I had the chance last night to try a couple of single-cask whiskies from very different parts of the world courtesy of a traveling friend. I highly recommend keeping whisky-loving friends around by the way, it often pays off!
The first was a Glenfarclas Family Cask, distilled in 2002 and bottled this year as a ten-year-old at a nice cask strength of 60.6%, exclusive to the Willow Park liquor store in Calgary. The idea was to try it against the 105 20-year-old I reviewed last time to compare and contrast. Well, we did that, and the two whiskies couldn’t be more different! I suppose it’s a good illustration of the role the cask plays in transforming the distillery’s spirit into different whiskies.
The first thing I noticed when nosing the 2002 was the massive maltiness that flowed out of the glass. I’m pretty sure I’ve tried new make that wasn’t as malty as this. It gives the whisky an incredible freshness and vitality and it seems younger than its 10 years.
Now, I have no idea how this whisky was matured; there’s no information on the bottle as to the cask type, but being Glenfarclas you’d probably expect it to be a sherry butt. The cherrywood colouring would seem to lend some credence to that theory, but on the nose and the palate I got much more in the way of the classic signals of ex-bourbon maturation. Honey, lemon, fresh pear were the dominant flavours – this is nothing like the standard house style. Their website does suggest they use around 1/3 bourbon casks and 2/3 sherry butts, so it’s entirely possible that’s the case here.
Tasting the 105 against the Family Cask was interesting as almost no similarities can be detected. The 10-year-old is malty and fresh, the 20-year-old is oaky, fruity and rich, and much more complex. It was illuminating to try such an atypical Glenfarclas, and while I enjoyed it I’ll be honest and say I prefer the distillery’s more archetypal heavily-sherried expressions.
The second new whisky of the night was a single-cask bourbon-matured Sullivan’s Cove. I’ve only tried a dram from this Tasmanian distillery once before at a festival (I think it may have been the Double Cask), and I wasn’t impressed at all. I may not have had a particularly good batch though, as this single-cask edition is much better. In fact I rather liked it! There’s no age statement on the bottle; it’d be interesting to know how long the spirit was casked for. Tasmania’s climate is temperate and cool and seemingly quite like the lowlands of Scotland, so I wouldn’t think there should be any marked difference in how long whisky needed to mature there versus the Scottish industry.
The whisky is nicely crafted with no colouring or chill-filtering, and the strength is at a fine 47.5%. This example was the 25th bottle from cask HH0126. It was quite fresh on the nose, not as malty as the Glenfarclas Family Cask but then again I can’t think of anything else that is! There was a nice honey sweetness and quite a lot of citrus, lemon particularly, and continuing the fruit I got fresh apples, pears and even a touch of banana. There was an interesting strong note of French vanilla ice cream running though the whole mouthful that continued very nicely into the finish. Overall a HUGE improvement on the last Sullivan’s Cove I tried.
So the moral of this story is either “never write off a distillery because of one bad dram”, or perhaps “keep your friends close, but keep your whisky-loving friends closer”. I’ll let you choose your favourite!