Liquor Claus paid me a visit yesterday, and part of her bounty was a bottle of 12 year old Glenfarclas single malt Scotch. Glenfarclas is something of an oddity in the world of Scotch. It was established by a farmer named Robert Hay in 1836, and he sold it to John Grant in 1865. It has remained the property of the Grant family since (there are other Grants involved in the Scotch industry, but none of them are related to the Glenfarclas Grants), and it is the only distillery that the Grant family owns. That's right -- in an era of huge multinational corporations seizing control of the Scotch business (and the Bourbon business), Glenfarclas remains an independent. And that's not the only way that it's unusual. It has the largest stills in Speyside, and it is one of the few distilleries left that uses direct heat to fire their stills (as opposed to steam coils that provide indirect heat). They experimented with steam heat on one of their stills in the 1980s and found that the character of the whisky was changed and so abandoned the experiment. Finally, there's the aging program. Most Scotch today is aged in used Bourbon barrels; Glenfarclas apparently is aged exclusively in used sherry butts (Oloroso and Fino, according to the website), making it an interesting counterpoint to another sherried Speyside malt, Macallan.
You will recall that the more copper contact distiller's beer and low wines have during distillation, the "cleaner", lighter, and freer of congeners the finished new make spirit will have. Larger stills tend to promote more copper contact, as do ball- or lamp-shaped tops of the stills. Since Glenfarclas has the largest stills in Speyside and those stills have ball-shaped tops, you would expect that its whisky would be light and elegant. I wouldn't call it inelegant, but it certainly isn't light. Perhaps it's the sherry influence that gives it weight, I don't know. In any event, it smells like nutty fruitcake (in a good way), and there's a lot of malt on the palate. I generally like sherried Scotches, and I like this one, too. Thank you, Liquor Claus. You're the best.
(Incidentally, that picture above was taken from the Glenfarclas website. Within the last year or two, Glenfarclas has changed the bottle for their 12 year old expression. Instead of the tall, clear bottle shown above, it's now tinted brown and squat. I can't find a picture of the new bottle online, though, so we'll just have to make due with the old one.)