Family casks – whisky with tradition

Glenfarclas is one of Scotland’s last independent whisky distilleries – and has been producing its award-winning single malt in picturesque Speyside for six generations.

In Scotland, even the long rivers are short Рcompared to the great rivers of the world. The River Spey, for example, measures just 172 kilometers Рfrom its source in the Highlands to its mouth in the Firth of Moray. But since when has mere length been the criterion? If you set off from Edinburgh to the north-east of Scotland, you can expect quality as a substrate, so to speak, beauty condensed in miniature. And what could be nicer than turning right after crossing the rugged mountains an hour before Nairn and following the course of the Spey? Here you can discover an almost ideal landscape, with original birch forests, conifers and those heather hills that fit the clich̩ of Scotland. Everything seems milder and gentler than in the Highlands, because the spirit is determined by the second longest river in the north of Great Britain. Now, in spring, the sections are already allocated in return for astonishing lease payments, with which one acquires the license to go salmon fishing for a few days. There are also plenty of trout in the fast-flowing waters and fly fishing is not just a sport here, but an entire way of life.

whisky & cigars


In tranquil Aberlour, halfway to the estuary, north of the provincial capital of Elgin, you can watch them in the evening: red-nosed groups of older gentlemen or college boys who have fished during the day and now order their Aberdeen Angus steak in the “Mash Tun”. George Grant (34) brought us here, a strong guy with a belly and a gripping gesture. People know him here, companionably, and no one would identify him as a gentleman in conversation with other natives – over 50,000 well-filled whisky barrels. His father John is still the chairman of the Glenfarclas distillery, but George has already taken over as sales manager.

Behind the counter of the “Mash Tun” they all stand, rather inconspicuously, the many bottles of Family Casks, a real treasure. Whisky without the “e” before the ypsilon, as this is reserved for Irish and American products. “The complete series is otherwise only available in a bar in Tokyo,” says George. The oldest member of the family was filled into an oak cask by Glenfarclas in nearby Ballindalloch in 1952 – unaffordable today. At that time, after the war, whisky experienced a state-supporting boom, because poor Scotland needed foreign currency and relaxed the Spirit Act of 1880. He banned simultaneous malting and distilling and Sunday work. Now the empty state coffers were to be filled with the export of the water of life, “Uisge beatha” in Gaelic, and the taxes levied on it, whose original name the English anglicized to whisky. If you look at the current export figures, this is still the right decision: Scotland exports more than three billion pounds worth of whisky today, a sixth of which is accounted for by the increasingly popular single malt, which Glenfarclas also sells to countries around the world. Especially in Germany, where sales of sophisticated whiskies continue to grow despite the crisis.

“Japan is also strong, China is coming,” explains George Grant jr. He himself worked for a time in Hong Kong before rejoining the ranks of his Scottish clan, the sixth generation to do so. In 1865, his ancestor John Grant (1805-1889), a wealthy cattle farmer, acquired the legal distillery Glenfarclas together with a lot of land at the foot of the mountain “Ben Rinnies”. The translation is “valley of the green grassland”, where only the water that gushes from the nearby springs is used. “There’s a lot of snow up there in winter,” says George – a lot of water that the whisky makers collect in deep cisterns. This is because a single malt may only come from the casks of one distillery – and be distilled from local liquid. “Water is our terroir, so to speak,” says Grant the Sixth. Together with the master blender, he decides how the Glenfarclas whisky should taste – a composition of different casks. The youngest barrel determines the age on the bottle …


Summary from “Living 02/2010”

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