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24/07/2017

‘Probably Speyside’s Finest’

by Richard Ellis - Spirits Buyer

‘We are doing this for two reasons; firstly, because we can, and secondly; because we thought it would be rather fun!’
George Grant, 6th Generation 

Glenfarclas Tasting

It isn’t every day that an invitation drops through your virtual letterbox inviting to you to one of the one of the most comprehensive single cask whisky tastings staged for the last 10 years.  Luckily for me, that very thing happened recently in anticipation of the 10th Anniversary tasting celebrating the launch of the Glenfarclas Family Cask Range. 

A little background about Glenfarclas first.  It was back in June 1865 when John Grant paid £511.19s.0d for the distillery.  Since then, it has gone on to become one of the world’s most revered distilleries and is one of Scotland’s few family run distilleries, located in the heart of the Speyside region of Scotland. Often referred to as ‘Probably Speyside’s Finest’, they manage to maintain incredible consistency and quality in their whiskies.  Masters of sherry cask maturation, the family remain committed to the vision of creating the best quality Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky possible.

Now, the tasting! The Glenfarclas Family Casks range is the culmination of intensive cask selection in order to bring together what are considered to be the very finest casks that Glenfarclas have in their possession, all bottled under ‘The Family Casks’ label. Glenfarclas own a LOT of casks (around 100,000 to be exact) but it is still staggering that they own single casks from every year from 1954 right through to 2001, all of which were present and dotted around various tables in ‘the equally cramped but rather more trendy space’ of Mac & Wild, as overhead from a fellow attendee who had also been at the launch in 2007.  It was certainly cramped but if anything, it added to the atmosphere!

Personally, I have always been fascinated by the more ‘left-field’ Family Cask bottlings, i.e., those that haven’t spent time ageing in first or second fill sherry butts or hogsheads.  Undoubtedly these are superb but the subtlety and fresh honeyed fruitiness of those that spent their time in 4th fill casks (4th use of the cask) are to die for, as the malty character really shines through.  As George Grant reminded us during a brief interlude in the tasting, if you were lucky enough to have acquired a full set of 43 bottles on release, it would have set you back around £13,000.  10 years on, the same set would cost you more like £75,000.  Quite an impressive return!

And so to a couple of highlights:

1950s - The angels (quick segue - The Angel’s Share film is worth a watch) that carefully watch over the casks at the distillery will have taken around 2/3rds of the liquid sitting in these 1950s casks.

1954 – Fleshy red apples and dried apricots give a wonderful ripe and juicy nose which carries through to the palate and is joined by a lovely smoke.  Some sweet spices join in (think nutmeg and cumin) and lead to a rich finish.  For something that has spent 59 years in wood, it is superbly balanced. Cask 1259, 46.7% abv.

1960s – Known for their big, bold, flavours, the Glenfarclas whiskies of the 1960s are HUGE on sherry.

1962 – Lots of green apple, fresh, beautifully fragrant and floral.  A lot of wood joins the palate that absorbs any saliva that you had left but superb nonetheless. 

1970s – looks can be deceptive! They might be light in colour but they are bursting full of flavour.

1975 – honeyed green apples, a very malty

1980s – The 150th Anniversary of legal production and a return to rich, sherried Christmas cakes.

1986 - Big and powerful this 1986 has lashings of sherry-soaked dried fruits particularly raisins and prunes alongside nutmeg and other spices.  Amazingly fresh at the same time with honeyed pears and apples with a chocolatey undercurrent.  Refill Sherry Butt #3452, 56.4% abv.   

Glenfarclas Tasting

All in all, some wonderful whiskies and the end of an era, all rolled in to one.  I think George Grant perfect summed up what whisky is all about in the quote at the beginning of this blog and long may those in a position to bring us these sorts of whiskies, share the same approach.  Slainte mhath!