Low-key mission: Deanston

About a month ago i’d only ever tried one Deanston. So i was on a low-key mission to change all that, and change all that i did.

Incredibly i’d missed a perfect opportunity when in July 2016 i inadvertently drove past the Deanston distillery on my search for the even more illusive, Speyside Distillery – a review of which you can read HERE. Postcodes seem fairly redundant in parts of Perthshire [or Kingussie for that matter], and Deanston doesn’t have any pagodas to spot, so that’s my excuses over. This pagoda-less distillery was originally a cotton mill, dating back to 1785 and powered by the fast-flowing River Teith. It was designed by Sir Richard Arkwright who is credited for inventing the Spinning Jenny. Deanston remained a functioning cotton mill until 1964 when the buildings were sold to Brodie Hepburn for conversion from mill to distillery. Certainly by 1967 the conversion was complete as there are currently three Deanston vintages from 1967 listed on Whiskybase, one distillery bottling and two from Signatory Vintage.

Back at home I managed to acquire a lonely Deanston miniature at auction and my mate Nick happened to have a 12yo Ob. [yet bottled for M&S], opened and unattended. Notes are as follows:

Deanston Malt [NAS] Ob. 40% [5cl] WB0 [WB]79.67[3] WF75 WM75[3]

  • deanston-maltN: Its forthright for 40% and full bodied, grainy, metallic and malty but then showing more porridgy dried fruits. Cardboard>leather and some drying orange peel also [with caramel added no doubt?]. I find it strangely appealing.
  • T: Bone dry at first with a dip in energy before it has even got going. Gets metallic again, rather industrial and puckers the palate somewhat with its dryness
  • F: Thankfully theres more as grainy-malty raisins run in with a waxy-paper, dry, malty-fresh mouthfeel. Finishes with a metallic, soft-bitter-fresh, heavy toffee, cardboard maltiness – E150a again?
  • C: Bold, basic, [bog]-standard, brash, [blended] single malt. Perfectly acceptable campfire malt, no more, no less.

Scores 76 points

Deanston 12yo Ob. [bottled for M&S] 40%deanston-12

  • N: Innocuous as innocuous can be with its cardboard-dry, maltiness – very much like older official bottlings.
  • T: More sour than expected.
  • N: A little milky
  • C: Really dull is all, featureless, and yet that dry, cardboard-malty-mash character still holds an appeal.

Scores 74 points

i struck Deanston gold at the Midland’s whisky festival in September 2016 when i got chatting with John [from Distell] who i got on with famously. He had much to tell me about recent [and exciting] developments at Deanston, as well as having two distillery bottlings on the stand for me to try and one ‘under the counter’.

Deanston ‘Virgin Casks’ [NAS] Ob. 46.3% WB78.50[170] WFx

deanston-virginLet’s be clear, this is NAS whisky that’s been finished in virgin oak for only a few months. What does that tell you?

  • N: Porridge sour, good strength!
  • T: Sour malt-distillate balanced somewhat by whatever cask influence there is. Adding water reveals its ‘plain’ side.
  • F: Sour vanillas – mash led.
  • C: Young yet not spirity, it’s porridge malt all the way.

Scores 77 points

Deanston is owned by Burn Stewart distillers which in turn is owned by South African company, Distell. Distell’s home brands include it’s ‘Three Ships’ single malt and ‘Bains’ grain [review coming soon]. Back in Scotland, [Distell’s] Burn Stewart’s leading blended Scotch is Black Bottle & Scottish Leader whilst Scottish distilleries in their portfolio include Bunnahabhain and Tobermory. Deanston of late has had some serious re-investment including the opening of a visitors centre in 2012. Furthermore their core range currently [2016] consists of singe malts and vintages, bottled non-chill filtered at 46.3% with age statements – so on paper they are showing serious intent. Whilst the NAS showed more the distillate, let’s see what decent maturation can do to the spirit.

Deanston 18yo [2016] Ob. 46.3% WB84.63[77] WFx

deanston-18This 18yo has seen 16 years in bourbon before being finished [or re-racked] for 2 years in oloroso.

  • N: Mushroomy malt [from the cask surely], leathery too with smelly socks accompanying – but that’ll subside as the whisky opens up.
  • T: Theres a touch of jam [from the oloroso I would have thought], and that finish has proved valuable. Underlying and representing those first 16 years however is that bourbon-oak-fungal which is rather fine.
  • F: Bring on head nodding and some ‘dad noises’. Nutty, malty tannins permeate the palate for a long finish with that fungal oak there to the last.
  • C: Meant to go back and try it again later in the day. Will visit this a bit later on in the year. On first impressions I think this is fab.

Scores 87 points

Deanston 20yo ‘Port cask finish’ Ub. [Unreleased] 54.2%

  • N: Three Deanston in a row, all at the Midlands whisky festival. This wasn’t officially bottled or packaged. It came straight from the distillery in a 30cl sample bottle. It’s port-sherry like and deliciously sweet.
  • T: Same.
  • F: Incredibly soft for 54.2%
  • C: Bit of a random [dream] dram. Not very dreamy but a successful finish nevertheless.

Scores 83 points

Still chatting with John for sometime actually, he told me to come find him at the Whisky Exchange Show a few weeks later for something extra special. That i rightly did, but before i allowed myself the privilege, I thought i’d refresh my memory of the 18yo as i’d promised myself i would do.

Deanston 18yo Ob. 46.3% WB84.63[77] WFx

  • deanston-40yo-tweN: Consolidated nose [Glengoyne like]. The sherry no doubt has had a significant influence in tying it all together.
  • T: Lots of sherry at first but its the 16 years of bourbon that make all the headlines.
  • F: Yet, ‘stop press’ – the finish is worth a line or two also. Bubblegum [from the bourbon no doubt] into creamy cream moving to white chocolate caramac.
  • C: Whatever we thought of past bottlings in the late 1900’s [doesn’t that sound archaic?], in 2016, Deanston is darn decent.

Scores 86 points

Tasting note – World exclusive!!

So, for something very special, and special it was! This still hasn’t been released yet but it will soon become Deanston’s official 40yo in 2016/7. Like the 18yo, this grand ole’ 40yo comes mainly from ex-bourbon with ‘some’ oloroso. That’s all i could get out of John or Kirsty McCallum. So, first impressions

Deanston 40yo Ub. [unreleased] abv unknown

  • N: First of all, of note is the floral bouquet {brora-esque no less] followed by the underlying cereal paste/mash, and soon that dry, waxy distillery character is starting to show. Bring in citrus [sweet limes], crisp, honey-fruit lozenges and now tropical [dried] fruits into the mix and this is becoming reminiscent of the rather brilliant Balvenie 30yo LINK. I think there’s some power here too, a good abv no doubt [46.3% perhaps? – nah, probably more]. After time, it’s the complex sugars that excite with floral, tropical, fruit sugars in light, liquid-oak form and a deep cereal base – notes of which old oloroso also provides.
  • T: It’s a bit pokey first off and giving out quite some sherry, and some port notes? Stays prickly as the cereal notes and molasses notes dig in. Deep, sherry molasses soon gives way to a deeper cask & cereal core. Adding water [and it can drink] removes the prickles, thus the concentration is fully on the [now] oily, molasses sugars and then the [bourbon] cask notes, with an unfathomable aged-malt-spirit note complex placed somewhere within the ‘bowels of complexity’ – now there’s a band name!
  • F: Heads towards a tropical fruit, cereal-paste, chocolate-butter, dry, waxy, oaky destiny. It’s not exactly juicy by any means given its dry, oaky nature and yet it’s very giving. The deep, oak-soaked oloroso and the bourbon cask influence compliments the aged, cereal-base spirit to a long and satisfying finish with a killing conclusion for such an oldie. Namely, soft yet deep, sherry-oaked prune-syrup with a hint of vanilla creme-brulee incapsulated in a dusty-dunnage-dry mouthful. Yeah!
  • C: Manage the arrival with water and the rest will speak for itself. What a stunner! Worth the wait, but what’s it going to cost?

Scores 92 points

This is how every mission should finish – with a stunning dram! That’s certainly satisfied my low-key mission objectives for now, but the journey of course, has only just begun.

Further reading: A great article about Deanston from whiskyadvocate.com, where Ian Buxton talks to Burn Stewart’s master blender Ian MacMillan about the new moves at Deanston.