Glenfarclas 20, 1986, Family Cask #3434

Glenfarclas has always had a very strong relationship with the whisky geek community. A very big part of this is explained by the fact that they put out good whisky in a range of ages and price points. Through the decade of NAS whisky from which we are now emerging Glenfarclas has continued to release age-stated whisky from 10 to 40 years of age. And while prices have risen towards the top of the range it is hard to feel resentful about this when you consider how fairly priced their 25 yo continues to be; it can still be found in the neighbourhood of $150. Compare with whisky of similar age from any other name distillery. Another part of their appeal to the whisky geek community has been that they are an independent family-owned distillery. This latter fact is doubtless connected to the first: they have no shareholders to please by squeezing out maximum profit from the youngest possible whisky, no expensive, gimmicky branding and so on. This is not to say that Glenfarclas does not put out any high-end whisky. Their Family Cask series, an early release from which I am reviewing today, comes in wooden boxes and costs a pretty penny. But, again, when you compare these releases to the excesses being perpetrated by many other distilleries it’s clear how different their ethos is. I believe the Family Cask series was launched in the late 2000s. In fact, it’s possible that this cask from 2007 was from one of the earliest releases, if not the first. If you know more about this, please write in below. For now let’s get to the review.

Glenfarclas 20, 1986 (56.5%; Family Casks; refill sherry puncheon #3434; from a sample from a friend)

Nose: The first impression is of oak (not tannic though). Behind it there’s citrus (dried orange peel), dried leaves and then some sweeter notes of toffee. As it sits the oak dissipates a little and a cereal note develops; some red fruit too (cherry?). With more time the cereal and the toffee merge and move in the direction of baked goods—is there such a thing as an orange Danish? And the cherry shades into plum. After about 15 minutes of airing the oak is mostly gone—now the top notes are plum jam and orange peel. Water seems to pull the oak back out at first but then it settles down into a bready, malty complex with bright red fruit floating above it.

Palate: The oak is not as prominent as the nose had led me to think it might be but it’s there and it’s the top note. Not tannic here either; instead it’s spicy and peppery. The sweeter notes play second fiddle. Thick texture. The oak lingers longer here but the sweeter notes begin to come up to the top with time. Water keeps that progression moving: less oak, more sweet fruit.

Finish: Medium-long. Oaky and peppery. Not too much change here with time. As on the palate with water.

Comments: This turned out to be oakier than I was expecting, given that it was matured in a refill sherry cask—was it European oak? Anyway, while it was nice enough at first, I was bit underwhelmed. It needed time and a drop of water to pull out its best self. Very nice then but still nothing life-altering.

Rating: 87 points.

Thanks to Rich for the sample!

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