Glen Ardoch Single Malt (Deanston)

Glen Ardoch Single Malt (Deanston)

The geophysicist took me skiing in Austria last week. Well, I say “took me”. I paid my own way, it’s just that skiing is very much more the geophysicist’s (snow-covered) field of expertise.

I am to skiing what Mozart was to theoretical physics, and Newton was to Opera. I’m what spiders are to vacuum cleaners, what JJ is to bourbon reviews, and what the letter “u” is to Americans. I’m the beast from the piste; the menace of moguls; the scourge of journeyman-level red runs. Some say I look like I was born on skis, by which they mean that it’s grotesquely messy, involves a great deal of shrieking, doesn’t feature much limb control and ideally there’s a doctor or two present. I usually get down more or less intact, but it’s a leg-flailing triumph of function over form.

Fortunately, I’m Winter Olympic calibre when it comes to après ski, and mein Gott I’ve slalomed down an Alp’s-worth of Austro-fodder this week. As I hammer the keyboard I’m schnitzelled to the gills and goulashed to the nines. I’ve got Zweigelt coming out of my salopettes and I’ve taken on more Grüner Veltliner than you can shake a currywürst at.

But there are some itches that not even the longest-fluted wein flasche can scratch. Michael Jackson (the grog writer, not the tight-trousered warbler) said that when abroad, you should drink as the locals do. But in Austria that means schnapps, and frankly Hell hasn’t frozen over. So there I was in the Söll branch of Spar, casting a jaded optic over the spectre-grey hinterland of their whisky “selection”, when what to my wandering eye should appear but the words “Distilled at Deanston Distillery” and a little orange price tag squeaking “€10.99”.

Jason, who is both a masochist and an inveterate clickbait merchant, seems to go on holiday exclusively to hunt down gopping export-edition Johnnie Walkers and duty-free Laphroaigs for hatchet-jobbery in the Malt Colosseum. Personally I’ve a little more respect for both my wallet and my mouth. In any case, even the most wide-eyed, Bambi-stepping newcomer knows that the bottom shelf is riddled with horrors. The #handsomeandwise Malt readership certainly doesn’t need a reminder from me.

But even so. “Deanston” and “eleven euros”. By anyone’s exchange rate that’s an alluring lexical double act. Up there with “Kit-kat” and “chunky” or “fried” and “chicken”. Reader, I ask you: what would you have done?

The most prominent name on the bottle is “Glen Ardoch”. “The most authoritative guide to whisky online” tells me that this is simply another set of clothes Burn Stewart squeezes Deanston into when it jets over to France, Germany, Austria or Italy. Nope, I’m not sure why either. Maybe nailing on a cheeky “Glen” prefix burnishes the not-particularly-Gaelic-sounding Deanston with a spot of Hollywoodish, tartan-slathered, Brigadoony lustre. Maybe it’s just a way of fobbing off unwary Continentals and Alp-addled British tourists with Deanston’s less salubrious casks.

Except I shouldn’t be cynical, should I? Because this is Deanston we’re talking about, not boring old Auchentoshan or Ragnar MacHairy-Breeches the Orkney Viking. And we like Deanston, don’t we? I do, Mark does, Jason does, Leonardo DiCaprio does. Who else matters?

Long story short, I obviously bought a bottle. Undeterred by the parsimonious 40%, the near-certain fake-tan colouring and the equally-likely chill-filtration. I bought it, we cracked it open post-slope, and here’s what I thought.

Glen Ardoch Single Malt (Deanston) – Review

Colour: If this is natural I’ll eat my helmet – goggles and all. As covered-up as an Englishman in an Austrian sauna, I reckon.

On the nose: This doesn’t smell like it knows what a barrel is. It smells like new make. No. That’s unfair. New make can be clean and fruity; this is neither. Fusty, immature malt, cardboard, acetone and pear drop. Dilute vanilla piteously mewls. A metallic, almost feinty grime. I don’t really want to put this in my mouth…

In the mouth: … but I have done, and by Christ it’s grim. More of all of the above, plus a foul and farty sulphurousness. This doesn’t taste clean or cared about. An unbalanced, sweetish clagginess jars against sharp, raw alcohol. The abiding texture is granular; gritty.


Two of my friends, both moderate whisky drinkers, couldn’t finish this. I could, but mostly just in the line of duty. Throughout the grimaces, the puckered mouths, the sneers, the coughs and the assorted non-verbal apostrophes of disgust I urged the others not to let this stop them from trying the standard Deanston range. But really, if this was your first taste of Deanston, I don’t know why you’d bother going back. You may be asking “well what did you expect for €10.99?” To which my answer is: ideally something that didn’t actively repel everyone who took a sip.

This yawps of ancient, exhausted casks; of corners cut and of fuddled production methods. And if something so curdlingly noxious is cheerfully seeping from even Deanston’s excellent auspices then the well-charted over-efficiencies and complacencies of the Scotch whisky industry really are at concerning levels. Funnily enough, the last whisky I tasted that I liked as little as this was actually made in Austria itself. But that one failed because the distillery bravely tried something a bit bonkers, and it didn’t quite work. This fails simply because it is a badly-made, limpid, whimpering thing that does its distillery, its country, and its industry a shocking disservice.

At this point it’s fashionable among the more kindly-meant of commentators to suggest that perhaps the whisky might perform better in a cocktail or a highball. I can’t say I really follow that line of thought; rotten whisky, somewhat intuitively, makes for a rottener highball than decent whisky. And suggesting something might be good if sloshed in with a load of fizzy cover-up is a polite, aqueous equivalent to “put a bag on their head and we’ll talk”. Besides, soda water deserves better than Glen Ardoch.

So instead my bottle (driven all the way back from Austria just so I could scribble this under “review conditions”) will be sacrificed on the ignominious altar of beer pong, which I play at black-run-with-moguls level. That way, with a steady hand, a clear eye, a dose of cunning and the obligatory pressure of the rules, I can hopefully make every last putrescent drop some other fool’s problem.

Fingers crossed they’ll be a snowboarder.

Score: 2/10

CategoriesSingle Malt
Adam Wells

In addition to my weekly-ish articles on Malt I write about whisky for Distilled and cider for Graftwood and Full Juice Magazines. Somewhere amidst all that I've also done the WSET Diploma in Wine and Spirits. I share my home with several hundred bottles, one geophysicist and a small fluffy whirlwind called Nutmeg. For miscellaneous drinks banality, find me on twitter at Twitter.com/DrinkScribbler

    1. Adam Wells says:

      Hi Dr B.

      You raise an interesting point, but I’d highly recommend reading the two articles below. I found them them after pondering whether the “leave it open for a bit” made any difference to whisky, and came away most enlightened. (I am rubbish at science.)



      It’s amazing how much our perceptions shift based on mood, temperature, what we’ve eaten, time of day etc, so it may well be that the Glen Ardoch caught me at a bad point. However, for this reason I do almost all of my tastings a few times before finalising the review, and I’m afraid I hated the Ardoch on every one of them!

      Many thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

      Best wishes

      Adam W.

  1. Stephen Brandes says:

    Dear Adam

    Your assessment is indeed cruel, but fair. I have myself returned from Austria (on a skiing holiday by accident) and not having skied for 38 years and taken a red slope, there was so much adrenalin running through my system, I account for buying this whisky with impaired judgement… but enough unimpaired judgement to see ‘Deanston’ and the price, which somewhat countered the horror of the cost of hiring the skis for a morning.

    Having survived what can best be described as a death run on sorbet (it wasn’t snow, for sure) and used muscles only forensic anatomists know of, I was glad this whisky acted as a suitable painkiller and trauma suppressant in the absence of ketamine or opiates and maybe should be lauded as such (as opposed to the less appropriate gustatory appraisal).

    To be fair, there wasn’t much available in “the country’s biggest Eurospar” that I actually fancied, so I took a chance on this. But in its favour…aside from its medical advantages, it’s perfectly suited to the cuisine, which a more refined malt certainly would be a criminal waste.

    To cut a long story short, I found I couldn’t drink much of it. But I still brought the bottle home and I’m supping it now. Whilst unpleasant, it has the ability to break down Christmas pudding before it reaches the stomach, thus reducing the possibility of acid reflux slightly. It’s also good for softening ear-wax. Waste not, want not… but I dearly look forward to returning to my Springbank tomorrow…

    1. Adam Wells says:

      Hi Stephen

      With a comment like that you should be on our contributor’s list!

      Thanks very much for reading and taking the time to post. Hope you get over your Ardoch (and skiing?!) experience soon. I’m sure Springbank will help.

      Best wishes for a Happy New Year


      1. Phil says:

        Just spotted this in a Spar shop in St. Gilgen. The whole €12.99 for a “Deanston” had me intrigued. If I hadn’t already brought a 10 year old Lagavulin from LHR I might have scratched the itch and bought it.

        After reading this highly humours article and Stephen’s comments, I think I’ll just buy a bottle of schnapps instead.

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