Sunday, April 24, 2016

Glenfarclas, 105 20 year

stats: single malt Scotch, Speyside, 60%, $358

As my 45th birthday rapidly approached, the urge for an overdue visit to Montreal grew stronger. My unorthodox work schedule had me occupied the night before and the night after, but I was free on the actual day of celebration. Having covered the obligatory time-spent-with-family in the previous two weeks, I was now left to my own devices. Finally, I pulled the trigger and made hotel and dinner reservations just a day in advance.

Once I was checked-in at the hotel and the car was tucked away in the parking garage it was time to get to the closest whisky bar (which happened to be just outside of said parking garage) for something special.

I’m pretty open about my adoration of Glenfarclas. When it comes to single malts, they are second only to Springbank with regards to earning my reverence. Last year, when I made the first of what ended up being three “research” journeys to Montreal in advance of writing about the whisky bar scene up there, I went all in with the first drink of the day, opting for the 1979 Family Casks bottling from Glenfarclas. I concluded that lengthy evening at Pub L’Ile Noire with the 15 year offering from Glenfarclas. While enjoying this lovely dram I continued to scour the whisky list and scan the bottles on display, both behind the bar and in the locked glass case.

That was when I noticed something special; a 20 year age-stated Glenfarclas 105 (their cask strength bottling). The standard Glenfarclas 105 is about half that age; some of the bottles carry a 10 year age statement on their back label, while others are non age-stated but said to be matured for about as long. While I knew of the existence of this whisky, I had never seen a bottle in person before and was kind of surprised to come across one, especially one that hadn’t even been opened yet. I made a mental note of my find and swore that I’d come back to sample it at some point in the future.

Of course, a little background research followed my discovery. According to their website, George S. Grant bottled a cask of Glenfarclas in 1968 at its natural cask strength of 60% ABV so he could give the bottles to friends and family as gifts. This was the inspiration for the official bottling of cask strength Glenfarclas, which has always maintained that same level of alcohol through careful cask selection. It became known as “105” because that is the equivalent proof of a 60% ABV spirit under the old British proof system. It’s rarely used these days, but the British version of “proof” was 7/4 of the alcohol by volume percent, unlike the American system where it is twice the ABV.

Although they don’t mention exactly when it became available to the public, it’s noted that Glenfarclas 105 was the first commercially available, cask strength single malt, and it is known to have been in production by the early 1970’s. Back then it carried an 8 year age statement and the label noted the 105 proof more as a statement of strength than as a title. In the 1980’s the “105” became bigger, looking more like a title on the label. The 8 year age statement held on through a few redesigns of the label before disappearing in the early 1990’s, when the age statement was replaced with the phrase “Cask Strength”. The modern bottle that I have at home does have a 10 year age statement on the back label but as noted above, I’ve seen others without it.

In 2008 Glenfarclas put out a very limited release (893 bottles) of 40 year old 105 to mark the 40th anniversary of that first (unofficial) bottling of Glenfarclas 105. That was followed by the 2012 release of 20 year 105, which was limited to 4000 bottles.

I ended up making four other trips to Montreal in 2015 without managing to get this whisky in my crosshairs. This time around I made it the first order of business upon my arrival. Looking at the SAQ website I see that Glenfarclas 105 20 year is no longer available, but when it was, the bottle was priced at $358 while the standard 105 goes for $88.75 a bottle. I went with a full pour (which was at the upper end of my comfort zone at $45) along with a half pour of the regular 105 for the sake of comparison.


Both have the big, rich, malty / butterscotch nose with a weighty sherry fruit backdrop. Those aromas are slightly downplayed in the 20 year, but with the added complexity of old oak and notes reminiscent of the inside of a damp dunnage warehouse.

Both whiskies are robust and full bodied, almost chewy on the palate. The maltiness is more pronounced up front on the original 105, with the 20 year showing more oak and a drier profile.

As the standard 105 moves into the finish, it presents a battle between sweet notes (malt, butterscotch and sherry fruit) and drying spice notes. The 20 year started off drier and stays that way through the finish, with a nice interplay of mature oak notes and building spice character.

These are both wonderfully big, powerful single malts. The drier, more oak-driven profile of the 20 year was obvious, but I think it also showed slightly better integration relative to the borderline rambunctious nature of the original 105.

To be honest though, the 20 year isn’t too dramatically different, or even outright better, but more of an interesting variant of an old favorite (and one that was well worth trying on a special occasion).

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