Having just written up a Speyside distillery that I did tour (Aberlour), let me hit you with one last distillery visit that did not involve a tour. This was my second stop at Glenfarclas in as many days. You may recall that my friend Daniel and I went to Glenfarclas on the Sunday afternoon of our Speyside jaunt only to discover that they are closed on Sundays (and also on Saturdays—at least in June). We then went to Cragganmore instead. The next day, after we’d toured Aberlour and lunched at the Mash Tun, Daniel and his family drove back to Edinburgh. We drove to Dornoch but decided to go a bit south rather than north to meet the A9. This resulted in the only sustained bit of very narrow road driving on this trip, as our sat nav took us through a slightly more picturesque route than we were looking for to get to the A9. It also meant that we were going to be driving past Glenfarclas rather than Benromach on the way, and so we paused for about 15 minutes for me to walk around the distillery grounds and in the visitor centre.
As someone who has generally been far more interested in the whisky made at distilleries than in the actual premises of those distilleries—or for that matter their production methods—I very rarely know what to expect when visiting a distillery. Despite having heard that the grounds at Glen Grant were beautiful, I had no idea they were so extensive, for example. That said, I had a mental picture of Glenfarclas that turned out to be very different from its reality. I had sort-of expected, without ever having consciously thought about it, that it would be a small’ish, intimate distillery with a charming aesthetic. Sort of a cross between the looks of Strathisla and the feel of Glen Moray. But from the moment we turned off the A95 to get there on my first visit, it turned out to be quite different, and that remained the case when I actually went into the visitor centre the next day.
First, there was the 1/2 mile approach to the distillery which sits by itself in the countryside, surrounded by rolling green fields and against a hilly backdrop. The distillery has quite a bit of real estate and feels quite spread out. This is not like the situation a few miles up the road or in Dufftown where a stone thrown from one distillery will break warehouse windows in another. And while the surroundings are quite beautiful I’m not sure I would say the same about the distillery, which mostly features dull grey buildings whose occasional bright red doors only draw attention to the bunker-like feel of most of the place. Now, I’m not saying that distilleries need to look beautiful or that this is out of the norm (it is not) or that I was disappointed by this in any way. It’s just that the constant talk of Glenfarclas as a family distillery (odd how I don’t think of Glenfiddich that way) made me expect something a little more quaint.
I was also taken a little by surprise by the visitor centre and shop which contrariwise turned out to be a lot fancier than I was expecting. It’s big, very big, and there’s a lot of wood in there, Unlike at a Glenfiddich or a Talisker, however, the shop part is not crammed with things on sale, and nor are there huge displays proclaiming their history. The tasting room and bar area is also very large and clubby. Apparently, panelling from an old-timey ocean liner was salvaged and used in the building of the visitor centre, and this might explain why much of it is reminiscent of a state room on a cruise ship. The bar/tasting room has bottles of the core range out; I’m not sure if it’s possible to pay to taste more esoteric things. The shop sells the core range of Glenfarclas malts along with a wide selection from their acclaimed Family Casks (as all are above my pay grade I did not bother looking closely at the prices); being in a hurry, I also did not check to see what the potential distillery exclusive situation was. They also sell the requisite lines of non-whisky merchandise.
The distillery was of course empty on my first visit, being closed; however, it wasn’t exactly bustling after lunch on the Monday either. Presumably they get enough visitors to justify the scale of the visitor centre. It’s of course also entirely possible that I arrived when a large tour group was inside a warehouse or something. It was certainly nowhere as crowded as Glenfiddich or even the far smaller Glen Moray had been on the weekend. Speaking of tours, I don’t believe I’ve ever come across detailed accounts of what their tours are like. It would have been interesting to see their direct fired stills—among the last in Scotland. If you’ve been on a tour there recently, please write in below to let us know if it was worth it.
Anyway, here is a slideshow of images of the outside of the distillery and the inside of the visitor centre. Take a look and scroll down to see what’s coming next.
So, I managed to post all my Speyside distillery write-ups by the end of July. By the end of August I hope to similarly be done with all my Highlands and Orkney distillery reports. It might take another month still to make good progress on my Edinburgh whisky store and restaurant reports…to say nothing of reports on eating in the Highlands or on Orkney…and not to mention eating in London at the end of the month and possibly another whisky report from there…As always, however, it’s nice to relive aspects of the trip in writing it all up months later.
I’ll have my usual look ahead to the month in whisky reviews tomorrow—come back to see what might be in store.