E-pistle 2008/19 – Glenfarclas Family Casks : The Saga goes on

By Luc Timmermans, Belgium

Well, I guess you must have all seen the release of the Family Casks from Glenfarclas last year.  A real show off, bringing at once 43 different vintages, from 1952 to 1994, all single casks to the market.  This was never done before by any distillery…a complete series of 43 consecutive years of whisky.  Big was the success and soon the distillery was sold out of a couple of vintages.  So what to do then…..a normal distillery would cease the series, simply because of the missing stock.  But if you are Glenfarclas and you are sitting on a stock of 60.000 casks going from 1952 uptil now, you don’t… You just fill the gaps and hence the release II of the Family Casks Series (who were all five bottled on October 11th, 2007).  When George told me about this I was thrilled… thrilled of being able to savour more of these georgeous whiskies… but when he asked me to join the primeur tasting organised at the distillery in Ballindalloch scheduled on April 1…I had mixed feelings.

April’s foulday, mmmmm was he pulling my leg….
Apparently he wasn’t, so we decided to combine this invitation with a 9 day family holiday in Scotland.
But back to the subject.  The invitation of the tasting looked fantastic.  We were expected at 3.30 pm at the distillery and Ian McWilliam was so kind to pick us up at the Dowan’s Hotel in Aberlour.  In total 28 people attended the primeur tasting, amongst others Ian Buxton, Keir Sword, the managing director and marketing manager from Pol Roger (the Glenfarclas UK distributor), Sandy, John Smith and many others.  First we started with the tasting of the 5 newly released casks and here are my notes and comments:

Glenfarclas 1952/2007 (41.9%, OB, Family Casks, Plain Hogshead #1710, Release II, 55 Bts.)
The previous 1952 cask # 1712 yielded 110 bottles and when they wanted to bottle the next 1952 the choice was first to bottle another then the # 1710 but apparently that one turned out to be empty…so it was # 1710 that was choosen.  When this one is sold out there is only 1 cask of Glenfarclas 1952 left at the distillery.
Nose : Very impacted by the wood, you get oaky notes, underlying vanilla, smoky meat, oaksmoke, yellow flowers from the field, a little rumnotes, the oak has it all under control I’m afraid (22)
Taste : Lots of smoke, are we in Speyside here, I feel almost Islay….loads of cinnamon, dry cut oak (20)
Finish : Short dry smoke, bitter-sweet, nutmeg (20)
Balance/Complexity : Very peculiar for a Glenfarclas, the smoke is very dominant on the palate.
I guess this must come from years in the wood, organoleptic not really stunning, but tasting a 1952 is always a treat (21)
Total points : 83/100

Now that we are at it, I can also share with you my notes from the previous 1952, the first release, cask # 1712.
Glenfarclas 1952/2006 (56.5%, OB, Family Casks, Plain Hogshead, cask #1712, 110 Bts.)
Nose : Light delicate nose of honey, banana peel, vanilla, soft sherry, nutmeg and a little smoke 21/25
Taste : Light taste, sweet & delicate on the palate, woodspices, nutmeg and some pepper 21/25
Finish : Oaksmoke, wood, spice and white pepper 21/25
Balance/complexity : Nice delicate, deserves respect 21/25
Total points : 84/100

The next one in the line-up at the tasting was the 1957 :
Glenfarclas 1957/2007 (46.5%, OB, Family casks, Sherry Hogshead, cask #2115, Release II, 116 Bts.)
Nose : Whauh, what a blast, soo aromatic, a lovely sweet creamy sherry nose, game sauce, light cigar smoke, deep intense bee wax to polish your antique book cabinets, lovely old leather notes, stunning (24)
Taste : Intense big fat sherry, a little dry but what an intensity, coffee, italian expresso, dark chocolate, some cohiba cigar smoke, what a sensation again (23)
Finish : Long, intense, balanced on dryness and sweet sherry kicking back all aroma’s, lovely (23)
Balance/complexity : this is divine, to savour only with your best friends, what an aromatic experience (24)
Total points : 94/100

Now that we are at it, I can also share with you my notes from the previous 1957, the first release, cask # 2111.
Glenfarclas 1957/2006 (54%, OB, Family Casks, Sherry Hogshead #2111, 158 Bts.)
Nose : Lovely coffee aroma’s, mexican coffee, arabica, rich chocolate pudding, a damn great nose (25)
Taste : Rich sweet start, lovely intensity and then a little dry, coffee, cough syrup, bitter chocolate (23)
Finish : Sweet-dry and very long (23)
Balance/complexity : Great if you like dryness on the palate, which I do (23)
Total points : 94/100 – Apparently a close match between these two 1957 expressions.

Next we moved on to the sixties expressions, first starting with a 1960 expression from cask # 1773.  The first 1960 expression was quickly sold after Jim Murray’s notes in his whiskybible.  He acclaimed the 1960 to be the best of the first series…

Glenfarclas 1960/2007 (43.8%, OB, Family Casks, Sherry Hogshead #1773, Release II, 157 Bts.)
Nose : Heather sherry, raisins, orangezest, grand marnier, a touch of spices, fine and delicate, needs time to open up (23)
Taste : Bold and full on oranges, liquor, aniseed, the dryness holds the aroma’s, lovely (24)
Finish : Long, peppery and the orangezest after-taste is great (23)
Balance/complexity : Simply great (23)
Total points : 93/100

And yes again…. Now that we are at it, I can also share with you my notes from the previous 1960, the first release, cask # 1767.
Glenfarclas 1960/2006 (52.4%, OB, Family Casks, sherry hogshead #1767, 228 Bts.)
Nose : Lovely raspberries, red fruits, Christmas pudding, cake with red confit fruit, just lovely (24)
Taste : Lovely intense taste of sherry, red fruits, raspberries shine thru, a bit of bitter coffee, ooh soo great (24)
Finish : Nice, extremely long development on a very tight rope of sweet and bitter and dryness, great (24)
Balance/complexity : Yummie……(24)
Total points : 96/100

Yeah… I have to admit, that 1960 release n°1 is a stunner…. you better call Thierry Benitah from La Maison du Whisky to try to nail a bottle or two from this nectar….. He is still sitting on some stock apparently. So on to the next release n° 2 from the sixties, this time the 1967.

Glenfarclas 1967/2007 (58.7%, OB, Family Casks, Sherry Hogshead #5117, Release II, 138 Bts.)
Nose : Spicy and a little alcoholic at first nosing but then it opens up, big sherry, the oranges, the grand marnier, woodspices, ginger, pinewood, they all pop out..lovely…and if you add a drop of water, the aroma’s almost explode out your glass…, what a sensation (24)
Taste : Full taste, bang powerfull bang, bitter bloodoranges, java cake, grand marnier, very sticky and robust, yummie (23)
Finish : Long, building, bringing back every sensation from the nose…divine length…45 seconds at least, just a tad bitterness at the end (23)
Balance/complexity : Hard to tackle at first, difficult to tame….but once released a pure sensation with an extreme length (24)
Total points : 94/100

Yes..yes here again the notes of the first 1967 expression ….
Glenfarclas 1967/2006 (58.5%, OB, Family Casks, Sherry Hogshead #5118, 181 Bts.)
Nose : Rich sherry, raisins, orange zest with cloves, cinnamon, leather, very nice and refined (23)
Taste : Fat and thick, full bodied, strong, cloves, warm “speculoos”, rich java cake, intense (23)
Finish : Long, intense and thick, fat sherry, lovely (23)
Balance/complexity : Great dram….(23)
Total points : 92/100 – Add much water to this one and you get an exotic overload of peach… just try it.

Too bad…it was already time to savour the last of the tasting, the 1969.
Glenfarclas 1969/2007 (56.6%, OB, Family Casks, Sherry Hogshead #3185, Release II, 121 Bts.)
Nose : Aceton and a little sulphur underneath, almonds, nuts, milk, autumn notes, wet cloth, mushrooms, wet forest, mmm (21)
Taste : Sulpuric, dry, woody, a bit flawed if you ask me (17)
Finish : Too dry and now the sulphury notes and overdominant nutty notes are not my kind (16)
Balance/complexity : ok for the nose…but the palate, mmmmm (17)
Total points : 71/100

Yes..yes here again the notes of the first 1969 expression ….
Glenfarclas 1969/2006 (56.2%, OB, Sherry Hogshead #3184, 148 Bts.)
Nose : Rich christmas cake, a whiff of sulphur again, walnut cream, apple pie, calvados (22)
Taste : Thick profound taste, intense sherry, apples, calvados, a touch of sulphur again (22)
Finish : Rich, thick, sweet-orange now, liquor (22)
Balance/complexity : Nice but that touch of sulphur is disturbing me a little (21)
Total points : 87/100

After this lovely tasting we were all guided around the distillery by George Grant.  Glenfarclas is now 24/24 in production and all 3 sets of stills are in operation.  In my 10 years of collecting Glenfarclas I have never seen them soo busy and you could almost feel the building crack under the massive constraints of 7/7 – 24/24 production, resulting in a yearly output of 3,2 mlj liters of pure spirit.

This is all part of a bigger production plan, as John Grant explained, to start from the inside out at maximum production output and to change the equipment, buildings and grounds over the next 5 years.  A massive investment goes along these plans.  Great to see Glenfarclas is doing great and we will see many more whisky coming out in the years to come.  After our distillery tour we visited the warehouse to try yet another 1957 (cask #2110) and 1960 (cask #1774) straight from the cask.  Since the whisky was very cold, so straigth from the cask, I decided not to take any tasting notes, but I’m convinced we will soon be seeing these casks released as yet another Family Cask.

John Grant, his lovely wife and George invited us all for an aperitif. Pol Roger was soo kind to allow us a taste of their great champagne and all 43 different expressions from the first series were available for tasting…. I felt in heaven….. thé chance to try the missing vintages and commenting them in my tasting book.

Here a few I tried at the spot….

Glenfarclas 1994/2006 (59.6%, OB, Family Casks, Sherry Butt #2935, 628 Bts.)
Nose : A classic young sherried Glenfarclas, wax, nutmeg, pinewood, some hay and heather, good (22)
Taste : Full taste, body, nutty, pine, raisins, good (21)
Finish : Good length (21)
Balance/complexity : An ok dram (21)
Total points : 85/100

Glenfarclas 1977/2006 (59%, OB, Family Casks, Refill Butt #61, 582 Bts.)
Nose : Very immature, almost new make, grass, fresh cut hay, simple (18)
Taste : Sweet, sugary, new make (17)
Finish : Medium, oak, new make (17)
Balance/complexity : Boring, has this been in cask ? (17)
Total points : 69/100

Glenfarclas 1971/2006 (57.1%, OB, Family Casks, Sherry Butt #140, 459 Bts.)
Nose : Closed at first, wheat, oat cakes, a little cinnamon (20)
Taste : Sherry, oatcakes, wheat, nuts, ok (21)
Finish : Medium (21)
Balance/complexity : Mediocre but ok (20)
Total points : 82/100

And finally before going off to the Glenfarclas dinner….
Glenfarclas 1970/2006 (53.6%, OB, Family Casks, Sherry Butt #566, 497 Bts.)
Nose : Classical sherry, toffee, christmas cake, orange zest, good (22)
Taste : Lighter body, orange liquor, a little glue, dry, peppery (22)
Finish : Orange zesty medium finish (22)
Balance/complexity : A very ok expression (21)
Total points : 87/100

To conlude this lovely day we had a superb 4-course dinner in the Ships Room accompanied by great wines from Pol Roger and lots of Glenfarclas whiskies….I decided to have the notorious Glenfarclas 1965/2006 (60%, OB, Family Casks, sherry butt #3861, 417 Bts.) throughout my dinner….still my numéro uno of the series…..yummie, yummie…  What a day….what a whisky…..a special page in my book of life.  One I will remember for a very long time.