Nestled in the heart of Speyside, Scotland, lies Glenfarclas Distillery, a family-owned business that has been producing some of the world's finest single malt whiskies for over 150 years. Founded in 1836 by Robert Hay, the distillery has been in the hands of the Grant family since 1865, with the current owners being the sixth generation of Grant to run the business.
With a rich history and a reputation for producing high-quality whisky, Glenfarclas (which means ‘glen of the green grassland’) is a must-visit Speyside distillery for any whisky lover. Visitors can tour the distillery to learn about the Glenfarclas whisky-making process, sample some of their award-winning whiskies, including the Glenfarclas Family Casks, and get a photo of their fabulous red warehouse doors.
Glenfarclas whisky is synonymous with sherry maturation. Glenfarclas Distillery almost exclusively use casks sourced from Jose-Miguel Martin – mostly first fill ex-sherry (Oloroso).
In his review (below) of the Glenfarclas 12-year-old, Ralfy praises Glenfarclas on its continued use of direct fired stills, as it produces a ‘good, robust, beefy, substantial, rich flavoured single malt whisky’. Springbank is another distillery that continues to use the direct fire method (on their wash still).
In 1968 Glenfarclas was one of the first distilleries in Scotland to release a commercial Cask Strength bottling. This cask strength bottling is now known as the Glenfarclas 105..
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Per Ralfy review 606: traditional nose, smells and tastes of Christmas cake. Robust spirit.. juicy casks. Effervescent, robust thick/dark malt with tiny bit of peat in the background. Dried fruit, plums and prunes. Old spice in the background.
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A dark amber-gold, full sweet vanilla, delicately smoked with a rich and long lasting finish.
Where Is Glenfarclas Distillery
Glenfarclas Distillery is located in the Northern Spey-district. Originally the region of Glenlivet, it is around 50 miles from Inverness and 157+ miles / 250+ km from Edinburgh 57.426997,-3.3163594.
Glenfarclas Distillery Tours and Bookings
To reserve your spot on a tour book online or contact VisitorCentre@glenfarclas.com. Reservations are highly advisable for the Classic Tour and essential for the Connoisseur's Tour and Five Decades Tour & Tasting.
The Glenfarclas Classic Tour includes a guided distillery tour and two drams of Glenfarclas whisky. The tour takes approximately 90 minutes. Ticket are £12.00 per adult and £6.00 per child (under 17). Children must be over 10 years of age to go on the Glenfarclas Classic Tour. Advanced online bookings are highly recommended.
Connoisseur’s Tour & Tasting
The Connoisseur's Tour and Tasting experience includes a guided tour of the distillery along with five tastings, including including two rare single-cask drams. This tour is usually only available at 1:00 pm on Fridays between April and November (and not available at other times of the year) although occasionally it is available on Monday or Tuesday - check the Connoisseurs Tour online booking calendar for availability, and make sure you book well in advance. The Connoisseur Tour and Tasting is for persons aged 18 years and over only. Allow 2.5 to 3 hours for your tour and tasting experience. Tickets are £65.00 per person.
Five Decades Tour & Tasting
The Five Decades tour is a must for Glenfarclas fans - it includes an exclusive in-depth tour of Glenfarclas Distillery but most importantly you get the opportunity to taste five whiskies from The Family Cask Collection, with one from each decade from the 1960s to the 2000s. This tour is usually only available at 1:00 pm on Thursdays between April and October (and not available at other times of the year) although occasionally it is available on a Monday or Tuesday - check the Five Decades online booking calendar for availability. Advanced bookings are highly recommended. This tour is only for persons aged over 18 years. Allow 2.5 to 3 hours for your tour and tasting experience. Tickets are £150.00 per person.
Useful Visitor Information
Photographs are allowed while on tour, and the red doors make for a great contrast against the dark grey stone. Don’t forget your camera.
Glenfarclas Distillery has mini take away bottles of Glenfarclas 10yo that are perfect for those of you who are the designated driver. Just let them know at the end of the tour if you’ll be needing your dram ‘to go’.
The distillery is in an old building and is laid-out in such a way that will make it inaccessible to some disabled visitors. Tours of the production site (including stills) involve climbing and descending two flights of stairs. Wheelchair access is available to the warehouse, Visitor Centre and the tasting room. The Visitor Centre has a disabled toilet.
Hotels Near Glenfarclas Distillery
There are a large number of accommodation options in the Speyside district. Grantown-on-Spey is one of the biggest nearby towns and Aberlour is just down the road (where you’ll find Aberlour Distillery).The following hotels are well known for their whisky bars:
Combining the style and elegance of a bygone era with the most modern of hotel facilities with 26 en-suite rooms to choose from, overlooking the River Spey and the famous Craigellachie Bridge. After a meal in the Copper Dog Pub, relax in the Quaich Bar and start tasting some of the 700 single malt whiskies that adorn its walls
There are five en-suite bedrooms to choose from, all named after local distilleries. A roll-top bath enhances The Glenlivet Room, while the Macallan Room, which follows the curve of the building, looks towards Easter Elchies House - the original home of The Macallan Malt Whisky. Downstairs you'll find the Mash Tun Bar and Restaurant, home to a wide and varied selection of whiskies, including the exclusive Glenfarclas Family Cask Collection.
For more accommodation suggestions, see our post on the Best Places to Stay in Speyside Scotland
Glenfarclas Distillery History
The oldest record of Glenfarclas as a distillery is a painting from 1791, which shows a still house and malt barns in addition to the farm buildings. You can see an image of the painting here.
Legal Since 1836
Robert Hay registered Glenfarclas as a licensed distillery in 1836. In 1865 Hay sold the distillery and farmlands to a local cattleman, John Grant, who was keen on the land, but not the distillery. Grant leased the distillery to his cousin, John Smith. Smith ran the Glenfarclas Distillery until 1870 when he went off to establish another nearby – Cragganmore.
John Grant and his son George ran Glenfarclas until John’s death in 1889. Sadly, George died only a year later in 1890, and his oldest sons John and George took over. The George/John pattern of inheritance will continue for the next 120+ years.
An Antiquated Distillery
Alfred Barnard visited around this time. He was warmly welcomed by Mr Grant (which one?!). Barnard describes Glenfarclas Distillery as having a “quaint and pleasant appearance notwithstanding the feeling of solitude and isolation” and “everything about the premises bears the mark of antiquity”.(2)
Power and general purpose water comes from various mountain streams (it still is), but the water for mashing comes from “‘Sauchie’ … the most noted and valued spring in the immediate district”.(2)
Barnard noted that the Barley Barn was to the left of the offices and could hold 1200-1500 quarters (15-19 tonnes) of barley. He also wrote that the malt barn measured 200 ft length x 15 ft width and had a Steep capable of wetting 50 quarters (635 kg) of barley at a time. The mash tun was capable of mashing 100-120 bushels in a cycle (3.6-4.3 tonnes – less than a third of what it can do today). There were six washbacks.
The still room contained one wash and one spirit/low-wines still, and again Barnard notes the age of the distillery – the stills being “fitted inside with antiquated revolving chains to prevent the wash from burning”.
Annual output was around 50,000 gallons (189,270 litres). Barnard must have visited Glenfarclas at least twice, as one entry he notes seven warehouses and capacity for 2000 casks, but in a second more detailed entry on the distillery, he notes a recent addition and a total of eight warehouses with capacity for 4000 casks.(2)
Glenfarclas don’t count themselves as a Speyside distillery. They tend to describe themselves as Highlands, but even that term is somewhat vague when you consider how big the Highlands are. Glenfarclas is just Glenfarclas. (1) Speyside is a relatively recent term, used to market Scotch whisky. At the time of Barnard’s visit around 1886, he notes the region as Glenlivet.
Barnard also notes that “Messrs Pattison, Elder & Co. draw a fair considerable portion of North Country malt whisky” from Glenfarclas stock.(2)
Partnership of Peril
In 1895, the Grant Family would go into partnership (50%) with Pattison, Elder and Co, forming the Glenfarclas-Glenlivet Distillery Company. Glenfarclas used the funds provided by the new arrangement to rebuild the distillery.
However, by 1898, the Pattison Brothers were spectacularly bankrupt, which put considerable strains on Glenfarclas for the next 15 years. This brush with bankruptcy has seen Glenfarclas rely on working capital, rather than borrowed money ever since. “We only make what we can afford, and we never borrow money to make it” states George S Grant (observe the middle initial to keep track of the Grants) in David Broom’s World Atlas of Whisky.
This philosophy has stood them in good stead. When for instance, the whisky market started to deteriorate in the 1960s, and Glenfarclas lost a major blending contract, George J Grant (1923-2002) decided to build up their assets and put more whisky in storage for own bottlings.
Subsequently, Glenfarclas amassed a considerable volume of aged casks, which resulted in the release of the Family Casks Editions by John LS Grant in 2007. Glenfarclas released vintages from 1952 to 1994 to a gleeful market – 43 single cask single malts (4). Presently the range stretches back as far as 1954.
Glenfarclas Distillery Images
Glenfarclas has six stills (three wash and three spirit/low-wines) all of which are direct fired, using gas. Glenfarclas did a trial with steam coil heating in 1981 but found that it negatively affected the taste of their spirit, and went back to direct firing after three weeks. You can see how the gas burners appear in this 1980 Canmore photo.
As Ralfy notes above (review 606 – Glenfarclas 12 yo), direct firing requires more attention and care by the Stillman, so the stills don’t over heat and burn. Burnt stills result in charred wash/low-wines, the stills must then be shut down and scraped clean. Steam coils cause less mess and less damage to the still, meaning less cleaning and a longer life. However, the method of heating the stills does impact the character of the spirit – direct firing tends to provide a fuller, richer, meatier spirit.
Direct firing does mean, however, that the stills degrade faster, as charring and cleaning strip the copper. Therefore, Glenfarclas is forced to change over its stills more frequently (every 20-30 years) than other distilleries might.
All Glenfarclas warehouses are dunnage storage (dirt floors, only 2-3 stacks/racks of casks) which Glenfarclas believe improves the quality of their whisky. It also lets them achieve a much smaller loss (0.05% per annum angel’s share) than palletised warehouses (average 2%, often up to 5% evaporation).
You can check out some old photos of Glenfarclas on the Canmore site – such as the old mash tun (with the lid added around 1970) and the still house circa 1980. Note the different configuration/set up compared to today (2017) below.
References & Further Reading
One of Amanda's favourite books. Around 1885, Alfred Barnard was secretary of Harper's Weekly Gazette, a journal dedicated to the wine and spirit trade. In order to provide his readers with the history and descriptions of the whisky-making process, Barnard decided to visit all distilleries in Scotland, England and Ireland. Accompanied by friends, he visited and sketched over 150 distilleries. This is a wonderful step back in time and a must have book for a whisky history geek.
By award-winning author and whisky expert Dave Broom; explore over 200 distilleries and examine over 400 expressions. Detailed descriptions of the Scottish distilleries can be found here, while Ireland, Japan, the USA, Canada and the rest of the world are given exhaustive coverage. There are tasting notes on single malts from Aberfeldy to Tormore, Yoichi (and coverage of the best of the blends). Six specially created 'Flavour Camp Charts' group whiskies by style and allow readers to identify new whiskies from around the world to try. With over 200 beautiful colour photographs and 21 colour maps locating distilleries and whisky-related sites, this is a stylish celebration of the heritage, romance, craftsmanship and versatility of whisky.
What Else Is Nearby
Speyside is fairly small geographically and full of excellent distilleries. Some of those closest to Glenfarclas Distillery are: