Glenfarclas Five Decades Extravaganza
This is a blog post that is long overdue. But because it’s been a busy few months here at Words of Whisky HQ, I only now have found the time to sit down for what’ll surely be one of the more decadent posts I’ve ever written. Brace yourselves for an extravagant Glenfarclas tasting, ranging from 2004, all the way back to 1963. That’s five decades!
I was invited by Best of Whiskies to attend a Glenfarclas tasting hosted by Ian McWilliam (who has featured on this blog before) in November. I went, but because I had to attend by car, I didn’t drink. Instead, I decanted every whisky into a sample bottle.
This tasting was probably one of the best value events I ever attended. For 50 euro, not only were the guests spoiled with the whiskies I’m reviewing below (which range from very good to legendary), but there were three other ones as well: the Glenfarclas 105, the 15-year-old Glenfarclas, and a special edition bottled for the Pot Still Festival 2017.
I’ll review those three at a later date, as I’ve chosen to cover the five vintage whiskies in this blog. The Glenfarclas 2004 was specially bottled for Dutch importer Van Wees, the other four are all part of the revered Family Casks-series, with the oldest one being 51 years of age.
Before I move on to the tasting notes, there’s one interesting tidbit that I want to share, told by Ian McWilliam during the tasting. It was regarding their cask management. Since 1989, all the wood is sourced from Jerez cooper Miguel Martin. A mix of butts and hogsheads, and all are ex-oloroso casks made from European oak. Before 1989 however, nobody kept proper records.
That means that if you find an older vintage of Glenfarclas, not even the folks at the distillery can tell you with absolute certainty the previous contents of the cask. What they do know, is that all of their casks are ex-sherry. What they don’t know, is what type of sherry, which makes a big difference in the final flavour profile.. Below I have tasting notes for three such whiskies from before 1989, and you’ll see they are all very different.
Now without further ado, here are the participants in the Glenfarclas Five Decades Extravaganza!
Glenfarclas 2004 11 Years Old (60,4%, OB for Van Wees, C#2623)
Nose: Strangely enough, this reminds of grappa at first, before other fruity notes take over, such as orange custard and lots of apricots. There are some sultanas here too. Somewhat prickly, but that is to be expected at this high an alcohol percentage. Not the most complex, but very inviting.
Taste: Quite fruity and spirit driven, which I like. The cask influence is subtle, and I can’t help but wander to grappa again, with notes of pineapple, grapes and lychee. Quite vegetal too. Finally a hint of eucalyptus.
Finish: Vegetal notes mainly. Different and interesting.
Glenfarclas 1997 19 Years Old (57,4%, OB ‘Family Casks’, C#2)
Nose: First off, there’s a whisper of sulphur here. Struck matches, that is. Giving a sulphured dram some time often helps, but not here. Actually, it is a bit more than a whisper, although not yet enough to be off-putting. Lots of vanilla, but also burnt caramel, and cherries and strawberries too. Finally some cotton candy.
Taste: Yeah, there’s sulphur here too. This is becoming a problem. Quite spicy, as well some espresso, but I have trouble getting past the sulphur, I’m sorry.
Finish: Too. Much. Sulphur.
Glenfarclas 1982 34 Years Old (55,5%, OB ‘Family Casks’, C#2215)
Nose: This is from the year Glenfarclas experimented with steam heating the stills, instead of using direct fire. The lightest in color of this quintet, it is invitingly fresh at first, but also has a sugar-y sweetness to it, as well as earthy and tobacco-esque notes. Unconventional, but highly enjoyable.
Taste: Well, if I didn’t know any better, I would say this is lightly peated. It certainly tastes as such. Very interesting. Some menthol notes too, as well as tobacco, white pepper and cumin. A subtle touch of bitter oak, this is certainly well-matured. Lacks a certain fruitiness, but still offers enough depth.
Finish: Lingers on earthy notes, as well as more oak. Pretty long.
Glenfarclas 1973 42 Years Old (48,6%, OB ‘Family Casks’, C#4794)
Nose: Of the five, this is the biggest sherry bomb in the classical sense. Lots of dried red fruits and intense cocoa powder and dark chocolate notes. There’s some cherry syrup here, as well raspberry, but also notes of espresso, honey and powdered coffee. Slightly dry, but wonderfully complex.
Taste: Very syrupy, with lots of leather, tobacco and furniture polish. Some burlap and menthol as well. Fairly drying, with some subtle spices, such as cloves and cracked black peppercorns. Softer notes of dried red fruit as well, but they are clearly playing second fiddle.
Finish: Subtle spices and earthy notes. Very long.
Glenfarclas 1963 51 Years Old (47,4%, OB ‘Family Casks’, C#3541)
Nose: This is oranges and mandarins galore, plus as a lot of other tropical fruits such as passion fruit, and even a little kiwi. And it has an incredible waxiness to boot. There’s some furniture polish here too, as well as a touch of leather and sweet honey, with finally some aniseed. Very reminiscent of those undisclosed Speysiders you see pop up as of late. Except probably even more expressive, if that is possible.
Taste: Lovely creamy texture. Again, very waxy. This is basically an exact copy of the nose, with room for oranges, mandarins and passion fruits. Some lemon marmalade here too. It does also have a slight bitterness, some oak (although surprisingly restrained for a whisky this age), as well as an interesting whisper of cough syrup.
Finish: We return to the fruitier notes of this whisky now, as well as some oak and a whisper of tobacco.
What a treat! Only the Glenfarclas 1997 disappointed, although I must say that the ratings on Whiskybase are a lot higher than what I deemed it worth. Maybe those are given by people immune to sulphur?
The Glenfarclas 1982 was probably the most surprising, as it showed a very different side of Glenfarclas. But the 2004 was also a bit atypical. Both lovely whiskies, but not exactly the type of sherry influence most of us have come to expect from this Speyside distillery.
When it comes to the Glenfarclas 1963 and 1973, those were in a league of their own. Very different from each other, but undoubtedly both great. I rated them equal, and it really is depending on your mood which one you’d prefer at that moment. Either way, you can’t go wrong.
Many thanks to Nils and Best of Whiskies for inviting me to this extravaganza.
Photos: Best of Whiskies/Master of Malt
Thijs is a spirits writer and accredited liquorist from The Netherlands. He runs the blog Words of Whisky and contributes to a number of Dutch and international publications.