Keeping it in the family

Posted 11 October 2017
The Dramble interviews George Grant from Glenfarclas

Glenfarclas is one of the oldest Speyside distilleries having been established in 1836. It’s also one of few still independently owned, and its long history runs through 6 generations of a single family – the Grants. Located in Ballindalloch, and drawing water from the nearby Ben Rinnes, the distillery has several distinctive features – a cool microclimate that results in a very low angels share (just 0.05% loss each year), direct gas fired stills and a strict adherence to ex-sherry cask maturation. These features promote a distinctive, rich and sweet house style that is naturally well suited to long periods of maturation.

Like many of the oldest distilleries in Scotland, Glenfarclas was originally farm land. The name Glenfarclas translates as ‘Valley of the green grass’ and so it was that in 1865 John Grant bought the distillery and land from Robert Hay for the princely sum of £512. It’s been in Grant family hands ever since. The family have long taken a divergent view on whisky production to rest of the industry – when the country was in recession in the 1980’s and production was scaled back and many distilleries (and several either closed or entered periods of reduced production schedules), Glenfarclas actually increased their production. When the recession ended, the distillery had an abundance of aged stock readily available to sate demand. Smart move!

The distillery holds back much of its production for its own single malt expressions, with considerably less supplied for independent bottlings than is the norm within the industry. This independently minded approach to whisky production has led to Glenfarclas holding much more aged stock than many other distilleries (over 68,000 casks maturing on site in dunnage warehouses). And with a large and comprehensive stock, the distillery has been able to compete with the rest of industry not just on quality and volumes, but on price. You’ll rarely see 25,30 and even 40 year old whiskies in the same highly competitive price range as Glenfarclas. The combination of quality malt spirit, dedication to tradition and ‘fair’ pricing has seen the distillery pick up a small army of fans. A recent heavy emphasis on exports has seen this fan-base expand worldwide over the last few years with over 700,000 bottles now shipped across the globe annually.

The distillery is currently headed by John L.S. Grant, whilst his son, George (the 6th generation of the Grant Family) takes the role as the Glenfarclas Brand Ambassador. George overseas everything from sales, special bottling tasting panels, international visits, masterclasses and of course representing the Glenfarclas brand wide and far. We were lucky enough to catch up with George after he returned from a trip out to China for a quick interview about his role, the Grant family tradition and of course, the whisky itself.

What does a normal day as Glenfarclas Director of Sales look like?

I don’t believe I have ever had a normal day. In each day will be: tasting, phone calls, emails, meeting the occasional visitor. Generally trying to sell some whisky to one of our 100 markets.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Getting married and having 2 amazing daughters who hopefully one day will join Glenfarclas and carry on the family tradition.

Was there ever a time when you thought about working in a different industry other than whisky? If so, what would you be doing

I worked in an accountants office in Glasgow for a year, it was then I realised that there are jobs out there where there is no alcohol at meetings! Now I have a job where there always is!

How important is family and tradition for Glenfarclas – and how does that manifest itself?

It is Glenfarclas. When everything was built or put in by a former relation, everything has meaning.

How does being one of the very few independent distilleries in Scotland influence what you do?

We're independently minded.

Could you summarise what you see as Glenfarclas’s house-style. Your liquid DNA as it were?

Sherried, aged. Finesse

We’ve seen incredibly growth in the whisky market over the past decade – what does this mean for Glenfarclas?

It means we are making more whisky and laying more whisky down to constantly be ready for whatever the future may throw at you. Yes obviously sales are incredible now, but some markets have all but disappeared, Spain for example used to be a massive whisky market, now it is gone. Good casks are always available so long as we pay for them!

What can we expect from Glenfarclas in the future?

Have a very exciting project coming out next year. Something very limited and very special. Certainly something nobody has ever done before. I am afraid I can’t give you anything more than that.

If you were on a desert island and could only take one Glenfarclas expression with you – which would it be?

Our 15 years old. Has the aggression of a younger whisky and the depth of an older dram. A lovely whisky at 46% too.

With thanks to George Grant and Glenfarclas.
Photos - from Glenfarclas



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