Back at the end of May, just before all the busyness and rushing about, Ben and I attended a very special event, which I was no doubt supposed to write about back then. Drawing attention to the fact that I didn’t is probably a terrible decision, but the people must still know, damn it!
The time has come for you to learn all about this: Glenfarclas & Hine 1953 – Auld Alliance.
Wait, wasn’t this an alliance against the English?
These spirits aren’t just the best part of 60 years old (which in itself is fully mental), oh no, to understand just how special this release is you need to understand the significance of 1953 for both Glenfarclas, the independent Speyside Scotch whisky distillery and HINE, the renowned cognac house.
For Glenfarclas, 1953 marks the year that the oldest maturing casks in their warehouses were laid down by George Grant’s grandfather, whilst his father was only one or two years old! It is therefore the oldest available vintage from a distillery known for their vintage Family Cask releases. The cask in question here, number 1682, was in fact the oldest cask Glenfarclas own!
Soon there’ll be no more 1953 left and as George says, “we can’t just make more of it.”
HINE’s Grande Champagne cognacs are also known for their vintages but we must consider them in a different way. As with fine wine, vintages in the world of cognac can be all important, and HINE only release single vintages from exceptional years. Even within these exceptional years however, some stand out and some become the stuff of legend. Eric Forget, HINE’s Cellar Master, explains that the vintages of 1914 and 1953 are considered the greatest of the 20th century, with only 1988 perhaps being able to join them at the top table.
Not a bad setting really.
1953 was also the year of Elizabeth II’s coronation, held in Westminster Abbey (just over the bridge from my new gaff), so where better to hold this celebration of 1953? What, too tenuous? Well how about this: HINE holds a Royal Warrant “by appointment to Her Majesty The Queen Elizabeth II”. It all fits in nicely you see.
Guests enjoying their Pol Roger reception in the East Cloister.
60 years old? Pah! This door is 960 years old! #dendro
It seems like I’ve written an awful lot about 1953 already but there were a couple more reasons for this bumper celebration – it was the 60th anniversary of the Master of Wine examination and the Oxford and Cambridge Varsity blind wine-tasting competition, probably the oldest of its kind in the world. As such, the latter were releasing a book to commemorate the occasion, aptly named “Reds, Whites, and Varsity Blues: 60 Years of the Oxford & Cambridge Blind Wine-Tasting Competition”. Unfortunately, the book wasn’t actually ready yet (!) but all this did explain why we were brushing shoulders with the likes of Oz Clarke and Jancis Robinson.
We are welcomed into Westminster’s fantastic gothic Abbey.
Eric Forget, HINE’s Cellar Master speaks as Pol Roger’s Peter Donnelly struggles to work the camera on his phone (right). Priceless.
George Grant, Glenfarclas’ Director of Sales, lets us know what Wikipedia says about 1953.
The obelisks that house the bottles were made of English Oak by N.E.J. Stevenson, cabinetmaker to the Queen (another one with a Royal Warrant!) and feature little drawers that are actually faced with oak from the corresponding casks!
The big reveal, Mahesh (left) could hardly contain his excitement.
Two undoubtedly impressive bottles…
…but I expect you’re rather wondering how they taste?
This Grande Champagne vintage cognac has spent almost 60 years in a single French Oak cask and is bottled at natural cask strength, the first time HINE have ever done this! (Admittedly 41.9% wasn’t a million miles away from 40% abv already.)
Hine 1953 Tasting Note:
Nose: Vanilla initially. Brown sugar, honey. Then into dried fruit, mandarin, pear drops, orange jam in very light chocolate cake and a little polish. Peach and almond tart.
Palate: Orange chocolate cake again, candy notes leading into parsley and soft oak at the end.
Finish: Peaches on the long finish, as well as more syrupy, reduced peaches. Very nice!
Matured in a single Spanish Sherry cask and also bottled at natural cask strength.
Glenfarclas 1953 Tasting Note:
Nose: Calves leather, warm sand, gooseberry and nettle before it opens up to reveal beeswax, peaches in a wooden fruit bowl, pear and a little honeyed oak. A hint of rich and creamy apple sauce, cloudy lemonade and apple blossom.
Palate: Oh! Silver birch!? Fizzy grapefruit squash and champagne develop.
Finish: Dry, long and slightly tannic. Stunning stuff.
The interesting thing here is not only that both are tremendous but that there are also similarities between these two venerable spirits with peach, honey and beeswax/polish notes. It seems there is much more connecting these two houses than their rich family-based histories and a recent cask-sharing experiment. Just 125 of these exquisite sets have been produced.
It was at this point that I started to think what a real privilege this all was, tasting extraordinarily aged and valuable single malt whisky and cognac in these incredible surroundings. Then Ben passed me a full glass of pink bubbly and pointed out that I was now double parked. Honestly, you let your guard down for one second around here!
The more eagle-eyed amongst you may have spotted that the presentation took place where the 60th anniversary of the coronation exhibition was about to open. It wasn’t us that vandalised the Ralph Heimans portrait though – that happened weeks later and anyway, how would we have known how to smuggle the necessary paint markers past the Abbey’s security in secret pockets sewn into the lining of our suit jackets? Hmm?
God didn’t save the Queen on this occasion.
It’s restored now anyway so no harm done. Sort of.