When a friend of mine told me Callum Fraser was coming to The Netherlands to give a tasting. I knew I had to be there. The chance to hear some tales of whisky from the renowned Glenfarclas distillery manager himself, is not one that comes by all too often. And when those stories are served with a couple of amazing drams from their line-up, you know you’re in for a good night. The cherry on top was the venue itself, as I can’t think of many places better suited for such a tasting than the Malt Vault in Utrecht.
(Don’t) let it snow…
When I woke up yesterday morning, I looked out my window and what I saw outside spelled doom. The pretty sight of my garden under the cover of snow, was one that couldn’t have come at a worse time. Let’s just say that public transportation in The Netherlands tends to struggle with the merest of snowfall. And tonight I had somewhere to be that I really did not want to miss out on. Thankfully though, I was saved a couple of hours later when last-minute I found a place to stay in Utrecht.
Welcome at the Malt Vault
After an early dinner (the event started at 18:00 and I didn’t want to show up with an empty stomach) I made my way down to the Malt Vault. Where I found a place at a table with some fellow whisky lovers. One of the things I always loved about the whisky community, is that the love for whisky always seems to bond people instantaneously. And tonight, was no exception. But even though there was an instant click between the people in the crowd, Callum had no trouble to get the room quiet when it was time to start. Because in the end we we’re all there for the same thing, to hear his tales and taste some whisky!
From the get-go Callum stressed the importance of the fact that Glenfarclas is a family-owned business. He told us all about how it affects decision making. The way they approach whisky. And above all how the team that works for the distillery is seen as part of that family. For that reason, we all devoted the first toast to his colleagues. Who produced the amazing drams we would get to taste.
Oloroso Sherry Casks
We kicked things off with the standard Glenfarclas 12-year-old. Bottled at 43% and filled to the brim with notes of caramel and fudge. A good place to start when you want to experience what Glenfarclas has to offer. Like all the whiskies Glenfarclas produces under their own label, it is aged exclusively in Oloroso sherry casks. And every single barrel has had sherry in it for at least four-and-a-half year. So these casks are not merely seasoned either. If you want to try a Glenfarclas aged in a different kind of barrel you will have to look for an independent bottling. In fact, when Callum spotted a bourbon barrel with an amazing profile, John Grant still told him they would not bottle it. Glenfarclas stays true to its nature, and to the whisky profile it has become known for.
After enjoying the 12 we moved on to the 15-year-old offering from their core line-up. A dram Callum describes as Christmas cake in your glass. Which is a tasting note that was probably hard to grasp for most people there. As in The Netherlands we’re often not familiar with British Christmas cake. But I think all of us could taste the clear difference three extra years in the cask had brought to this dram. Though I will also add that most people around me seemed to enjoy the 12-year-old a fair bit more. Personally I would choose the 15 over the 12, but that’s because I tend to prefer bolder flavours. And the 15 brings that, with a little extra ABV (46 %) as well, which certainly didn’t hurt this dram.
The third and last dram before a little intermission was the Spring Edition, bottled for The Netherlands. For this whisky they decided to use first-fill, second-fill, third-fill, and even some fourth-fill casks. Which together gave the flavour profile that they felt suited the spring season perfectly. And out of the three drams we enjoyed thus far I enjoyed this one the most. This was a dram that bloomed with a few drops of water. It truly opened up the whisky, and let its flavours shine in all their glory.
After the intermission we started things of strong, with a dram that made me forget all about the last one. And as it turned out it was also the dram I enjoyed most of everything we got to try that night. I’m talking about the Family Cask 2004, a true sherry-bomb! And what made this whisky even more interesting is learning how the Family Casks are chosen. Callum told us that every year there’s a panel of tasters that taste several casks. And then the one that’s voted favourite amongst the group is picked for bottling.
He also told us that they taste the whiskies in blue glasses, and that there’s two reasons for that! First of all, he wants people to pick the whisky they like the best based on its taste and not on its colour. The second part is a more personal agenda that has something to do with football. Which means I think we can all guess which club Callum supports!
We followed that sherry-bomb up with another one, the Glenfarclas 105. One of the best value sherry-bombs out there if you ask me. As you can regularly find this 60% ABV whisky in 1-liter bottles for less than 40 euro. If that isn’t a steal, I don’t know what is. It’s the only bottle in the Glenfarclas line-up without an age statemen. But thanks to Callum we now know it’s 8-year-old whisky.
The name 105 is derived from the old proof system. Where 105 proof is roughly the equivalent of the 60% ABV mentioned before. The story behind this name is a fun one: Back in the day a bottle of a similar whisky was filled and gifted with a handwritten label. On which the only words written were “Glenfarclas” and its proof. That bottle turned out to pick up quite a bit of fame. And people started asking around for that 105 Glenfarclas. The Grant family saw a business opportunity. And started bottling the whisky under the name it holds till this day: Glenfarclas 105.
The last dram of the night was an extra special one, a cask sample from one of the 30 barrels filled on the first day of the current millennium! Callum told us that the Glenfarclas distillery is the only distillery in the world that has casks filled on the last day of the last millennium and on the first day of the new millennium. How cool is it that we got to try the latter? The cask we sampled is still sitting in the warehouse as we speak, and despite it’s age it was still rather delicate. A proper end to an amazing tasting session I’d say!
After the tasting session me and a friend stayed at the Malt Vault a little longer, to have a little “dessert” after everything we tasted. We both picked a flight and I ended up delighted with my choices of the Glendalough 7-year-old Mizunara cask, the Balcones True Blue Cask Strength, and a Coal Ila from Cooper’s Choice. After that, it was high time to hit the hay. And all in all, I think we can safely state that either a Glenfarclas tasting OR a night at the Malt Vault is an amazing way to spend your Friday night. But having both on one night is absolute bliss!