PETALING JAYA, March 14 — It is a truth appreciated by whisky aficionados that the key ingredient to a great Scotch single malt is great character.
Glenfarclas certainly has one of those; his name is Ian McWilliam.
The Dufftown native who has been loyal to the company 27 years recently visited Malaysia to present four distinctive flavours from the Glenfarclas family of Sherry cask whiskies.
He sat and chatted to an intimate gathering at 61 Monarchy bar in Uptown Damansara, explaining each of the whisky’s journeys from the Scottish Highlands to bars around the world.
The opening taster was the youngest of the group; an amber-gold “12-year-old” which serves as a lighter, neat introduction to Glenfarclas. The flavourful whisky has a fruity and floral nose, an aroma that carries through the brand’s bottles as they get older.
Next up, the “21-year-old” which was a favourite among the crowd, McWilliam included. A much bolder body is embellished by intense fruity notes. The well-rounded whisky has a special, long-lasting quality in its finish that defines the rich flavour.
Then, a turn down more adventurous routes with two of Glenfarclas’ more spirited options — the “105 Cask Strength” and “511.19 Family Reserve”, dedicated to the fee founder John Grant paid in 1865 for the Glenfarclas distillery, £511 and 19 shillings.
The “Family Reserve” is the sweeter, stickier of the pair, a mix of flavours young and old that grip to the glass as tightly as it grips to the drinker’s gums.
The “105 Cask Strength” delves into peaty waters, a darker whisky with a warming spiciness on the palate. It retains an oak-like sweetness with hints of toffee and caramel on the nose.
It’s a refreshing journey, one with aromas that could easily lift the single malt whisky lover out of their seat and into the grassy fields of Speyside, Scotland from where McWilliam has travelled.
The whiskies were hand-picked by the team at 61 Monarchy for the evening.
“There’s a big jump in, not quality, but in experience what you’re getting from that whisky,” explains McWilliam, who first visited Malaysia in 2005, about the “21-year-old.”
“That extra nine years (from the 12-year-old) in the Sherry cask barrels makes it more matured, extracted a little more Sherry. More of everything.”
On his frequent visits over the past 13 years, McWilliam has noticed a number of changes.
Chiefly, the expansive range of single malts now available from his Highlands home, credit to dedicated whisky joints like 61 Monarchy which, along with speakeasies, have popped up in recent years.
“Five, 10 or 15 years ago, there weren’t bars like this. There’d only be 15 whiskies from international companies with their brands,” he said.
“Here, with something like 180 plus whiskies, a bar like 61 Monarchy is really up there with the best in the world.”
Often during his talk, McWilliam would turn and remark on seeing certain labels up on the shelf, some of them from Dufftown, guys behind those brands he knows personally.
“When you see these in a place like this, being Scottish, it gives you tingles. I look at the bottles here, like Aberlour, I know the guys from those distilleries for 27 years. It makes me proud to be part of Scotch whisky.”
The mention of international companies piques interest.
It may shock the whisky drinker to learn a staggering 80 per cent of Scotch whisky is now controlled by companies outside of Scotland.
Authentic? The notion raises the question of national identity and the importance of Scotch to Scotland.
“Scotland is a tiny country, but Scotch whisky has got us famous around the world,” said McWilliam.
“Last weekend, I was in New Zealand, before I was in Thailand. Next week I go to Norway, to Bulgaria to Russia.
“I see a diverse culture — Russia to NZ to Malaysia — there’s huge culture differences there. But every one of these nations is appreciating single malt Scotch whisky.”
He did credit the bigger multinational companies who, despite operating out of Scotland, for opening up the market with their big-name brands to make way for smaller independents such as Glenfarclas.
The company is run by family firm J&G Grant, currently helmed by fifth generation John LS Grant as chairman and sixth generation George S. Grant as sales director.
The distillery has always stayed true to its roots, giving its customers a true taste of Speyside Scotland.
“We’re loyal to what the forefathers taught us. We’re not going to change anything,” McWilliam said about the company he joined in 1991.
“We wouldn’t change for anybody. We’ve resisted many takeovers.”
McWilliam observes Malaysians prefer a whisky taste, much like the food, that is sweet and spicy.
He noticed too a newfound cocktail culture attracting fresh drinkers.
Despite cocktails commonly using gin or rum, when single malt is used as the base liquor it gives new life to whisky.
“Historically, whisky was always for the older generation. Now there’s a lot of younger guys and girls enjoying and appreciating, and really asking for knowledge, on single malt whisky,” McWilliam continued.
“Especially here in Asia, it’s something of a status symbol drinking single malt — ‘I know what I’m drinking and I’m confident of the brand’.
“Some are probably influenced by the brand name — no problem with that at all,” he said.
“But if you’re paying good ringgit for whisky, don’t be influenced by others.
“It’s like stepping stones. Once you discover your first single malt whisky, there’s so many directions to go, it’s endless. Even I’m still learning, 27 years later.”