Glenfarclas has one of the most remarkable stories in Scotch whisky history. Fiercely independent, it is one of only three distilleries that has remained in the same family since establishment. While recent times have seen a number of distilleries such as Benromach, Edradour, Benriach and Glendronach returning to independent family ownership, for many years Glenfarclas, Glenfiddich and Springbank were the only family owned distilleries in Scotland, resisting the aggressive consolidation of the market that resulted in the vast majority of distilleries coming under foreign, corporate ownership.
Robert Hay built the distillery on his farm, Rechlerich, in 1836 and sold the farm and distillery to John Grant in 1865, when the story begins. The Grants were prominent local farmers in the area, breeding Aberdeen Angus cattle, and bought Rechlerich to serve as a halfway post between their farm in Glenlivet and the market in Elgin.
Initially John Grant’s cousin John Smith ran the distillery, but he had his hands full running his own operation, which included the Glenlivet Distillery, and he eventually left in 1870 to establish Cragganmore Distillery. The Grants boys stepped in to take over from their cousin and things ticked over peacefully until the 1890s, when at the height of the whisky boom, they formed a joint-venture called the the Glenfarclas-Glenlivet Distillery Company with the infamous Pattinson brothers. If you’ve been paying attention over the past couple of years of these emails, you can guess what happened next; Pattinson’s went bankrupt and the Grants almost followed suit. Fortunately for us, the Grants just managed to stay afloat and with the dissolution of the Glenfarclas-Glenlivet Distillery Company they established J&G Grant, the name under which the company still operates today. Times were tough but by 1914, after many years of hard work and the kind of shrewd accounting which the Scots are famous for, the family had secured the future of Glenfarclas Distillery.
But for the last 115 years or so following the Pattinson’s kerfuffle all has gone blissfully well at Glenfarlas Distillery. Notable events include the 1960 expansion from two stills to four and the 1976 addition of a further two stills. The 20th century saw the distillery continue to be run by a succession of Grant men, notably George S. Grant who served as Chairman for a remarkable 52 years and had one of the most profound effects on the company. He decided to limit the amount of casks sold to blenders and the result is that at a time when stocks of aged Scotch whisky are at an all time low, Glenfarclas has one of the largest holdings of old casks in Scotland, which explains the presence of a 40 year old as a core product in the portfolio while others are forced to introduce Non-Age-Statement whiskies. John L.S. Grant succeeded his father George S. Grant as Chairman in 2002, and in 2007 released the first of the now hugely sought after Family Casks range with a bottling from every vintage between 1952 and 1994. He also has a son, George, who represents the sixth generation of the Grant family and is the firm’s Brand Ambassador.
Glenfarclas is indeed a true cult whisky, synonymous with sherry and known for its unrivalled consistency of flavour over the decades. Perhaps their status in the industry is best summed up in the words of a rival distiller, who wrote to the Grant family in May, 1912: “of all the whiskies, malt is king, of all the kings, Glenfarclas reigns supreme”.