The Glenfarclas Family Casks have a history that draws from across the past 60 years. As such, they almost feel like they’ve been around forever, despite only being launched a little over 10 years ago in 2007. The series, which seems to have its origins as a bit of a ‘two-fingers incident’ to another distillery also possessing deep aged stock, started as 43 vintage single malts spanning the years from 1952 to 1994. In the 11 years since, there’s been nearly 400 bottles released for the various vintage years, and likewise new expressions from 1994 into the millennium have seen the light of day. It’s a series steeped in the history of Glenfarclas itself – it’s also ready made for celebrating birthdays.
I believe there’s been nine 1978 Family Cask releases – originally numbered sequentially, the bottles now tend to indicate the season (Sp, S, A and W) and year of bottling (allowing for easy identification of variance within a single year) – They differ, not only in age, but also in predecessor cask – of course, being Glenfarclas, there’s plenty of sherry, but also, many of the bottlings from this series show of the distillery’s spirit character in ex-bourbon maturation – often with quite a few decades of barrel time. The most popular year currently seems to be 1979 with seventeen releases to date – perhaps this has more to do with the 4th fill cask composition (and price!) rather than the vintage year itself. But, apparently, times were hard for Glenfarclas back in 1979 and only 4th fill hogsheads were available!
Nevertheless, the Family Casks remain a liquid timeline of Glenfarclas, and the changes to both the market and the distillery itself over the past six decades. They’re an obvious target for birthday celebrations – depending on when you were born. If you’ve got a little one now, I’d certainly keep my eye out on a birth year bottling for snaffling away for a later date, but, if you’re a child of the 60’s or early 70’s, these historic bottlings are now far from cheap – especially the richly sherried ones. As such, your best bet might be finding a dram or two rather than dropping the mortgage on a whole bottle. Fortunately, venues exist to assist you – The Mash Tun in Aberlour prides itself on stocking a bottle from every single vintage year – still not cheap, but certainly a more economical method for sampling a Family Cask from your year of birth.
So, onto today’s review. The Family Cask from my birth year that I’ve managed to obtain is the 2014 Summer Release. It was matured in a ‘plain’ hogshead back in 1978 and has 35 years under its belt. The hogshead provided 289 bottles at 41.3% ABV – so clearly there was not a lot more than 35 years left in this one.
Nose: Vibrant, fresh and fruity. Green apples and pickled pears come together with syrupy pineapple, tinned mangos and a scattering of citrus peels. Everything feels incredibly lively and zingy – quite remarkable after 35 years in cask – and starting to verge on Irish fruit bomb territory. Throughout are notes of patisserie – custard tarts and vanilla buns (plain hogshead right?!) as well as a slight, but perceptible minerality – granite-like, cold and steely. In the background, more hints of age – just a touch of earthy dunnage, teak oil and furniture lacquer.
Taste: Excellent translation from the nose – the arrival is packed full of juicy fruitiness. Tinned and spit roasted pineapples, peaches, melon and some zingy grapefruits. Again, there’s minerality here – almost akin to coal dust – and perhaps just a hint of old charred cask. Throughout is a sense of menthol and mint leaves – slightly cough syrupy or nasal spray – interesting nonetheless. The mid-palate is where 35 years of maturation really start to make themselves known – a steadily building wall of prickly pepper – starting with a tinge, ending with quite a crescendo. It’s a good job that there’s tons of fruitiness and natural sweetness here to counterbalance and for the most part, it does. In the back-palate, again aged notes – this time polished wood and brasso.
Finish: Long with syrupy tropical fruits, dusty oak, charred wood and bitter pepper spicing.
This Glenfarclas 1978 Family Cask has a lovely syrupy fruitiness running throughout – it achieves a wonderful sense of natural opulence. Whilst there’s certainly quite a lot of cask influence (35 years is a long time), it’s still the vibrancy of the fruit which starts and closes this journey. It’s not all plain sailing in this plain hogshead though as there’s a ton of spice on the palate – to my taste it’s just about borderline when squaring off against the fruitier notes, but it’s certainly likely that it will prove a little too much for some. Nevertheless, this is a delicious, grounded whisky not afraid to show off either its naturally-led aromas and flavours, nor its long maturation regime. If you’re a fellow 78’er, this is well worth your time.
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