Down the years

Down the years

In an epic tasting we tackle the entire family cask range, Rob Allanson reports.

News | 18 Jan 2008 | Issue 69 | By Rob Allanson

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It was an ambitious undertaking, both for the distillery and Whisky Magazine.Family owned Glenfarclas Distillery launched The Family Casks, an exclusive collection of 43 vintage dated single cask Highland malts.The series is unique, there is no other known collection of old and rare whiskies that covers 43 consecutive years from the same distillery – there is a reason why Glenfarclas was named Distiller of the Year in 2006 by Whisky Magazine.The company is in the enviable position, with more than 52000 casks currently maturing in its traditional dunnage warehouses, of having stock in cask from every year from 1952 to the current day.The Family Casks is a collection of the best single casks from the distillery’s warehouses, bottled at cask strength and at natural colour, one for each year from 1952 to 1994.So, ensconced in a back room of La Bodeguita del Medio, a Cuban bar in London, Dave Broom and I laid out the 43 sample bottles sent from the distillery and set to work.Believe me when I say it was quite a task, admittedly a very enviable task and the range really shows off the distillery through the past four decades, the good times and the not quite so good times.After the tasting Dave pointed out that through the 60s and 70s everything was big bold sherry notes, and the colours were predominantly glorious dark copper, but when we hit the very late 70s and early 80s something happened.This was the squeeze point for many distilleries and a time when some were closing. Perhaps there was not much money about, but the character of the whiskies changed noticeably.George Grant, brand ambassador, and the 6th generation of the family, said that at the time the distillery was selling a lot of whisky so stocks from this period were slimmer than other years.Glenfarclas is renowned for producing single malt in a traditional Speyside style with a heavy sherry influence.Sherry casks are well represented within the collection. As John Grant, chairman and 5th generation of the family that own and manage Glenfarclas, explains: “Good wood is vital in maturation, and the resulting richness and sweetness from sherry casks is delightful.” Unlike mainstream bottlings, which are normally offered at a reduced strength of 40% vol., The Family Casks have been bottled at cask strength.During maturation the strength of the whisky reduces slowly, thanks to ‘the angel’s share’. Cask strength is the natural strength after maturation, hence each bottle in the collection is offered at a different strength, varying from 46.0% vol. for Cask 4913 from 1961 to 65.1% vol. for Cask 1316 from 1968.Glenfarclas was first to market a cask strength whisky, with the Glenfarclas ‘105’ at 60% vol. in 1968. ??The Family Casks have also been bottled at natural colour, with oak gift box, designed to highlight the variety of colours within the collection.Accompanying each bottle is a booklet with a history of the distillery, written by John Grant, and tasting notes prepared by George Grant.George comments: “To launch 43 single casks at once must be a first. It has been a big project for us, and almost everybody in the company has been involved with this release.“We have however had a lot of fun, looking through our warehouses to select a cask from each year for The Family Casks was particularly enjoyable.” 50sDate:1952 56.5% plain hogshead
Nose:Surprisingly fresh and lifted.Aromatic with a gentle spiciness dominating.Some ‘whisky rancio’ and in time spearmint.Clean but deep.
Palate:Slightly musty (which is only to be expected) Bone dry with oak showing. Balsa wood. Venerable but light.
Finish:Surprisingly creamy.Date:1953 53.7% sherry butt
Nose:Leather and Seville orange/marmalade.Funky and fungal Rich,Sultana and leather upholstery.
Palate:Fine grip and not too tannic with some light sweet spice (nutmeg).Raisin. Good feel. Slightly fragile but with almost meaty weight.
Finish:Long,gripping.Date:1954 52.6% sherry butt
Nose:Lush and smooth. Chestnut liqueur. Distictly nutty but the impression is this is balanced by silky depth.Bitter orange.
Palate:The mix of sweet raisined depth and savoury nuttiness makes it reminiscent of Brandy de Jerez. Powerful and deep.Clove.
Finish:Burnt,treacle like.Date:1955 46.1% sherry butt
Nose:Little distant.Most overtly oaky.Bitter
chocolate.Opens into liqueur chocolate,black
cherry/Black Forest gateau.Leathery as it develops.
Palate:Dry.Tree bark Firm tannins but with good
length.Cherry again.
Finish:Gripping.Date:1956 47.3% sherrybutt
Nose:Dryoloroso [cheese rind,walnut,raisin,horse
flanks].There’s a smoked quality as well bringing to
mind a spentbonfire.Molasses.Bittersweet.
Palate:Lightly fragrant.Rose.Quite dusty tannins
and then a meaty/stock cube note.
Finish:Sooty.Date:1957 54% sherry hogshead
Nose:Incredibly dark.Opaque.Very intense shifting
into balsamic/soy territory.Savoury,dense.That old
leather note once more.
Layered brooding and powerful.
Palate:The savoury edge is dominant here.Is this
whisky any more or has it evolved into some new
densely flavoured beast? A light lift on the back
palate.1956 in reverse.
Finish:Slightly bitter.Date:1958 51.6% sherrybutt
Nose:Black as pitch and similar on the nose.Tar and
treacle toffee,Xmas cake,mixed nuts (burnt almond).
Palate:Aprune likesweetness and richness
balancing the immense weight of the oak.Firm but
Finish:Long.Date:1959 52.5% sherry hogshead
Nose:Touch of sulphur. Roasted.Rooty and deep.
Liqourice (Pontefract cake) Big and powerful with a
sense of tannic grip.leaf mulch,dried fig.
Palate:Very firm and grippy.Old dried flowers,oak
truffle and leather.
Finish:Dries then dies.60s
Date:1960 52.4% sherry hogshead
Nose:Vinous.Black fruits Cigar box.It’s a classic old
style Barolo,all tar and roses.Fragrant and wildly
exotic.Hint of varnish.
Palate: Incense.Very graceful and a real change from
the robust power of the 1950s.Camphor.
Finish:Long and scented.Like a charming,if slightly
batty,old lady.Date:1961 46% sherry hogshead
Nose:Abalanced marriage between the
burnt/roasted notes and an almost feral sweetness.
Coffee and polished oak.Bourbon biscuits.
Palate:Again a lifted aroma (is this a 60s style
emerging?) Chocolate and charred wood.The oaky
grip has lifted an real elegant distillery character is
allowed to show.
Finish: Elegant long.Date:1962 54.8% sherry hogshead
Nose:Straight back to 1959.Dundee cake,cooking
chocolate,raisin and prune.Little dumb.
Palate:Very grippy.Huge cask influence.Stewed tea
leaves.Classic sherry bomb.
Date:1963 56.7% sherry butt
Nose:Lifted.Pure sweet oloroso aromas (sim to 56,
but sweeter).Complex with a biscuity warmth.
Sultana,walnut,tree bark,powerful,dusty and herbal
in time.
Palate:Good mix of light soy sauce resinous oak and
griping tannins.
Finish:Firm and long.Date:1964 53.1% sherrybutt
Nose:Slicker than 63.If it were a sherry it would be a
cream.Fresh orange peel,tanned hides.Slightly
animalistic with a meaty edge/gravy browning.
Palate:More sweet and direct than ’63.Beautifully
balanced for such a big whisky.Grip on the tongue.
Yew trees sandalwood.
Finish:Long and lifted.Date:1965 60% sherry butt
Nose:In a line with 60/61.Lighter with a fascinating
perfumed note.Black fruits,some soot,floral,light
spices,balsamic/light soy.Complex.
Palate:Mink oil.Soft and tongue-clinging.Black
bean sauce,coffee grounds.Multi-layered.
Finish:PX sweetness.One of the real stars.Date:1966 51.5% sherrybutt
Nose:Slightly dull after the stellar ’65.A little foosty,
bung cloth and spent cigar butt.Strangely a
fragrance like Edinburgh rock then comes through.
Tannins and stock cubes (this mix of meat and
perfume seems characteristic of this decade’s
Palate:Moreplacid and easy going than previous
Finish:Chewy.Good but not top of the class.Date:1967 58.5% sherry hogshead
Nose:Apowerful vanillin note shifting into nuts and
cream.Walnut whips? In time boot polish.
Palate:On the verge of being too cloying the nut
and cream liqueur quality.Better with water which
calms this quality down and bring out a mushroom
like depth.
Finish:Sweet and clean.Date:1968 65.1% sherry butt
Nose:Back to the feral note of the early 60s.
Liquorice again,also a hint of sulphur.Humidor.In
time there’s porcini mushroom liquor.
Palate:Light sulphur note.Fairly tight to begin with
then shifts to fig.Water improves it.
Finish: Italian woods:hazelnut,Nutella?!Date:1969 56.2% sherry hogshead
Nose:Polished oak and freshly polished at that.
Luscious and sweet.Some cordite,creosote and
plum.Charming in a big-boned fashion.
Palate:Rounded and lightly smoky.Very thick but a
little dumb.
Finish: Lacks expressiveness.70sDate:1970 53.6% sherry butt
Nose:Twiggy/dry leaves,charcoal.Some vanilla.
Needs time to open which is does rather beautifully.
Coffee steam.
Palate:Good balance between the wooded notes
and a basic beefy sweetness.
Finish:Long and quite lush.Date:1971 57.1% sherry butt
Nose:Similar to ’70.A return to a woody nuttiness
burntnotes.High oak extract.An earthy note for the
first time.Blackberry.
Palate:Quitesoft with a prickle of dusty hedgerow
fruits/leaf.Fruit compote.
Finish:Very long.Date:1972 51.1% sherry butt
Nose:Pale.Charred steak,wax,smoke coming
through.The mintiness of the 50s returns.
Little harsh.
Palate:Adense flavourful spirit but the oak has had
little interaction.The two elements still sitting apart
from each other.
Finish:Fruity!Date:1973 58.8% sherry butt
Nose:Similar to ’69 on the nose with extra prune.
Red fruits,some earthy power.Tobacco.
Armagnac like.
Palate:Excellent.Balances light top notes with some
spice and the resonance of age.
Finish: Dry,.then a late burst of fruit.Date:1974 60.8% sherry butt
Nose:Clean with slight burnt notes.Autumn fruits
cut with a surprising grassiness.
The charred note returns alongside polished brass,
butteriness and brambles.
Palate:Sweet powerful and jammy Light nutmeg.
Finish:Layered and long.Date:1975 51.4% refill hogshead
Nose:Slick,smooth,brandy butter melting on a
Christmas pudding.Even smoother with water.
Palate:Soft and sweet with toffee and a balancing
dry bracken note.Herbal.
Finish:Biscuity (chocolate digsestive)Date:1976 49.4% refill butt
Nose:Rater plain and hay like to start.
There’s depth but not quite knitted.Cream and raisin
and a hint of plasticene.
Palate:Alight drift of smoke across the palate along
with wet leather.Slightly dank.
Finish:Peanuts!Date:1977 59% refill butt
Nose:Very pale quite sweet and sherberty.Very
different distillery character emerging here.
Lemon.Light and more in line with
estery Speysiders.
Palate:Clean with good feel.Gentle and a move
into jasmine.A-typical but a good dram.
Finish:Fresh and light.Date:1978 50.3% refill hogshead
Nose:Dry and slightly lean.The nuttiness comes
back.macadamia this time some dried peach and
some malt.
Palate:Sweet with touch of sultana lurking in the
background.Everything has gone lighter.More refill
casks,but also a change in distillation? The whisky
trade was feeingl the pinch around this time.
Finish:Fresh and clean.Date:1979 52.8% plain hogshead
Nose:Pale and slightly neutral.Bubblegum (those
esters again) Chewy.Bananas.
Palate:Thin and slightly abrasive.
Finish:Tart.80sDate:1980 50.1% refill sherry butt
Nose:Some colour.Chestnut mushroom.Quite
light.Cooked apple.Fairly firm.Nut oils.
Palate:Back to bigger European oak influence.
Tannins but balanced by a lifted distillate.balanced.
Finish:Cigar box.Date:1981 52.4% refill sherry hogshead
Nose:Lightand zesty.Yeast and a hint of white
pepper.Polished oak,anise,sawdust and clean.
Good depth with water.
Palate:Clean with a citric zing.Lightly spiced.Has
Finish:Spiced cider.Date:1982 58.3% refill sherry hogshead
Nose:Light coffee/vegetal notes along with a hint
of glue shifting into a waxiness.
Palate:Slightly unformed.Lightly acidic then a
sudden spiced lift on the back palate.
Finish:Clean quite short.Date:1983 56% refill hogshead
Nose:Pale and buttery/clotted cream.Always that
burnt/roasted character underneath. Raffia lemon
and lychee.Singed.Even more buttery with water.
Palate:The wood is in charge.Butterscotch.
Finish:Slightly flabby.Date:1984 51.3% plain hogshead
Nose:The most charred of all.Spent fire touch of
plastic.Some leather (pigskin)
Palate:Thin and rather lean.
Finish:Tight.Date:1985 46.3% refill sherry hogshead
Nose:Suddenly more cask influence.Moist fruit
cake,light dried fruit.Very pure and fruity.Apple and
blackberry pie filling.
Palate:Alighter style of Glenfarclas but rather
subtle and smooth.Soft caramel.
Coming back to form.
Finish:Clean medium,toasted.Date:1986 56.5% refill sherry puncheon
Nose:Dry oak and rich spirit.Dusty flour.Touch of
sulphur.Much better with water.Toasted tea cake.
Palate: Higher tannins than the last few.Sweet
spices and the pepperines of youth.Has the
luscious leathery depth you expect.
Finish:Long full and fruity.Date:1987 55.1% refill sherry hogshead
Nose:Deeper in colour.Another winey one this
time almost syrah like:black fruit and soot
alongside toffee apple and chestnut honey.
Palate:The tannis are back but the fruit is sufficient
to balance.Great depth.Glenfarclas is back!
Finish:Ripe and full.Date:1988 56.3% sherry butt
Nose:Rich colour.Quite crisp.Needs water,which
brings out figs and reduces an acetone note.
Darjeeling tea,some fragrance.
Palate:Light concentration.Flavours have shifted
around to apple but the liquorice of old now makes
acomeback.An interesting battle.
Finish:Crisp and toasty.Date:1989 60% sherry butt
Nose:Sulphur/spent firework with chewy fruits,
with added resin.Has power.
Palate:Rich and robust with good tannic grip.
Finish:Dense.90sDate:1990 58.9% sherry butt
Nose:Rich and very complex.Sweet yet fresh.Very
good balance.Herbs,mint and caramel.Lacquer.
Drift of sulphur adding a lift to the aroma.
Palate:Soft start,moist fruit loaf touch of ginger.
balancing tannins.
Finish:Long.Figgy.Date:1991 57.9% sherry butt
Nose:Compared to 1990 this has even more sultry
sweetness.Very chewy,like Highland toffee.Some
burnt sugar in there as well.Stewed fruit.
Palate:Substantial and full.Glenfarclas re-emerges
after what appears to have been a tricky decade.
Finish:Long thick.Date:1992 55.5% sherry butt
Nose:Slightly paler but again the impact is huge.
The meaty/leatheriness seems to have been
replaced by toffee mixed with a signed character
underneath.Touch of cut grass and vanilla.
Palate:Good burnt/savoury character.Good
extract but almost needs more time in wood.
Finish:Coming together.Date:1993 58.9% refill sherry butt
Nose:Mocha/cafe latte! Sweetness and creaminess
to the fore.Quite simple and sweet with good
weight.In time a lot of sulphur.
Palate:Big sulphur and big grip.
Finish:Quite tough.Date:1994 59.6% sherry butt
Nose:Now the hard toffee has become runny.Big
and generous.Sprig of thyme and a whiff of mint.
Silky and long.
Palate:Quite perfumed.A triumphant finish to a
remarkable tale.This shows complexity and the
layered quality of the finest old examples where
mix of savouryand sweet gives depth and interest.
Finish:Long with a surprising lift of dried lime.
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