Whisky Advocate

Speyside visit update: Glenfarclas

May 11th, 2008

With 52,000 casks of whisky maturing in 29 different warehouses, Glenfarclas doesn’t have a shortage of older whiskies like many other distilleries I visited in Speyside whose whiskies have been largely allocated to go into blends. In fact, Glenfarclas decided to prove this point, loud and clear, by introducing “The Family Casks” this past September. This is by far the most significant effort by Glenfarclas in the 30 years I have been drinking whisky.

The Family Casks are a series of 43 different vintages from 1952-1994. It is an amazing collection of whiskies which I was able to taste last July, well in advance of the official launch during my visit to Glenfarclas with George Grant, Brand Ambassador. The whisky was being bottle at the time , but he had cask samples of every vintage in boxes stacked up all over his office.

“Have whatever you want, John,” he said.

I just stared at the boxes and thought to myself, “Good Lord! A great deal of restraint and self-discipline is in order here.” After all, it was only 10:00 in the morning and I had a busy day ahead of me.

The better part of me persevered and we decided on tasting one vintage from each decade. I was amazed at how different they were. While most expressed a degree of sherry influence, they varied greatly, from light and elegant, to the vintage of my birth year, 1960, which was very dark and brooding.

(As a side note, George informed me that the standard ratio of sherry to bourbon casks for aging Glenfarclas is 60% sherry and 40% plain oak. Yes, that’s plain oak, not bourbon oak. Plain oak means that it was a sherry cask that was used at least four times before, or a bourbon cask that was used three times already. He said Glenfarclas doesn’t use any first fill bourbon casks because it makes the whisky too oily. Very interesting.)

During my most recent visit to Glenfarclas, I once again enjoyed sampling my way through various samples from The Family Casks, including the oldest vintage, 1952. I also had another go at 1960. (Why not? How often does one get to taste a whisky from their birth year?)

My only complaint about The Family Casks is that they have not been available in the U.S. But they sure have been popular. In fact, they ran out of several vintages and have done a second release from the following years: 1952, 1957, 1960, 1967 and 1969 . One guy from France, who tasted his way through various vintages, bought the entire lot from 1960. (He obviously has good taste!)

George Grant assures me that he will work with a few select retailers to bring a portion of The Family Casks to the U.S. Let’s hope so.

I also enjoyed spending some time in the Glenfarclas warehouses, and we tasted some interesting whiskies, including some aged in port pipes. (They have vintages from 1979-1981 aging in port pipes.) In fact, George informed me that, for the first time, they will be importing a Glenfarclas into the U.S. that was aged entirely in a port pipe. It will be a 1981 vintage, 27 years old, and will be available through Park Avenue Liquors in New York City in August. I didn’t get the chance to taste that one, but I am looking forward to it. No doubt you are too!

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