Friday, June 8, 2012

Review: Glenfarclas 15 years Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Have you ever just wanted to hop into a big Buick, like a '61 LeSabre or convertible Invicta, and just drive?  I have.  Screw work!  Call in sick.  Tell the missus you gotta conference!  Whatever it takes!  This is something we gotta do.

"Where we headed?" you ask apprehensively, as I back out of your drive.

"Who knows?  I gotta full tank of gas, my wallet is fat, and I wanna see the American mid-west.  Let's head for Kansas!"

We may take the highway for a while and then peel off on an exit ramp into some town with a quirky Norman Rockwell-esque name and take secondary roads that meander over hills, around mountains and through national parks full of pine trees and bears.
. . .

Vintage Standard Oil Co. Road Map
I am not big on structure as you have probably surmised.  If I land in a new city for work, I just walk out of that hotel without a map, and just start wandering.  I'll turn down a street because there is a shop with a neat neon sign or whatever.

Similarly, what whisky I choose to review on this blog tends to be fairly whimsical.  "Oohh!  I like that packaging, yeah, I am a sucker for that impressive looking box.  What a cheap price?  Yeah, let's do it!" I think to myself.

Now, if I was organized, a real little poindexter, I would review bottlings of distilleries in the order of their age statements (ie. 12, 15, 18, etc.), as one reader has urged me to do in an earnest email.  That my dear is not going to happen for much the same reason as the nature of my fantasy road trip.

Anyhow, I did review Glenfarclas 12, but never got around to reviewing the 15, 17 and 21, all of which I have and been sipping for quite sometime.  Well, I am getting to the 15 today.  Let's see where this vehicle of malt takes us:

Nose (undiluted)
Spicy, mildly medicinal with big sherry notes.

Palate (undiluted)
Rounded rich sherry notes.  This is a big sherried scotch.  A wee bit of charcoal interspersed with the sherry.  Raspberries and peppermint.  Lots of oak (maybe too much).  A little bit of a strong drink that makes it slightly off-balance.

Finish (undiluted)
Candied ginger, smoke, and oak again.

Bottled at 46% abv, I always like to add a little water.

Nose (diluted)
Damp leaves, turned over earth as you hunt for worms for that early morning fishing trip.  Smoke and camphor.

Palate (diluted)
I like what a little water does to this malt.  It makes it softer and takes away a bit of a wild alcohol taste that rears its head when neat.  What else is going on here?  Your sherry taste is tinged with pencil shavings, ginger and malt.

Finish (diluted)
Slightly drying.  The big sherry is complimented by nutmeg, cloves, smoke and oak.

46% ABV
At 46% alcohol,  Glenfarclas 15 is as big and muscular as my '61 Invicta barrelling down the I-95.  If there was ever a case for adding water, Glenfarclas 15 is the incontrovertible proof of such a proposition.

Personally, I find many malt whiskies at 40% could use a kick up in the abv, which will result in more vibrant, textured (think velvet on the palate) flavors.  Ideally 43% seems to work best.  At 43% it can be enjoyed neat and the flavor spectrum is at its best.  Go over that and some malt may get a little raw and wild.  Some people enjoy the liveliness, but not likely scotch newbies or people (younger generation) like me who tend to gravitate to the gentler variety flavor profiles.

Any distillery that can make malt in excess of 43%, but not taste the spirity alcohol is very talented (I am thinking Highland Park 25).  The raw alcohol taste can appear and that is not a good thing.  So, we manually dial it down to 43% with a little water and all is good in the world again.

General Impressions
As I said above, this particular bottling is very robust.  As a result it is less complex.  The sherry bomb is a little raw.  Again, water is a must with this one.

Online there is a lot of praise for Glenfarclas 15, but I must say I am a little disappointed.  It tastes a little too young in spite of the age statement.  If it was up to me, I think a couple more years of aging would have helped take away the powerful alcohol presence.

That being said, Glenfarclas 15 is a classic introduction to the big sherried scotch whisky that everybody should try once and decide for themselves.  Just do your best to buy it on sale, as the current release (2011-12) seems a little vigorous.

Maybe the proportion of older whiskies in excess of 15 years is less than in past years.  I dunno, but that unruly alcohol takes away a level of textured/velvety complexity of flavor that is mandatory at this age statement and price point.  You know what?  In all honest at the $70 I paid for this, I can't say I can recommend it.  Not sufficient value for money here.  It is a decent sherried single malt, but not sufficiently exceptional to warrant the price.  $50?  Ok.  $55 maximum.

Suggested Alternative
If you like sherried single malts of Speyside, I would recommend GlenDronach 15 over Glenfarclas 15.  The former is more reasonably priced, more complex, yet a race car of sherry too.

. . .

C'mon, hop in, and lets hit the road and see what else happens upon our way!


Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2012. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission. Photography credits:  Great close up photograph of a 1961 Buick LeSabre taken by Paul Kucyzynski at who holds all copyright and may not be reproduced without his permission.  Photograph of interior dash of 1960 Buick Invicta uploaded by Flickr member Ate up with motor, who holds copyright to said image  Used in this post with his permission  All reproduction is prohibited without his permission.  Note:  All images appearing in this article are for the purposes of nostalgia, education and entertainment.  Moreover, all images used are considered by the author to be significant in illustrating the subject matter, facilitating artistic/critical/humourous commentary, as it provides an immediate relevance to the reader more capably than the textual description.


  1. Great and fun review as always, Jason.

    Glenfarclas is the classic Speyside sherried malt and I've been in love for literally decades. My favorites are the 17 and the 21. As you say, the 15 is tad spirity, having lost a bit of the fruity youth of the 12 but not yet acquired the august richness of the 17 and 21. By the 25 wood tannins add bitterness. Not until the 30 and 40 do the tannins relax and majesty resumes. So, that's where I stand: I'll take the 12, 17, 21, 30 and 40. I know... I know... picky and finicky like a cat...

    1. My favorite is the 17yrs also. Just so balanced and surprisingly dry.

      Yeah, I think I prefer the 12 over the 15 too.

  2. Jason, I'm fond of your analogy of a '61 LeSabre with the Glennie 15Y. Both are big and powerful and boisterous and strongly flavored. They each very much reflect the style of the 1960's era for their product. Therein may lay the rub for younger (or newbie) scotch fans, unfamiliar with older styles of malt. I love this malt deeply, and treasure its strength and complexity over what currently passes for excellence among the "sherried stylings" of well-aged Glenlivet, Macallan, Glenfiddich. It's been a style I have followed for nearly forty years now. We are, in some ways, what we grow to love. Cheers, JK.

    1. You make a good point. Glenfarclas 15 is a big dog! Major sherry bomb and I do agree that the younger generation (ie. myself) and certainly the newbie may easily find this malt to be overpowering. Hence, my preference for some water with it.

  3. "It tastes a little too young in spite of the age statement."

    I agree Jason. I had this at Glenfarclas distillery in October. So many people fawn over it. I don't like it at all. The alcohol overwhelms. For me Glenfarclas at 25 plus years is the minimum age.