Visiting Glenfarclas before a run-y day
TL;DR: Oops we did it again…the Dramathon! After all the fun we had in 2021, back in October 2022 we participated for the second time. This year we both ran the half-marathon, always quite a challenge, but we rewarded ourselves with 3 distillery visits: first off, Glenfarclas!
First of all, Happy New Year! We hope you had a great start of 2023 and that your year will be as good as you wish, full of joy and (possibly) great drams! We just started a 4-week dry January-ish which, after a couple of weeks back in Italy and the New Year celebrations, we both felt was much needed.
Last year was full of drams and great whisky experiences, so for the first post of 2023 we are going back a few months, in mid-October. Following the great experience we had in 2021, last year we decided to run the Dramathon again. However, this time we both decided to run the half-marathon: Gianluigi with the objective of improving his 2021 timing, Teresa with the objective of completing her first long race.
Similarly to the previous year, we left on the Friday morning to sneak in a distillery visit in the afternoon. You know, while in Speyside…Because of our multiple trips, there are no many distilleries left to visit in the area, but we were still missing a very special one: Glenfarclas!
This distillery is famous for a few things: still family owned, it was the one that converted Pip Hills, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society founder, to whisky appreciation, which in turn led to the Society foundation. They mature almost all their stock in ex-sherry casks (a few exceptions in ex-bourbon are mostly for independent bottlers), and all their doors are painted in red (and no, we didn’t want to paint them black).
The drive there was mostly uneventful. We only realised too late that on the road from the A9 exit to the distillery, the main Speyside road, there are very few places where you can get a warm meal. Fortunately, another distillery came to our help: the Lagmore Cafè at Ballindalloch was open, and it was a very nice one too: lovely staff, good food and reasonable prices (we’ll be back!).
Unfortunately, the distillery is open to visitors only during weekdays, so it’ll have to wait (and tours are a bit pricey too). After lunch, we arrived at the distillery and checked in. We were a bit early, so we had time to scout the shop: we were glad to see that they are maintaining reasonable prices (in spite of the increase of their 25y from £125 to £220) and that they are quite competitive compared to the speciality shops prices.
The guide of the day, Rosie, started the tour in the milling room, where barley is grinded into grist (with a usual component of 10% of flour and 20% of husk), in this case by Milly the mill, a more modern looking machine than the usual Porteus ones.
We proceeded to the closed mash tun and the 12 wooden washbacks. The temperature rose substantially as we walked into the huge still room, where some of the 6 bulged directly fired stills were working. Rosie explained that their cut for the distillation “heart” (i.e. the middle part of the run that will be effectively casked) is 74% to 54%, quite large compared to other distilleries we visited.
We then moved towards the warehouses, with the signature red doors. At the visitor centre, our tasting was ready with two very well-known drams: their 10y, still today one of the few whiskies bottled at 40% that, in our opinion, still hold, and the 15y, probably the yummiest of their core range, together with the 105…which of course is not 105 years old, the number refers to the imperial proof (corresponding to 60%abv). Because of the race the next day, we didn’t drink them right away, we put them in our sample bottles brought from home (always with us!) and we went to the shop. There were many of their celebrated “family cask” expressions on display, with vintages of every year and bottled at cask strength. Even for recent vintages the prices are a bit steep, but the selection is very big…A pity we couldn’t try any!
After the visit, we drove to Dufftown, to register for the run and check in at our accommodation, the Commercial Hotel. We decided to have dinner at the hotel (not before a short warm-up run for Gianluigi). In spite of us booking about 9 months in advance (and paying 90 quid per night!!!), we were given the ‘cursed room’, room number 5. No, it’s not the plot of a horror B-movie, and no ancient burial ground was involved: it’s just the room directly above the pub, including their juke-box machine with questionable music selection and no soundproofing whatsoever. That meant that until the bar closed (11pm), we couldn’t sleep. The music wasn’t that loud in the corridor, and in fact in one of the bartenders accused us to be the first complaining…well, not according to other reviews on Booking.com, but we appreciated that the issue might be for this room only.
Finally, race day! As we reached the buses that would have brought us to the starting point (the Tamdhu station), it started pouring rain, so we mentally prepared for a wet run.
However, as soon as we got there, the rain stopped, and the run was quite pleasant. We both reached our goals, Teresa finishing her first (hopefully not last) half-marathon, and Gianluigi shaving a couple of minutes from his 2021 timing (not getting below 1h and 20m though, one of his goals).
After the run we had a well-deserved early dinner at the local French restaurant, the Seven Stills: it was truly great, yummy food and delicious wine. As a dessert, Gianluigi had a crème brulée, with the French chef coming to the table to light it on: bravo!
We went back to the Commercial hotel for some drams…Teresa was falling asleep in the pub, so we went to bed. The issue of the night before was still there, but Gianluigi decided to go put a few bucks in the juke-box: “if I have to stay awake listening to some sh*t, I want to listen to my sh*t!”. Probably some people felt puzzled when Slipknot, Nirvana and Tool started to play, so whoever walloper was in charge decided to skip the rest of the selection (Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam) only saving No One Knows by the QOTSA. Not cool at all. In the morning we complained with the manager about the noise (not about the skipped songs), who agreed to discounting 15 quid per night. It was nice but still not ideal, so we won’t be back unless we really have to, in which case we will ask not to be put in room 5.
Anyway, going back to the tour at Glenfarclas, we had selected the basic one because we knew in advance we wouldn’t drink. It was excellent, but we are both very keen to go back and do an experience with a more comprehensive tasting. Slainte!
Price: £7.50 pp (October 2022)
Duration: 1hr 15m
Tasting: 2 drams, Glenfarclas 10y (40%) and 15y (46%)
Value for money: Very good
Highlights: One of the prettiest we’ve seen
Distillery Exclusive: Several bottlings of the family cask range, depending on which is available