News 5 February 2020

Glenfarclas Family Casks lead Bonhams whisky sale in Edinburgh

The sale will mark the first time a complete set of Family Casks has been sold at auction

Words by Richard Woodard

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A complete set of Glenfarclas Family Casks single malts – 43 bottles of vintage-dated whiskies spanning 1952 to 1994 – could fetch close to £200,000 when it is auctioned by Bonhams in Edinburgh, Scotland next month.

The Bonhams Fine Whisky sale on Wednesday 4 March will mark the first time that a complete set of Family Casks has been sold at auction, Bonhams says, with a pre-sale estimate range of £140,000-180,000.

Family-owned Speyside distillery Glenfarclas – famed for its rich, heavy spirit style and maturation in ex-Sherry casks – launched The Family Casks in 2007 with 43 whiskies dated from 1952 to 1994. The range has been tweaked and extended over the years: 1952 and 1953 have been discontinued because of a lack of stock, various years have gone through several iterations, and more recent years – some post-millennium – have been added.

The Glenfarclas Family Cask whisky barrels

In 2018, Glenfarclas released The Glenfarclas Family Cask Trunk, a £100,000 ‘suitcase’ containing 50 200ml Family Cask whiskies from 1954 to 2003, along with four tumblers, four nosing glasses and a water jug made by Scottish glassmaker Glencairn Crystal. The trunks – 60 were made in total – also contained slate coasters, books on the history of the distillery and tasting notes from George Grant, Glenfarclas sales director.

In total, there have been almost 400 bottlings of the various vintages over the years and in a wide range of styles, with 1979 the most popular – having been reissued 13 or 14 times, despite being an uncharacteristically pale Glenfarclas.

‘It’s the lightest whisky in the Family Casks range, from a fourth-fill cask,’ explained George Grant, speaking at a 10th anniversary Family Casks tasting in 2017. ‘Typically Glenfarclas is such a flavoursome whisky, but this appealed to a lot of people in different markets.’

The span of the Family Casks means that they offer a living history of the distillery, from production increases in the early 1950s through the ‘whisky loch’ of the early 1980s and renewed expansion during the 1990s.

‘We’ve had some big changes in the stills themselves in that time,’ said Grant. ‘You can definitely tell [by tasting the whisky] when we’re only running four stills or two stills, rather than six.’

The range has been popular with whisky fans around the world, particularly those looking to mark significant milestones. ‘The year they were born, married, the year their children were born, the year they were divorced,’ said Grant. ‘I’ve met some amazing people, and people who bought these whiskies to drink them. After all, these were designed to be opened and drunk.’

Amid the current fever of whisky collecting and investing, whether the single malts on sale at Bonhams will be opened and drunk must be open to question – the Family Casks range has soared in value since 2007. A former MD of one of Glenfarclas’ distributors reputedly acquired a complete set for about £6,500 in the early days; in 2017, Grant was offered a set for £100,000.

And yet he wasn’t entirely convinced about the whole exercise at the start. Grant didn’t even attend the launch, held at London’s Caledonian Club, in 2007 – but went on holiday instead. ‘I just didn’t think it would be a success,’ he admitted.

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