Whisky & Wisdom 2008 Glenfarclas

Glenfarclas single cask exclusive for whiskyandwisdom.com

A little over two years ago I wrote this post on a special single cask of Glenfarclas bottled exclusively for someone I’d describe as Australia’s single biggest Glenfarclas fan, Andrew Derbidge. He also happens to be the author of the ever-informative Whisky & Wisdom and thanks to the success of his first Glenfarclas bottling, he’s gone to tremendous effort to bottle and bring in a second release, exclusively for the Australian market.

Whisky & Wisdom Glenfarclas Edition 2 - Bottle shot_1.jpg

Why this isn’t any ordinary single cask selection

These days it seems that everyone is an independent bottler and with a little internet hype and a clever label design, it seems as though you can sell anything. But anyone who has tasted their fair share of single cask whisky will tell you that they’re not all created equally, and neither are the palates and the experience of those who select them.

Apart from being an avid author, Andrew has been an avid whisky appreciator for well over two decades and has been very active in the local industry for nearly as long. He’s the cellarmaster of the Australian branch of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, has presented more whisky tastings than I’ve had hot dinners and truly has a killer palate. So when he selects a single cask of whisky and brings the whole thing to Australia – not because it’s a lucrative investment, not because it was simply ‘available’ – but because he genuinely loves it, you know you’re in for a treat.

During an afternoon spent at Glenfarclas distillery last year, Andrew pored over a large selection of butts and hogsheads aged between 9 and 14 years old. The whiskies sampled that day included a range of 1st fill and refill casks, but it was this particular one that got his attention. Distilled in July 2008, cask 1270 – a 1st fill, European oak, ex-oloroso hogshead – has been bottled at the ripe age of ten years, at natural cask strength of 59.8%.

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The nose is everything you could want from an ex-sherry cask whisky. It’s clear and confident with dried fruit (raisins, apricots, figs and cherries), sticky orange liqueur, Christmas cake, tiramisu, baking spice and dark toffee.

The palate is just as convincing; a perfect reflection of the nose. I point that out, as it seems to be rarely the case these days where a fruity, rich nose translates to a juicy, sweet, balanced palate. But it does so here. Immediately oily and chewy, you get a brief reminder that this weights in at nearly 60% alcohol before the prickle explodes into juicy sweetness. Plump dried raisins, sweet chewy prunes and plum jam up front, followed by golden syrup and a rounded, lingering warming spice. It stays pleasantly sweet and fruity on the finish as some dark chocolate and marmalade notes start to creep in.

How you can buy your own bottle

As I wrote back in 2016 when I tasted his first release, not all sherried whisky is created equally and it’s increasingly rare these days to come across a truly harmonious cask free from flaws (such as sulphur taint or an abundance of drying, tannic oak). It’s also tough to find a single cask of whisky that is balanced through the nose, palate and finish – but yet again he has nailed it with this selection.

Whisky & Wisdom Glenfarclas Edition 2 - Christmas_1.jpg

If you’re looking for one single whisky that embodies Christmas in a glass – look no further – I can confirm that this is definitely it and the best part is that you can claim your very own bottle. Follow this link to Whisky & Wisdom’s webshop to grab yours today. I can’t think of another bottle currently available in Australia that delivers this level of quality for the price, so I’ll be putting my money where my mouth is on this one!

Whisky & Wisdom 2007 Glenfarclas

A private single cask Glenfarclas for whiskyandwisdom.com

I love sherried whisky. Auto-correct tells me that ‘sherried’ isn’t even a real word and it’s probably correct, but as a far as I’m concerned it should be. When I say sherried whisky, I’m referring to that gorgeous mahogany or ruby-coloured whisky that’s spent its life maturing ex-sherry casks, imparting rich notes of dried fruit, spice and sweetness.

Glenfarclas

I’ve been fortunate enough to taste many different sherried whiskies, ranging from three-month old spirit from an ex-sherry cask, all the way to a 1967 43 year old Longmorn that had the opacity of black coffee. In amongst all of those sherried whiskies I’ve also encountered the broad spectrum of what can make a sherried whisky great, and what can make some of them borderline undrinkable.

There’s sherried whisky out there that’s sulphur tainted, presenting notes of gunpowder, struck matches and – at worst – an eggy rotten gas vibe. I’ve also had the heavily oaked, tannic and overly bitter drams, ones that were totally out of whack and just didn’t seem to gel with the European Oak casks they were matured in. Or ones that were perhaps left in the cask too long. Then there’s the one-dimensional, super sweet, cloying drams that taste as though a good few litres of sherry was left in the cask before it was filled with spirit. The point I’m trying to make is that sherried whisky is incredibly alluring, but it can also be incredibly varied in quality. That’s especially the case when you’re talking about first fill, single cask offerings. Get it wrong and there’s nowhere to hide!

There are two distilleries that immediately spring to mind for me when I think of high-quality, heavily sherried whisky; GlenDronach and Glenfarclas. GlenDronach happens to be my vice and I find it hard to resist the urge to pick up a new single cask bottling whenever I come across one. I know someone who happens to feel the same about Glenfarclas, but he’s taken this love (or shall we say, obsession) one step further. He’s gone and bought himself half a damn cask! Enter; Andrew from whiskyandwisdom.com and his 2007 single cask Glenfarclas.

Glenfarclas 2

Nose

The nose on this thing is sherry magic. It’s so incredibly clean and clear (there isn’t a single hint of sulphur) with a nice balance of sweet and savoury notes. On the sweet front there’s plenty of classic dried fruit notes (saltanas, flame raisins, figs and dates), there’s damp brown sugar and a syrupy molasses/treacle element. On the savoury front, old leather sofas, tobacco, sour cherry scented solvent, furniture polish and cigar-box spice. There’s a faint herbal note too, maybe even some sooty coal, but only when you really go looking for it.

Palate

The palate is well-connected to the nose; it’s thick, chewy and has a great mouth-feel with syrupy toffee sweetness, dried fruit, sour plum jam and juicy raisins up front. The sweet notes give way to a rounded warming peppery spice and some oak. The heat from the alcohol is the last thing that greets your palate – exactly the way you would want it to.

Finish

Again, nicely balanced with a long warming finish, a hint of bitter citrus rind and some light peppermint/ menthol. Even on the finish it retains the syrupy notes from the palate, this time with some cinnamon spice.

I had to re-check the bottle. Yes, this is 60.5% abv but I honestly don’t think it noses or drinks like a whisky of that proof. It comes across as well balanced for something that’s a) so young, and b) from a single cask. Not that it needs it, but air only makes it better and despite being my first dram of the evening I’ve got no desire to add a dash of water.

Some final thoughts

This is textbook sherried whisky and I love it. When you see this thing in a bottle or in your glass you can’t help but notice the deep, rich colour. You know its natural and it screams sherry goodness. So often though that initial excitement is quashed when you cop a nose or palate of sulphur-taint, or something over-oaked, or even something that’s too sherry forward where there’s nothing but cloying jammy notes.

This, however, is none of the above. It delivers syrup-laden dried fruit, it delivers gentle spice and it does so in a marvellously chewy, oily and lingering way, leaving a big smile on your dial. I’m certainly no authority on the matter, but I know when I taste a quality, clean sherried whisky; one that ticks all the right boxes for me. And this is certainly one of them.

Whisky and Wisdom’s private bottling of Glenfarclas is available to purchase now through Whisky Empire. Thanks for the sample Andrew (but for the record, #GlenDronachForLife!)

Kilchoman tasting with Anthony Wills

Five expressions from Islay’s newest distillery

It doesn’t matter quite how busy my week gets, I always look forward to the whisky tastings held at the Oak Barrel in Sydney. The other week was no exception, so as soon as 6.30pm hit, into the tasting cave we ventured for a rather special Kilchoman masterclass.

Kilchoman brochure

The Oak Barrel’s whisky expert, Dave, normally runs the tastings. But occasionally he takes a seat with the rest of us and invites someone along to present instead. It’s fair to say that he keeps pretty good company, because the other week we were privileged to have someone pretty special presenting for us – the founder and owner of Kilchoman Distillery, Mr Anthony Wills.

Kilchoman: The story 

You may know of Kilchoman as the first new distillery to be built on Islay in 125 years, but here are a few things you may not be aware of.

Kilchoman (pronounced kil-ho-man) is the brainchild of former independent whisky bottler, Mr Anthony Wills. After finding that it was becoming increasingly difficult for him to get his hands on quality single cask whiskies to bottle, Anthony came to the conclusion that there was only going to be one way for him to secure his own supply of whisky well into the future. How? To build his very own distillery of course!

I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who’ve had similar dreams, but the number who’ve actually turned that dream into reality? My guess is that you can probably count them on one hand.

Kilchoman - Brochure Anthony

With the financial and moral support of his family, in 2005 Anthony & Co. sunk a million pounds into refurbishing and rebuilding the distillery’s buildings and purchasing the required equipment.

With no money left for production (and no actual distilling experience), Anthony managed to convince John Maclellan to leave his secure, long-term job as Master Distiller at Bunnahabhain and come and work for him. He was joined by Dr Jim Swan, whom Anthony brought on-board to help define and craft a specific spirit for Kilchoman, one Anthony describes as ‘clean, floral, sweet and peaty’. And so by the end of 2005, the stills were run for the first time and Kilchoman’s very first American Oak cask was filled on 14 December 2005.

Kilchoman managed to make a trading profit after just five years in business and last year they produced over 130,000 litres of spirit – coming a very long way from their first year of production where they produced 50,000 litres of spirit and filled just 12 casks a week!

Edit: I’ve been reliably informed that John Maclellan didn’t actually join Kilchoman until 2010, well after the stills started running. Thanks to Andrew for clearing that up for me!

Kilchoman: The whiskies

After Anthony delivered this interesting and informative intro, it was time to get down to business and taste some whisky.

Kilchoman tasting glasses

Before we get into each one though, here are some Kilchoman fast facts:

  • The barley for all of their expression (except 100% Islay) comes from Port Ellen Maltings (who also supply to the likes of Ardbeg and Lagavulin).
  • The barley from Port Ellen Maltings is malted to standard Ardbeg specs, which is around 50 PPM
  • Kilchoman fill their barrels at 63.5% ABV
  • All of Kilchoman’s first fill bourbon barrels are sourced from Buffalo Trace in Kentucky
  • Their sherry casks are all from Miguel Martin in Jerez, Spain (the same supplier Glenfarclas use for all of their casks)
  • All Kilchoman bottlings (which are bottled on-site mind you) are Non-Chill Filtered and natural colour.

Summer 2010 Release 

You may have guessed it from the name, but this expression was released in the Summer of 2010 (Winter, if you were in Australia at the time.. it was probably the same temperature as a Scottish summer!) This release was matured in first fill bourbon barrels and after three years was bottled at a respectable 46% ABV.

Kilchoman - Summer 2010 

Quite fresh and light on the nose with some floral notes, light sweetness, hints of citrus and maybe some pineapple. Quite crisp and not overly peaty. This translated to a medium oily palate, with some sweet creamy floral vanilla and a big wave of fresh peat that hung around for a good while. A light salty tang on the finish. Delicate, but not my favourite. 

Interestingly, this expression was bottled in their original generic style bottle, before they had their own bespoke bottle mould produced. Ever wondered what a bottle mould costs? Kilchoman paid a cool 20,000 pounds! 

100% Islay 2nd edition 

The second expression personified what Kilchoman was all about when Anthony originally envisaged it – making a whisky that was 100% Islay. And so from the barley grown at Rockside Farm next door to the distillery, to the in-house malting using local peat, to the distilling, maturation and eventual bottling – it’s all done on Islay.

Kilchoman - 100 Islay

Does that actually give it a different profile though? You bet it did. A vatting of three and four year old whiskies, bottled at 50% ABV, 100% Islay had a noticeably different nose.

I got some malty grassy notes, vanilla, crème caramel and bananas nicely balanced out by the peat. This carried through to a lovely creamy and oily palate, vanilla and floral with peat sitting at the back of the palate. It finished with waves of warmth and hints of spice.

In case you’re wondering, the Rockside Farm barley is peated on-site using local peat for around 20 hours. This results in a level of around 10-20 PPM (parts per million). The barley is malted in two tonne batches and the whole malting process takes around 12-14 days. 

Machir Bay 2012 edition 

The first of Kilchoman’s core expressions, Machir Bay was released in 2012 as a vatting of three and four year old whiskies, with ‘a splash of five year old’ as Anthony put it. All came from first fill American Oak ex-bourbon barrels, however the vatting was finished in 20 year old ex-Oloroso casks for a couple of months prior to bottling.

Kilchoman - Machir Bay 

This has a noticeably heavier nose to the two before it – I got some hints of kiwi, a pleasant sourness, some fruitiness, light peat and hints of spice (presumably from the sherry finishing). Slightly thinner on the palate, but still creamy and sweet followed by a pronounced wave of vibrant peat.

Still a remarkably fresh and bright whisky, with none of the tarry medicinal notes often associated with bolder peated whiskies. 

Loch Gorm 1st release 

First released in 2013, Loch Gorm is a five year old Kilchoman solely matured in ex-European Oak sherry casks. In case that wasn’t enough, it’s then finished for a few months in fresh, first fill Oloroso casks, imparting the lovely dark liquid amber colour seen here.

Kilchoman - Loch Gorm

Compared to the three before it, Loch Gorm has a much weightier, heavy, meatier nose. You can see some more of my notes here but I want to mention something that I couldn’t articulate last time I tried Loch Gorm.

On our previous encounter, Loch Gorm confused me slightly. On initial nosing, it wasn’t the peat monster I was expecting, nor was it a fruity sherry bomb. The more I concentrated, the more these flavour profiles played hide and seek with one another.

Whilst I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time, I now feel as though this was simply a hallmark of a rather well-balanced nose. Indeed, Anthony was quite proud of Loch Gorm and mentioned that he felt much the same.

Cask strength small batch release

As far as I’m aware, this is the first time a single cask Kilchoman has been on taste in Australia. Another five year old, but this time matured in first fill bourbon barrels, then finished for around six weeks in Oloroso sherry casks. As for strength? A big and gutsy 58.2%…

Kilchoman - Small Batch

…but you wouldn’t have picked it from the nose! Certainly noticeable as a higher ABV whisky, but I wouldn’t have picked it being that high at all. Amazingly fresh, creamy nose with big waves of milk chocolate, mars bars and coffee beans, magically mixed with some grassy notes, pine trees, fresh peat and vanilla.

Much of this translated straight to the palate – lovely round, creamy flavours. More vanilla, milk chocolate, hints of salted caramel and a nice helping of peat looming in the background. Long, warming, creamy finish.

You should have seen the flurry of people filling in order forms for this one. It was seriously good!

Some final thoughts 

In many ways, the story of Kilchoman reminds me of some of Australia’s very own young distilleries. And like some of Australia’s young distilleries, Kilchoman’s output really is testament to the fact that young whisky can be bloody good whisky.

Anthony took the time to explain that he and Jim Swan set out to produce a spirit that would mature reasonably quickly and taste great when bottled young. With that in mind, I think he and his team have really hit the mark with their latest round of releases.

As for the evening – It’s always great to hear from brand ambassadors, especially those who are knowledgable and enthusiastic. But there’s something different about listening to someone who’s been there from day one, someone who had an idea and saw it become reality and someone who knows the ins and outs of every aspect of their distillery and is happy to share every little detail.

Anthony Wills

On that note, I’d like to say a sincere thanks to Mr Anthony Wills for flying half way across the world to share the story of Kilchoman with us. A special thank you is also in order for Dave and The Oak Barrel for hosting another fantastic tasting and to Island2Island for bringing Kilchoman and Anthony to our shores.

Glenfarclas 15 year old

15 years old, 46% ABV, ex-Oloroso & Fino Spanish Oak casks, Highlands, Scotland 

The Whisky Exchange in London have recently voted the Glenfarclas 15 their whisky of the year, so I thought I’d explore my experience with this sherry bomb.

Glenfarclas 15

The presentation is pretty straightforward and classic. The burgundy, cream and red colours are accented by some copper-foil on the label and tin. It’s a pretty rich and regal colour palette, but then so too is the whisky, so it’s rather fitting!

Glenfarclas tin

Nice copper coloured tin closures with the intertwined J&G Grant logo, which is also repeated on the back label.

Glenfarclas label

I really like the simplicity of this line drawing of the distillery.

These notes were after the bottle had been opened for a good ten months or so, sitting at about half full.

Nose

Rich raisin notes with a hint of sourness – almost reminds me of tarty grapes or even kiwi fruit. Also had some cinnamon spice notes mixed in with the spiciness from the 46% alcohol content. I didn’t find the nose overly sweet, but there was a slight toffee/vanilla/oak note in there somewhere and a hint of wood smoke.

A very rich nose on this one after seven months and if I didn’t know what it was, I would have guessed it was older than 15 years.

Palate

Initially fairly oily before it gives way to rich fruit sweetness. I didn’t find it sweet in sugary sense of the word, but more like a natural stewed fruit kind of sweetness, with hints of charcoal. This is followed by some cinnamon/oak spice notes that linger in a tongue tingling kind of way.

Finish

The spice tingle continues with waves of long-lasting warmth down to the top of your chest, leaving you with a buttery/creamy mouth. After a good few minutes I also got some faint oaky bitterness, almost like a bitter almond note and some really faint residual wood smoke.

Comments

After trying a sherry oak Macallan and falling in love with it, I immediately went out in search of other heavily sherried whiskies. One popped up time and time again on various forums and that was the Glenfarclas 15year old. Without hesitation I tracked down a bottle and bought it.

At the time, I just thought ‘well Macallan is heavily sherried and the interwebz tells me that Glenfarclas is heavily sherried, so they must be the same! Awesome.’

When I got around to opening the Glenfarclas, I almost felt let down. ‘Where’s all that toffee sherry sweetness!?’ I tried to get into it a few more times over the coming weeks, but ultimately stashed in the back of the cabinet and left it for a good six months. In that time, the bottle really opened up – but more than that – so too did my understanding of sherried whiskies and whisky in general.

They were a similar age, both ex-sherry cask and both from a similar region in Scotland. But in a way, that’s where the similarities ended for me. Where the Macallan was lighter, toffee sweet and smooth, the Glenfarclas was big, rich and more complex, with hearty fruit and oak notes and a hint of warming spice.

I still love the Macallan, but I also love this, for very different reasons. One of those reasons being that the Glenfarclas was one of the first whiskies to really open my eyes to the vastly different flavour profiles out there and complexity that can be found in a whisky. This is a go-to winter whisky for me and now that my bottle is empty, I can definitely see it be replaced by another ‘farclas before too long.