It seems everyone is talking about Deanston nowadays. I’m not sure how long I’ve been beating that drum about some of the whiskies coming out of this distillery, but it feels like finally the message is getting through.
The visitor centre at the distillery opened in 2012 and since then its been an upward curve in the whiskies and interest in visiting Deanston. I’ve been meaning to return to check out some of the current distillery exclusives – its a pleasant wee drive from where I live – but then the opportunity arose to experience an addition to the tour options at Deanston. The brand spanking new option is a warehouse tour that unsurprisingly focuses upon a warehouse.
This option costs £35pp and lasts on average around an hour. Initially I had expected the tour to take us into the distinctive warehouse during the main distillery tour that used to be the weaving shed during its previous life as a cotton mill. If you’ve visited Deanston then you’ll know how atmospheric this setting truly is. Instead the warehouse for the tour is a brief walk from the visitor centre and represented a new area of Deanston that I had not visited previously.
Whilst it may have seemed an odd choice to select a more modern setting likely heralding from the 1960’s when the site was converted into a distillery and this area became the cooperage, it actually makes sense. For instance there’s more natural light in this newer warehouse and room to relax and sit down. You’re also not interrupted by a procession of tours that lets you focus on the casks in front of you. Ultimately it’s a more bespoke experience and blankets are provided to counter the chilly environment of a whisky warehouse.
Your guide will talk you through each of the casks, their history and why they were selected by Deanston’s master blender, Dr Kirstie McCallum. These are intertwined with details and facts about the distillery in general and production techniques. The format is more conversational and an exchange of information rather than a lecture, which seems the style at some distilleries. The flow itself is more natural and chilled with no rush to force you out of door to start another tour – yes Glenfiddich and Glenmorangie that’s your visitor experience.
Ultimately though it comes down to the main attraction, or all 3 of them. Disclaimer time as the warehouse is my favourite part of any distillery tour. It’s a great setting and enhanced when you have the opportunity to pour your own sample from the cask. I’ll go into more detail about the casks themselves in a moment, but it’s worth highlighting if you enjoy what you are tasting then you can fill your own 20cl bottle and write out the label. Also for visitors these are available pre-filled in the distillery shop. I presume going forward the tour will feature new casks as and when these are required. Plenty of time is granted to nose and taste from your own Glencairn Copita glass.
First up on the menu is an ex-bourbon barrel (number #2339) and a lively strength of 63.3% straight from the cask. Distilled in 2003, putting this around 14-15 years in age. Price wise for 20cl this is the cheapest of the trio at £30. This is followed by a Pedro Ximénez hogshead distilled in 2002, however, the whisky itself has only spent the last 5 years in this particular cask. Prior to this it was resident in an ex-bourbon barrel, which gives an overall age of 15-16 years. This isn’t a finish but rather a double maturation and these were organic casks with the Pedro Ximénez being number #76 and organic barley from Aberdeenshire. Bottled at 54.9% this will set you back £35 for 20cl.
The final cask heralds from 2004 and is an Amontillado sherry cask and has spent its full maturation within this type. Regulars will know amongst our sizeable selection of Deanston reviews, there’s a 10 year old Amontillado cask from 2015 when it was the bottle-your-own at the distillery.
Deanston 2003 Bourbon Barrel – review
Colour: yellow gold.
On the nose: the vanilla is to be expected alongside the creamy influence and a light honey. A thrust of lemon biscotti, white chocolate and porridge oats with a splash of syrup. The addition of water brings more vibrancy, sunflower oil, ginger, calamine lotion and a light brown cane sugar. In the background there’s a fleeting suggestion of something less desirable.
In the mouth: there’s a surprising initial layer of soapiness here. It soon moves aside leaving more honeycomb and golden syrup characteristics we’d associate with Deanston. I think there’s a slight flaw in the cask itself, or I’m very sensitive to such a feature. Such a shame as nothing quite beats a whisky fresh from a bourbon barrel. Water does dilute this characteristic and more of the wood comes through as a result.
Deanston 2002 Pedro Ximénez – review
On the nose: sweet tobacco, cherry wood, sultanas and orange peel. There’s that classic Christmas pudding aroma evident with all the spice interplay, a maltiness and treacle. A leathery note, walnuts and the addition of water lifts the whole experience up a notch with the oils coming through. The aforementioned orange becomes more vibrant alongside lemon and pineapple cubes.
In the mouth: this is so drinkable and just oozes flavour. Initially, there’s the leathery and nutty characteristics, but then the fruits arise followed by dark chocolate, before a dry-ish finish with a touch of charcoal and tobacco. It’s that midway burst of orchard fruit that injects more life into this overall. Water much like the nose lightens the experience delivering a buttery marzipan quality.
Deanston 2004 Amontillado – review
Colour: a dull copper.
On the nose: classic sherbet with some liquorice and orange peel. Highland toffee, pecan pie and rolled tobacco. Time reveals lemon rind, cardamon and a delicious rum fudge.
In the mouth: this is sweeter and drier than the Pedro Ximénez, but I feel lacks the subtle nuances that cask provided. More tobacco flavours combining nicely with brown sugar, chocolate, liquorice root, ginger, resin and toffee.
Having the time to explore each of these casks that showcase a different side to Deanston – showing how adaptable it can be – is welcome. The cask I was most looking forward to was the ex-bourbon that sadly just didn’t sit well with me. That might change upon a subsequent visit but there’s something there that’s not just agreeable currently. However, the other 2 options more than make up for any disappointment.
It was a tough decision which cask to bottle and take home to enjoy with friends. A real toss-up between the 2 sherry examples. In the end I went for the Pedro Ximénez, which is an ideal midway point between an ex-bourbon maturation and sherry cask influence. I wouldn’t turn down the Amontillado either!
This warehouse tour is a welcome addition. It offers the visitor the option to go that step further with the whisky itself and take home a souvenir if something takes your fancy. The emphasis on a relaxed environment, interaction and also offering a driver option means this will become the tour option of choice for many enthusiasts when they arrive.
My thanks to the team at Deanston for the invite and finding the time to take us around on what was a particularly busy Friday afternoon at the distillery. A special mention to Luise for taking care of us. It’s great to see the distillery becoming so popular and its whiskies finding new enthusiasts all over. the world