. This isn’t just an independent distillery, but a true family business.
It is said that every family has a black sheep. While I don’t know which Grant would be given this title, I do know the Glenfarclas whisky on which this label would be pinned. With the rest of the range consisting of age statements between 10 and 50 years and a few single cask releases, the NAS Glenfarclas 105 really stands out. This black sheep label is emphasised by choice of packaging. While the other whiskies are uniform in their classic white and red branding (although admittedly the 12-year-old introduces a hint of blue; the exception proving the rule), the 105 is resplendent in more modern black packaging. Clearly, this is a choice to produce something more than a little different from the rest of the range.
The Glenfarclas 105 is of interest not only because it sits outside the rest of the Glenfarclas range. It has a reputation as being one of the best examples of flavour evolution when water is added to a whisky. Indeed, the label on the back of the bottle even suggests doing this. So, is the Glenfarclas 105 any good, and what happens when a little water is added? To examine this, I tasted a diluted (5 drops of water) and undiluted dram side by side:
Acording to Glenfarclas, this is a Highland Single Malt Whisky, although it is located in the Speyside region.
60% ABV; wood of maturation not declared. The “105” in the name refers to this strength: 105 proof.
Glenfarclas does not make any claims about chill filtration or colouring. However, common consensus across the internet is that Glenfarclas neither chill-filter nor colour their whiskies.
£48 (Master of Malt)
Nose: A big hit of sherry and cooked apple. There is also pear, cracked black pepper, a hint of cinnamon, ground coffee, and a nutty honey sweetness.
There wasn’t a significant change in the aromas with water, but there was rebalancing. The sherry and apple notes were muted, with the spices and sweetness coming through more strongly.
Palate: Initially dry and smooth, followed by a big spicy punch. The palate starts with honey-almond nougat and candied orange peel, before there’s a heavy hit of black and cayenne pepper, oak, brazil and macadamia nuts, and sherry.
With water: the difference is much more noticeable than was the case with the nose. The palate becomes much smoother and more rounded, with the big spicy punch considerably mellowed. While there is still some peppery warmth, the balance is now much more in favour of honey sweetness and nutty flavours.
Finish: Nutty, peppery, warming, and long.
The pepper and warmth are reduced slightly with water, but the nuttiness is still there, as is the excellent length.
Opinion: The Glenfarclas 105 is a great, affordable cask strength single malt. The palate packs a big punch, and the finish is absolutely fantastic; possibly the best of any cask strength under £50. Even when water is added, it’s still delightfully long and lingering. Although they aren’t as exceptional as the finish, both the palate and nose are good, although there could be more complex. While I would say that I really like this whisky, it’s not quite refined enough for me to love it.
Tasting the Glenfarclas 105 diluted and undiluted side by side showed a significant rebalance in the aromas and flavours. I would have liked to have seen some new notes emerge rather than just a rebalancing of what was already there. However, I enjoyed it slightly more with water, as at its original strength, it is much more difficult to explore its flavours. The chief issue on dilution is balance, which is left to the drinker to establish. When undiluted, any issues of balance are disguised by the powerful flavours. My impression is that Glenfarclas has released the 105 as a whisky to be diluted, inviting you to explore it thoroughly.
It may seem strange that Glenfarclas has released a whisky knowing that it is above the optimal strength for drinking. Other bottles from the Glenfarclas range will be better choices for those just wanting a refined dram to enjoy. However, this is a great option for those wishing to experiment with the changes in a whisky’s flavour as they change the dilution. And as a NAS cask strength, it’s a solid choice and good value.