Are you sitting comfortably
Posted 27 April 2021 by Matt / In Group Tastings
Feeling a connection with another person is one of the highest forms of social being for humans. At the heart of that connection is habitually storytelling. But storytelling is far more than the cliché of beginning, middle and end. A pencil has all of those features. A pencil is not a story. How we communicate with others determines how in sync with them we are – and as well as being a powerful device, that feeling of harmonisation and like-mindedness can also be highly satisfying. The best storytellers look to their own memories and experiences to convey and illustrate their messages. And when is comes to a subject as academically intensive as that of whisky production – the best stories are consistently actual stories – not just shopping lists of technical specifications to commonly answered questions - how big? how long? how old? how strong?
It the opinion of this writer that whisky in some quarters is increasingly becoming far too transactional. A hastily checked out bottle. A rushed ballot entry. And oft-times nary a second thought for the wealth of information that sits behind the actual product itself. On the one hand, that’s the modern-day game – there’s no time to waste reading ‘bumpth’ – get that bottle purchased. On the other, it is also likely an increasing numbness to several styles of whisky storytelling, which rather than attempting to link a product to its creation, history or values take the easy way out with concocted stories of ghost dogs, water sprites and miraculously discovered barrels at the backs of warehouses.
But despite the occasional separation of narrative from reality, I would still argue that storytelling is a vital component of whisky. Be that the stories shared over a dram, or the connections that distilleries can forge with both newer and old-hand enthusiasts. To my mind, stories are what differentiate a distillery from a shoe factory. It’s the difference between an industry and a community. And when you engage with people – and draw them into your community, they naturally want to feel part of that same community through a sense of belonging and like-mindedness.
Of course, storytelling can simply be leveraged as a brand-led engagement exercise – but when it is, this invariably feels forced and disingenuous. Once you’ve heard the same anecdote or joke a dozen times you start to realise that not only is it increasingly less amusing – it’s also increasingly less engaging. True storytelling comes from being able to adapt to an audience. To spin a tale that is on the one hand understandable and approachable, but on the other, unexpected and surprising – and most of all, for each individual who’s receiving the story to feel like it has been designed and delivered for them.
There’s a number of distilleries on the circuit who eschew storytelling altogether – simply reeling off lists of facts – from when they were founded to the size of their stills. This only engages so far. Whilst diehard enthusiasts do and will ask for technical specifications, storytelling can and should be employed to understand the ‘why’ of these. And even more pertinently the truths and realities behind these raw facts. Mistakes are often just as interesting as successes. I'd be eager to hear more distilleries talking openly about when things haven't worked out as planned. For that is simply being human.
To my mind the best stories nearly always focus on people. The people making whisky, the people promoting whisky, the people innovating within whisky. People and community are what drive whisky. Not temperature charts. Not scrabbling for bottles. And not fire-breathing Islay dragons (is it 10am yet?).
It’s easy to argue that the long-standing distilleries, through countless generations of production, distribution and liquid stock might have more stories to tell. But I’d suggest that this is not always the case. They simply have more history to draw from. And indeed, there’s a danger in digging too deep into the past, that stories fail to connect with any relevance to today. They’re simply just a retelling of that history. Heritage is of course essential – and vital to maintain. But an interesting story from last week can be just as engaging (sometimes even more so), than one which for all intents and purposes has been dug up from a past that no one alive today was around to hear and share.
Glenfarclas with 185 years of history is a distillery steeped with stories. But for the most part, unless you visit the distillery or join them online for a tasting – where you’ll be treated to tales, yarns and more than one or two anecdotes via George Grant – you’ll have to dig to find them. It’s a somewhat uncomfortable balance at times – with a website still showing the ‘Glenfarclas 2019 events calendar’ (and boy was the world a different place then) and a history section which almost purely focusses on life 150 years ago – to my mind this is a far cry away from the engagement and indeed stories you’ll learn when visiting the distillery itself or spending any amount of time with their passionate staff be that in person or digitally. I guess you already need to be sitting comfortably for them to begin.
Today’s review section has me taking a look at two new Glenfarclas offerings – courtesy of The Whisky Exchange. Both spins on currently available core range bottling – but both delivered at higher ABVs than those same OBs.
Bottle Name: Glenfarclas 100 Proof TWE Exclusive
This TWE special edition of Glenfarclas takes a break from other recent Whisky Exchange exclusives – in that it’s not a single cask release. Created from a vatting of sherry seasoned oak the release is offered at old style 100 Proof. The Proof measurement originated in the 16th century and for a time was focussed on measurement via the “gunpowder method” for the testing of alcoholic strength – which offered significantly less variability than whether or not a spirit would simply burn if set alight (a phenomenon heavily influenced by ambient temperature) – the solubility of potassium nitrate was used until calculations and tools had been created for determining the specific gravity of liquids.
Anyhow, back to the Farclas. It’s 57.1% ABV in new money and a bottle will cost you £74.95 directly from The Whisky Exchange.
Nose: Immediate crème caramel – packed full of baked custard and slathered in soft leche sauce. Alongside - more stove stop sugars with both cream and crunchy toffees – together with a plate of butter cookies. Orange peels are joined by a touch of wood varnish, whilst sultanas are scattered generously atop fudge fingers. Appealing stuff. Reduction brings additional scope with apple strudel dusted with ginger and cinnamon served with raisin layered bread and butter pudding.
Taste: The arrival has good body and a mouthcoating oily texture. Orange segments are drenched in liquid toffee whilst raspberry preserves are joined by rum-soaked raisins and a building but controlled stem ginger spice. Notes of dunnage floors are joined by molasses pudding whilst burnt toffee is livened with peppy cinnamon. There’s considerably play here for dilution, with the whisky retaining its shape throughout – orange barley water joins a punnet of blackberries whilst the spice levels overall are tempered down to a mere murmur.
Finish: Medium to long with lingering sherry and cask spices set against refined sugars and underlying earthiness.
TWE’s exclusive Glenfarclas 100 proof offers a more direct, more spice-laden and in my option more effective configuration than its standard 46% OB cousin. Granted its more expensive, and higher strengths (particularly once you start to get into the upper 50s) are not for everyone. However here, alongside both notable balance is a whisky which retains much of its weighty character even when reduced in ABV. The experience is therefore highly flexible whether taken at the old school 100% or brought down to a more ‘sessionable’ volume. Very neat. And very tasty.
Review sample provided by The Whisky Exchange
Bottle Name: Glenfarclas 95 Proof TWE Exclusive
The second of two TWE exclusive Glenfarclas’s (Glenfarcli?) this edition has been composed of a vatting of oloroso sherry seasoned oak casks that have been matured for 21 years. It’s offered at 95 Proof – which is 54.2% in ABV terms. Bottles are available for £125 from the TWE website.
Nose: Juicy fruits – fresh bing cherries and apricots join orange gel and bakewell tarts whilst lacquered oak and brass polish sit with plump raisins and sultanas. Alongside pastry cases are dusted with chocolate powder whilst lurking in the background is cold, dry earthiness. The addition of water expresses golden syrup and tinned fruits – peaches and mangos – alongside sweet, sugary shortbread.
Taste: Weighty, thick and palate-coating. Mandarins, clementines and hedgerow berries are joined by chocolate shavings and a medley of soft spices – cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg. The mid-palate develops an edge of oaky char whilst liquorice and polished wood sit with nutmeg dusted rolls and cinnamon swirls and dry earthy soils. Reduction results in a lovely syrupy texture – which may even be better than the offered 54.2% out of the bottle. Jelly sweets, gels and tinned, polishes fruit salads – all sweet, bright and vibrant.
Finish: Long with persisting fruit-driven sweetness, dusty chocolate and resinous oak.
The Whisky Exchange’s 95 Proof Glenfarclas exclusive follows a somewhat similar pattern to that of the OB 21 year old – in that subtlety and poise are favoured over and above outright sherry influence. This special edition takes things a step further with the composition of casks and higher strength combining to offer considerable fruity vivaciousness and high levels of expressiveness. Pretty excellent – and easy to recommend – even when clocking in at 25% over the RRP of the OB edition.
Review sample provided by The Whisky Exchange