F+R found themselves in the remote glens of Speyside last week visiting one of Scotland's finest whisky distilleries - Glenfarclas. Glenfarclas remains one of the few family-owned distilleries in Scotland in which all the whisky is produced and aged on site. It is a real family affair with three generations, as well as the production team, all living at the distillery; living, breathing and nurturing Glenfarclas’ amazing collection of ageing single malts.
We had arrived on a mission. We knew how good the aged Glenfarclas whiskies can be - they have a global reputation as among the best in the world. A reputation built not only on quality but their ability to offer exceptionally aged whiskies at attractive price points. Something a family owned distillery can have greater control of. Their success is built on a core range of age statements created from blends of aged casks. One of the most iconic ranges of premium whiskies is the Glenfarclas Family Casks range, which showcases individual casks from specific vintages and the unique character of each. These are whisky casks filled just minutes apart and who have been through the same mash and distillation process, but whose subtle yet complex interactions between whisky and individual cask go on to provide very different expressions upon tasting side by side years later.
Blending remains a valuable part of the process for a huge proportion of the whisky produced at Glenfarclas - effectively balancing the different expressions of each cask to provide a malt that has the distinct flavour profile and style the distillery is known for. There are a handful of casks, howerver, that in themselves are perfectly balanced and provide something unique and impossible to replicate.
We wanted to explore the vast barrel cellars at Glenfarclas to find a single cask that stood out, that on its own had matured into a perfectly balanced malt, due to its unique interaction between cask and whisky over a 30 year relationship, together creating something extraordinary.
We couldn’t be in better company to help us on our quest. Alongside our in-house whisky expert David Walters, we were guided by Glenfarclas’ production manager Calum Fraser and warehouse charge hand Thomas Webster. Between them they have 50 years’ experience at Glenfarclas and no one has spent more time exploring these historic warehouses, tasting and blending these aged casks whilst curating the famous Glenfarclas blends.
It was a fascinating afternoon opening up and tasting six separate casks dating from 1985 - 1989, many of which had been untouched for 30 years. The variations in flavours and expressions from one cask to the next was extraordinary. The 1985s were incredibly mellow, so elegant, so easy to drink with amazing integration of flavour, with a deep caramel, tropical fruit element that had extraordinary persistence on the palate despite its finesse. The 1987s in contrast were much more fiery. Every ‘87 had amazing aromatic complexity and exuberance - loads of toffee and spice. On the palate the alcohol was much more pronounced and slightly overpowering on the finish. By the end of the '87s we all agreed they were too powerful and lacked the balance for a single cask release, but would be a great addition in a blend to bring extra aromatic complexity and energy on the palate.
So far we had tasted all 3rd and 4th fill casks with very little flavour influence from the sherry casks, so with less affectation and greater purity. But it was the 2nd fill casks from 1989 that really got us excited. Despite being younger, they collectively all tasted more resolved and one cask in particular was a real "wow" moment for everyone - production manager included. Texturally it was so rich yet completely smooth. It felt twice as weighty as the others. A wonderful array of flavours: raisin, caramel, some spicy lift but also juiciness. There were also beautiful sherry aromas of walnut, old bureau and tobacco. Collectively we all looked at each other and nodded in agreement this was the special cask we were looking for.
We hope to see our single cask series from Glenfarclas become available later in the year, watch this space.