Glenfarclas: quality vintage whisky. No strings attached.

Glenfarclas: quality vintage whisky. No strings attached.

If you could build the perfect single malt Scotch distillery from scratch it would probably be fiercely independent and still in family ownership. It would make only malt whisky. It would cleave to time-honoured methods of production and age its spirit in traditional, low-lying warehouses using former sherry casks that the owners had selected in person. It wouldn’t spend much money on marketing and ritzy packaging (no celebrity brand ambassadors, thankfully) and, naturally, would lie in the very heart of Speyside the finest whisky making country in the world.

Good news! It already exists.

If you haven’t guessed already, this is Glenfarclas, and the even better news is that, as it’s been operating since 1836 there is plenty of whisky to go round. That’s because of the near-obsessive stewardship of the Grant family, who have owned Glenfarclas since 1865 and plan to hang onto it, well, forever. Chairman John L S Grant, the 5th generation to take charge, even lives on site keeping a very sharp eye on every aspect of distillery life, with son George indefatigable in pursuit of global sales.

But, for a long time, perhaps because of their somewhat sceptical attitude to the rest of the industry, though held in high esteem by hard-core whisky fans Glenfarclas was relatively obscure. It’s a little-known fact, for example, that the foundation of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society only came about after the founder tasted cask strength Glenfarclas, something that changed his life!

More recently, however, the distillery’s fame has spread. Discreet marketing of its great depth of stocks (only possible in a family owned business, impervious to the short-term demands of the City) has brought the world its remarkable Family Casks range. Other distilleries boast, proudly, of their 40- or 50-Year Old whisky. Well might they do so, because such rarities are to be treasured. None though, be they ever so distinguished, can match the Glenfarclas Family Casks; this collection of dated vintage whiskies dates back to 1954 and offers a continuous record of production to the youngest in the range, the 2003, a mere stripling of 15 years.

The packaging is unassuming and the pricing, perhaps not coincidentally, unusually modest when age and quality are taken into account. Glenfarclas have chosen a simple bottle and label and a carton; presentation unadorned by fancy labelling, silver stoppers and elaborate brochures. Everything here says that it’s the whisky that counts and the whisky only.

It is, as they say, made to age and age it does, with unusual grace, balance and power. The direct-fired stills (largely abandoned elsewhere as too demanding to operate); the crystal clear spring water from the granite of Ben Rinnes but, most of all, the Oloroso sherry casks in which the whisky ages all contribute to the magic. I need say no more.

By Ian Buxton