Summer Celebration #1: Glenfarclas 21

This last weekend, amidst the unrelenting heat that smothered the Los Angeles region, our family marked a major milestone. Our son celebrated his first birthday.

It’s been said the first birthday is more for the parents. It’s true: there’s a huge element of “THANK GOD WE KEPT HIM ALIVE FOR A WHOLE YEAR!” at play. It’s also a natural time to reflect and be amazed at how this little guy went from being a tiny 5-pound guy to knocking on the door of 30 lbs, with an infectious laugh and smile and on the verge of walking.

The whole first year has been a moment of personal growth and one of seeing time in a very different way. I think I used to imagine that days would be long and rough, with endless crying and crankiness. There have been those days (oh man, there have been those days), but for the most part the days are over before they’ve started. And all of the other personal interests – music, drumming, cleaning house, whisky, writing and community with friends – necessarily take a backseat. For those who have been through it, you understand. For those who have not yet, I’ll just let you know in advance that it won’t really matter, because suddenly you’ve got the most interesting person in the world living with you. Well, behind the Dos Equis guy.

I’ve talked in the past about enjoying those moments and marking special occasions, and not living in a mindset where you feel something is “too good” or “too special” – I felt that sting with the Bruichladdich Legacy 5 and had an interesting conversation with Mark Reynier, recently of Bruichladdich (prior to their sale) on the subject. That, along with many other things, led me to embrace enjoying bottles to the fullest when open. I may space them out consciously, but once a top-flight bottle is open, its lifespan is very limited. (Heck, both of my Balvenie 1401s are now undergoing whatever metamorphosis my other bottles go through when they’re empty, and I regret nothing).

That’s not to say I don’t earmark certain bottles for certain occasions – I have one of my December bottles picked already for this year, I have a special bottle picked for next month, and on a broader horizon, I have a pretty special bottle picked for my 10th wedding anniversary in a few more years.

One such earmarked bottle was one gifted to me by my friend Adam. Adam was one of my coworkers and an early, hardcore, true brother from the early days of the music startup I worked for from 2007-2011. (He was part of the crazy, minimal-process, wild-west days of our informal and awesome warehouse days). Adam had his daughter a few months before my wife and I had our son, and he sent me a bottle of Glenfarclas 21. I wanted to open it almost immediately, but I was so exhausted and delirious that I figured augmenting it with whisky at the time was not the best idea.

So I set that bottle aside as the one-year birthday bottle. (I’m accepting submissions for future birthdays. ;) ) At the time I was enjoying some Bourye and Macallan 30 – itself a long-awaited treat. But here we are, one year later, and it’s time to open the Glenfarclas 21.

When I first started drinking whisky, the age statements of some Scotch whiskies blew my mind. 21 years? That’s an eternity! Now, I see how those things fade into the background a little more easily, especially when there are other things along. I’ve had a few recently north of 40 years; those still give some pause, being older than me. However, I have to respect that 21 years is still a substantial fraction of my time on this planet.

Lest I seem jaded at times on Twitter by the various ridiculous samples that generous friends offer to me, I still love a good whisky and Glenfarclas easily occupies that territory. I’m a huge fan of the 17, but had never tried the 21. I’ve had plenty of older samples as well, so I was excited to try this one. Beyond that though, it was an opportunity to reflect and savor the experiences of the last year.

The 21′s nose is gently malty, with tons of oak influence and a little white pepper. There’s some dried fruit that comes through after a while, and a touch of orange as well. It’s a very easygoing and very enjoyable one to nose.

The palate stars woody at first, and has a moment of being almost bitter. The sweetness of the malt comes through shortly thereafter and saves it, and also brings some white pepper along. Wood and light dried fruit round out the palate nicely. It’s got a nice, weighty mouthfeel, like you’d hope for in a Glenfarclas.

Finally, the finish is white pepper and wood, with some dried fruit and a touch of waxy apple skin. Malt also has a distinct presence.

The Glenfarclas 21 is a very enjoyable older whisky. The 21, in most cases, is still less expensive than the highly-regarded Macallan 18, and provides a slightly different style – a little more malt and roundness, with a little more softness on the fruit – than you see on the sharper Macallan. If you haven’t had a Glenfarclas, this is a great one to try. I will say the extra-extra old stuff gets a little more intense, but for the moment, this is a similar whisky to Macallan 18 for me: a really nice balance of age and intensity, with good flavor but a profile that can only be achieved through significant time in the oak.

At the end of the day, this is one of those whiskies for me that is not about technical details and scores and ranking – this will forever be the whisky that I associate with this major milestone in my son’s life. It will not be the last bottle of it that I have.

At a glance:

Glenfarclas 21 43% ABV
Gently malty, tons of oak influence and a little white pepper. Some light notes of dried fruit and a touch of orange.
Palate:  Woody at first and almost bitter. Maltiness begins to come through, and a bit of white pepper. Some light dried fruit.
Finish:  White pepper and wood, some more dried fruit, a touch of apple skin. Malt.
Comment:  A really enjoyable whisky. This one is right on the cusp of B+. 
Rating:  B


6 thoughts on “Summer Celebration #1: Glenfarclas 21”

  1. Happy birthday to the LO! Our 17MO gent is still just at 25lb and it’s seriously depressing the hell out of us. Nonetheless, ” “THANK GOD WE KEPT HIM ALIVE FOR A WHOLE YEAR!” is exactly how I felt a few months ago.

    1. Thanks much! Sorry to hear you’re having a bumpy spot with your little guy. Our man has just had a voracious appetite ever since his stint in the NICU – he was near the bottom of the size charts for his first two checkups (near 5th percentile I think?). After the NICU he just decided he liked eating everything, frequently, but he’s pretty active.

      Any suggestions from the doc? I am such a clueless new parent but it seems like sometimes these things go in phases with our guy…

  2. congratulations again! have you set a birth year bottled whisky aside for him? i have a birth year bottled whisky for both of mine and hope to pair it on their 21st birthdays with a birth year distilled /21st year bottled whisky. or maybe i’ll just drink it all myself. one or the other.

    (and no one should get too hung up on baby weights per se. both our boys have always been at the low end of the spectrum for weight at every milestone checkup; the pediatrician always reminds us that the numbers they use for those percentile counts were set with gigantic northern-european babies as a reference point, and not indo-korean kids such as ours. as per the calculator at this link ( 25 lbs at 17 months puts your baby between the 25th and 50th percentile, which is pretty good. our almost 13 month old was at the 5th percentile at his 12 month checkup. our pediatrician doesn’t care as his weight is going up steadily and he’s perfectly healthy in every regard.)

    1. Thanks much! I actually haven’t set aside a birth year bottled whisky, but that’s a great idea. I’ll have to hunt one down. One I did save was a sample of the Macallan 30 which was essentially my toast to his safe arrival – one for him, one for myself. Now I’ll have to hunt a bottled 2011 down that’s garnered good reviews…

  3. Congratulations Tim, and to your wife, on your son’s milestone first birthday! The Glenfarclas was certainly a fine way to celebrate. Thanks for the tasting notes.

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