It was a tough day at the Midlands Whisky Festival a week or so ago. I had to go to a tasting and drink six 40-year-old Glenfarclas whiskies. I know, right?
The Midlands Whisky Festival is a twice-yearly event based in Stourbridge (and sometimes Birmingham), run by the folks at the splendid whisky and wine retailer Nickolls and Perks. You know how these festivals work by now: you pay an entry fee of varying degrees to get access to different levels of the festival: masterclasses, whiskies and the likes. You get a glass and you walk around visiting various stalls chatting to different brands and tasting their whiskies.
The masterclasses vary every year, but you usually tend to find a cracker or three among them. (And they seem to get better each year.) I’ve attended tastings with very old whiskies from The Dalmore and Gordon & MacPhail, and this time it was all about old whiskies from Glenfarclas distillery – which is a dependable favourite of mine. It was hosted by none other than George S. Grant, current Sales Director and sixth generation of the family that has owned the distillery since 1805.
These things are about taking away interesting facts, and George had plenty of them. The most interesting of them was this. He said it cost about 84p a bottle at the time to make these whiskies. Other distilleries had changed hands to different owners over the years, meaning different greasy accountants got their hands on the casks – and that meant that these new businesses wanted to see returns on their investments, so the first thing to do was stick up the price of the whisky. That’s why Glenfarclas remains great value for money – it’s remained in same family for generations, and has never had to make those price increases – and pretty much shows up the likes of The Macallan and The Dalmore (of which I’m a fan) as being very expensive in contrast. Whenever you see a distillery change hands, you can almost always expect to see prices go up.
George also said that Glenfarclas outsold many other brands in Germany, because of the fact that German regulations mean labels have to state whenever brands have added E150 colouring to the whiskies. The Germans, being discerning drinkers, prefer their whiskies to be natural. (So if you see “mit Farbstoff” on a label, that means the whisky has been tampered with and colour been added to make it look darker. A lot of brands do this.)
For this tasting, as it happens I did not actually note the colour – you can see from the photo here that they were mostly similar anyway, so perhaps consistency is the only point of note. My notes are a little more concise here, due to the fact that we rattled through them at a fair old rate!
Glenfarclas 1974 Family Casks – US Release (Brown Bottle)
Notes: refill sherry hogsheads.
On the nose: intense stuff, dried raisins with a touch of coal dust. Figs. Cloves. A touch of five spice. Chilli heat. Tannic, then nutty with dried apricots.
In the mouth: nutty, not as intense as the nose. Lighter fruits – sultanas and dried apricots – with a little vanilla. Praline. Mead. Heather honey.
Glenfarclas 1976 40 Years Old
Notes: cask strength, 43.7%. This was the final limited edition release in the Family Collector Series.
On the nose: massive amounts of strawberry jam, with figs and plums. Golden syrup. Orange marmalade.
In the mouth: stunning texture – it’s hugely viscous. Orange marmalade again, with plums and toffee. Dried apricots with heather honey. Cinnamon. A slight, sweet oakiness to finish.
Glenfarclas 1974 Cask Sample – 42 Year Old
Notes: Drawn 8th February at 40.9% ABV. This was a third-fill hogshead, that had been used for a total of 11 years (3 years and 8 years) in its previous fillings.
On the nose: tarter than the others: sun-dried tomatoes and olives. Yes, all the headier dark fruits, but this is much brighter, with more orange and apricots, along with a slightly perfumed, floral quality in contrast to the others.
In the mouth: praline, orange marmalade, dried apricots and sultanas. Again, amazingly viscous. 70% dark chocolate (instead of the bitter stuff). Nutty, slightly meaty, with walnuts on the finish.
Glenfarclas 40 Year Old – For Taiwan
On the nose: The notable difference here is that it’s much more fruity and tropical, with a dollop of mango smoothie. Toffee, fudge notes, like tablet.
In the mouth: Again, notably fresher, perhaps even thicker, with the addition of pears, golden syrup and peanut butter combined with the core dried fruits. Lighter, fresher fruits than the others.
Glenfarclas 40 Year Old – Old Release
On the nose: in addition to the core raisins and sultanas, there are traces of the coal dust again. Leathery and creamy, with a shortbread quality and an underlying earthiness.
In the mouth: big, heavy whisky, with raisins, figs, dark chocolate, damson jam, five spice, and nutmeg. And again, an earthiness which I’ll highlight because it’s not here in the new release.
Glenfarclas 40 Year Old – New Release
On the nose: fresher than the old, more honey than raisins. Herbal with notes of dried tea. Buttery too. Linseed oil. Strawberry jam.
In the mouth: salted caramel chocolate, honey, sultanas. But also much more nutty: peanut butter, praline. Milk chocolate now, perhaps with a touch of orange. Lighter and fresher. None of the earthiness of the above – a totally different whisky. (I prefer the old though.)
Well. That was an epic tasting, to say the least. They were simply all very good, with perhaps the Glenfarclas 1976 40 Years Old or indeed the cask sample being the most impressive.
I liked Glenfarclas a lot before this tasting, and I like them even more so now. There’s a wonderful honesty about what they do.
And from a geek’s point of view it was very good to be able to examine the differences at 40 years of age. The vattings or even the casks themselves varied rather a lot, whilst still retaining the essence of the distillery. The use of second or third-fill casks has also meant that – after 40 years – the whiskies aren’t dominated by wood. In fact, there was very little woodiness on show.
So, all in all, a fantastic tasting. Hats off to the guys at the Midlands Whisky Festival for arranging it all.