I must admit, given the choice between what are two of the most popular sherry-matured whisky distilleries in Scotland, Glenfarclas and Glendronach, I would usually go for the latter. Some will disagree, but personally, the majority of Glenfarclas whiskies I have tasted so far simply do not measure-up to the current competition from Glendronach. I'm yet to come across any of the 'family cask' single-cask bottlings or 30+ year old expressions from Glenfarclas, so thus far, this '105' expression has come the closest to being an exception to the rule.
But before we get into that, let's have a look at the story behind this Speyside distillery. Officially started in 1836, the distillery was purchased by John Grant roughly thirty years later after the death of the original owner, and it's still independently owned by the Grant family today. The distillery uses six large direct-fired stills, although they are gas-heated rather than coal-heated, and all whisky is matured on-site in traditional dunnage warehouses, before bottling off-site near Edinburgh.
Importantly, Glenfarclas mature the majority of their whisky in Spanish oak ex-sherry casks, mainly Oloroso and Fino sherry, and they age their spirit for a minimum of eight years. So if, like this '105' expression, your Glenfarclas doesn't carry an age statement, it's at least eight years old. Naturally it's quite unusual for a distillery to make a statement like this, as it limits their options somewhat, but it's also great to see!
So, on to this particular expression, which is certainly my personal pick of the standard Glenfarclas range. But why the name '105'? It's named after the bottling strength, in British proof, which equates to 60% ABV in modern terms, which is said to be cask strength. So it's a similar style whisky to Aberlour's brilliant A'Bunadh, or Glendronach's excellent Cask Strength (NAS) series, and we're looking for big sherry influence, high strength and plenty of youthful character.
On the cask strength note though, this is not a single-cask bottling, it's a vatting of selected casks. So I'm wondering how the bottled whisky can consistently come out of said vatting at exactly 60%, without adding any water (which would then not be cask strength), every time? The new-make spirit may go into the casks at a consistent strength (63.5%), but evaporation (the angel's share) is not a precisely predictable thing. I'm not sure how this could be accomplished, unless they're carefully selecting and blending the casks used for this bottling while taking the ABV into account.
Making me even more curious on this point is the fact that there have been 20 yo and 40 yo limited release versions of the 105, which are still bottled at that same 60% strength, despite being aged for at two or four times as long as this expression. But the label says cask strength after all, and I'm not suggesting it isn't, I'm just wondering how they do it. It would seemingly be easier to release it in batches at different strengths, but then that would render the name slightly redundant, I suppose.
Glenfarclas do not add any colouring to their whiskies, and while I couldn't find any official mention of chill filtration, I don't believe it has been chill filtered. What I did find though is a note on the distillery's website, which states the non-age statement (NAS) Glenfarclas 105 is actually 8-10 years old, which is pleasingly honest, although it may have been better served printed on the packaging. Let's see how it goes...
Aged 8-10 years, natural colour, believed non-chill filtered.
Nose: Semi-dry sherry - slightly musty red grapes and wood spices, and a fresh, bright, sweet malty spirit accompaniment. Well balanced in that regard, actually. A little spicy oak in the background, some dried fruit, and a little spirit-y bite as well.
Texture: Medium. Some heat, but very nice regardless.
Taste: Quite a bit of heat initially. Some of that sherry & malty spirit are still there, plus some dry fruit, but they're having to fight against the heat. It could use some water, but that's not normally how I review, so it wouldn't be fair.
Finish: Medium. Still some prickly heat, which lasts quite a while. A little bitter oak & spice at the end, then the malty spirit comes back to say goodbye.
Score: 2.5 out of 5.
Notes: It's definitely young and spirit-y, but that doesn't make it bad. I really enjoyed the nose (it would've scored lower without it), but the palate and finish were disappointing. I did actually add some water to see if it helped, and it didn't make a huge difference, the heat was still bashing everything else into the ground. Adding water killed the nose a bit, too.
It's important to note this is just my opinion of this particular sample, but for me, the 105 can't compete with the A'Bunadh batches I've tasted, or basically anything from Glendronach. It is quite well priced, though. Having said all that, I'd still love to get my hands on one of Glenfarclas' 'family cask' bottlings, for scientific purposes of course. The distillery is ticking all the boxes otherwise, so maybe I just haven't found the right expression yet. Which calls for more research...