There is a sense of calming when visiting the Glenfarclas distillery in the Speyside region of Scotland. Maybe it is the “family” atmosphere which is evident at the distillery as we saw Mr. Grant loading the family dogs into his vehicle. It could also be the Glenfarclas dram and taste that has become so memorable over the years. But the real calming came from the tour and experience of visiting this family-run distillery, one of the last remaining family distilleries in the Speyside region.
Located in Ballindalloch, the Glenfarclas distillery was first founded in 1836 by a farm tenant John Hay. It wasn’t until 1865 that the Grant family became involved. Since then it has remained in the Grant family and is currently run by both the 5th and 6th generations of the family. This is quite impressive and unique in this era of large corporate-run makers of spirits.
Our tour started in the Visitor’s Center where we learned about the family history behind this special malt. From here we were led down to the working facility. On the way we passed a waterwheel being fed by water from springs coming down from the Ben Rinnes mountain, the main water source for the distillery. The facility is not fancy or embellished. It is a true working facility and not set up for looks…
We visited all of the different stages of the process, including the mill, the mash tun, the washbacks, the still room, and the warehouses. Our guide was excellent and she provided a lot of information on all aspects of the production.
Here are some notes from the tour:
- 11 storage tanks / hoppers store 3 weeks of grain for spirit production
- Up until 1975, Glenfarclas did their own malting but it is now delivered
- Buhler mill is used to make grist, they test the grist three times looking for a mix of 80% grist, 15% husks and 5% flour
- 16.5 tons of grist is placed in the mash tun which is 10 meters in diameter
- Three water stages during the mashing at 64 degrees / 78 degrees / 89-90 degrees
- 12 stainless steel washbacks from over 40 years ago hold 41,000 liters each
- Fermentation takes approximately 48 hours
- Six stills heated by direct fire (gas)
- 1 large wash still (26,500 liters) and 1 large spirit still (21,200 liters)
- 25,000 liters of wort in the wash still
- Three cuts of the spirit: 20 minutes of head, 3 to 4 hours of heart, and 4 to 5 hours of tail
- A total of 33 warehouses store 55,000 casks
The standard distillery tour ends with a tasting at the Visitor’s Center. They have two other tours that are provided for a higher price, including the Connoisseur’s Tour and Tasting, and the Five Decades Tour and Tasting. These tours offer more to taste and the Five Decades tour includes a taste of each of the decades from the family casks. Very cool. Our guide let us taste the 10-year old Glenfarclas, but then did let us taste the 25-year old as a special treat. Classy! It was very much appreciated.
Charles’ Notes: I was very much looking forward to this visit. Glenfarclas has always been a favorite, but this propelled it to a place of admiration that is tough to beat. There is something to be said about a family-run distillery. Maybe it is the buy-in of the people who have worked there for so many years. But it is also the old-school methods that are still used to produce this great spirit. Compared to some of the distilleries we visited, there was less computerization, more human contact and a family history that is still seen. I definitely want to return here for another visit when I am in the Speyside next. What was also fun was that the Mash Tun hotel/restaurant down in Aberlour had many of the family casks available at their bar. Not a bad way to end a day!