Whisky Deathmatch returns! We’ve already witnessed a perhaps slightly underwhelming clash between unsherried Speysides, now two well matured sherried Speysides step into the ring, which is to say whiskies that have spent a fair amount of their maturing time in barrels which once held sherry, and with a tendency, therefore, towards an amber colour, and a fruity, rich, sherried sweetness upon the tongue.
Glenfarclas is a well-respected independent distillery, which takes great pride in having been run by one family for six generations. Aberlour is apparently one of the most popular single malts in France, and were one of the first distilleries to popularise cask strength drinking with their much admired A’bunadh. Both are leading Speyside distilleries, both proponents of that sherried, rich, fruity, perhaps Macallan-esque style, but where an 18 year old Macallan might easily set you back £100, these two are highly reasonable at between £50 and £60. But which is the better? Or, at any rate, which do my incompetent senses prefer…?
Glenfarclas 21 - 43% ABV, £59.95
Aberlour 18 - 43% ABV, £51.95
LOOK - The tube of the Glenfarclas is, I think you’d have to say, pretty repugnant. It has a kind of 80s Father Christmas vibe, with its cream, green and red colour scheme and dated looking fonts. Reddish bronze metal on the endcaps, no. The bottle’s nice, though. I’d rather have clear glass so I can see the colour inside but the Glenfarclas bottle is a nice size and shape, possibly the most practical pourer out of the dozen before us. Marketing bumph informs us that many have apparently wondered at the origins of the unique taste of Glenfarclas, then runs through the usual suspects with some poetic language – the special water, the special stills, the special warehouses, the best of the very best casks, the commitment to proper old traditional family values of distilling. You know the drill. When it comes out of that brown bottle the whisky is actually surprisingly light for something so heavily sherried, a sort of tawny gold, I guess. The Aberlour tube is brief and to the point with an appetising chocolatey/bronze vibe and a feel that neatly fuses traditional and contemporary. The bottle is lovely, really nice shape that again somehow manages to say classic and contemporary at once, and with clear glass displaying the lovely amber colour of the whisky. Nice wax seal and stained wooden stopper as well, the whole thing feeling deeply classy and luxurious. The only minor criticism is that big thick neck does tend to splurge a little when pouring. Still, if this was a presentation contest, the Aberlour would win in straight sets. But it’s not…
SMELL - Both very pleasant to smell, I must say, and reasonably similar. Both sweet, toffee-ish, both showing that sherry. The Aberlour maybe a little softer, more sugary, with a sharper pineapple-y edge in there somewhere? The Glenfarclas – creamy, buttery, raisiny, maybe a tickle of smoke? Smelling them close together, I feel as if the Aberlour gives a little bit more to the nose, somehow. Smells sort of, stronger, despite them both being bottled at 43%.
TASTE - Both have that classic aged sherried character, sweet and super smooth. The Glenfarclas – immensely drinkable, rich and full-bodied, developing a gingery, almost a peppery spiciness then some smoke on the end and takes a long time getting there. Big and long lasting, very classic feeling. One thinks of panelled rooms, throaty laughter, pipe smoke and soft power. The Aberlour – quite gentle, in a way, certainly compared to their A’bunadh, which can be huge and explosive. This is creamy, easy in the mouth, soft fruits – peach, prune, or something, a tad of dryness on the end, a little bit of woodiness there. Likewise the panelled room, the soft power, but perhaps an eager newer arrival at the gentleman’s club, still forming his networks, perhaps nervous at one of the side tables, not daring quite to seize that big leather wing-chair beside the well-banked fire which it’s said that Winston Churchill once sat in… I’d probably say if the Aberlour gives more to the nose the Glenfarclas gives more to the mouth.
CONCLUSION - Glenfarclas 21 – Smooth, sweet, classic, with an air of effortless experience and good fellowship. Recommended PoV – A drink, a drink, a drink – Nicomo Cosca. Aberlour 18 – Smooth, sweet, classic, with a soft and fruity ease of manner. Recommended PoV – Why not another? Nicomo Cosca.
RESULT - It’s a tough one, as these are pretty similar, and both supply what you’d want a well-aged sherried Speyside to provide – sweetness, smoothness, ease and luxury. The Aberlour undoubtedly has the advantage in looks, perhaps even in smells, but the Glenfarclas is just that little bit more complicated, that little bit more classic.
The Winner - Glenfarclas 21.
Coming next – An odd couple match-up fifteen years in the making: Dalmore 15 vs Balvenie Single Barrel.