This is an overdue and welcome return to one of my favourite haunts in Deanston distillery. The continuing rise of this modest producer on the outskirts of Doune has been good to see in recent times. Relying on presenting its whiskies in a natural light, enthusiasts have gravitated towards what was a very unfashionable name only a few years ago.
Deanston doesn’t have a legacy of whisky that goes back generations, but it does have a rather distinctive and unique history of its own. In many terms, it has been ahead of the game by bottling at a higher strength and with a natural presentation. These are things that an increasingly educated market expects to see nowadays as standard, and they appreciate those that offer such things in their whisky.
Yet I have to ask: is all well-currently within Deanston and the ranks of Distell? There was a natural passing of the torch when Ian MacMillan left for a new project at Bladnoch in 2015; Dr. Kirstie McCallum seemed like the logical choice, and a worthy one as well. Then comes October 2019, and the surprising announcement of her departure to Glen Moray to become head of whisky creation.
You can look at this from various perspectives: the sense of a new challenge, an attractive offer too good to turn down, moving onto happier pastures. Even success and industry admiration will result in the poaching of talent. Nonetheless, the fact that—and no disrespect here—a distillery more known for its lower-shelf supermarket whiskies and focus on value can acquire a blender such as Dr McCallum is surprising. What it does underline is the ambition of La Martiniquaise-Bardinet, who own Glen Moray alongside brands such as Label 5 after Graham Coull moved onto Dingle distillery—another surprise!
Moving into 2020, we can expect more from Glen Moray beyond their core expressions—a new strain of releases and interesting casks. The Deanston Kentucky cask felt like a misstep to regulars, its purpose was to reach out to a new market. And what does the future offer for Deanston?
That to me is the big question, and one for which I don’t have an immediate answer. The good work is in maturing warehouses, and the production team still creates the style of spirit we all appreciate. Only those with access to the distillery a few years ago were able to appreciate some of the excellent exclusives selected by Ian in what was a very rich and exciting period for Deanston. Such things cannot last forever, and we often refuse to put down those rose-tinted glasses. Speaking of which, it is time for the tasting notes.
Deanston 2008 Bordeaux Red Wine Finish – Jason’s review
Colour: Brown sugar.
On the nose: Red apples, orangeade, leather and ham hock. Pecans, apricots, red lettuce and ginger. There’s a slight oiliness and cinnamon influence with water not revealing much more except a lighter emphasis, jelly and lemon.
In the mouth: More subtle and leisurely than anticipated, with rubbed brass, cranberries, apricots and a gentle dryness with a kick of tannins. Peppercorns, red grapes, pencil lead, plums, liquorice and cherry. A touch of alcohol on the finish. Water brings out more sweetness, but the layers implode, destroying the nuances.
My issue with this release is that it just doesn’t perform. The Deanston qualities that many of us love and appreciate have been glossed over by the wine cask finish. By all means, try things and experiment, yet you’ve got to take a step back and think of the end result. I don’t know the duration of finish applied by the wine cask, but there’s no escaping its influence on the whisky.
Deanston is all about the maltiness, cereals and honey, in my opinion. It is a dependable whisky and is growing in popularity. So, from the point of view of the new owners, there is a need to embrace fashions (such as a wine cask) and offer more variety quickly by utilising finishes. This isn’t a bad whisky by any stretch of the imagination, but it doesn’t go anywhere or achieve anything. That, I think, is its biggest crime, especially when you’re paying out good money in the hope of something special. If you do like bold wine finishes in general, then add an extra mark: it might be more to your liking.
I’m interested to see where Deanston goes next, after the sudden departure of Dr. Kirstie McCallum. In particular, I’m eager to discover what her replacement sees as the future pathway for this promising whisky. My advice, as always, is less is more, and hopefully, they can build upon the previous good work.
Deanston 2008 Bordeaux Red Wine Finish – Phil’s review
Colour: Dark Copper
On the nose: Fudge and vanilla then red berries, cassis and muscavado sugar. Red wine vinegar and a little furniture polish. Citrus oils, cherries and lots of oak. Water brings praline, ginger, cocoa and leather.
In the mouth: Pretty punchy at full strength – quite tannic with a lot of alcohol heat. Chilli, clove, cinnamon and black pepper which is followed by the fruit – blackberries, raspberries and strawberries. Water brings ou chilli dark chocolate, black liquorice and stem ginger. The finish is of medium length – spicy, tannic and earthy with some tartness too.
This is really all about the cask and in a sense is a bit of a one trick pony – it’s all red fruit and oak tannins. That’s not to say its not enjoyable, it’s a tasty dram but it lacks balance or complexity. The nose is lovely and the palate just fails to match up to it. I paid £55 for my bottle and I’ve enjoyed drinking it but for me I’d rather plump for the core 12 expression to highlight what Deanston are all about as the Bordeaux cask has rather veiled the distillery character.
Photograph kindly provided by The Whisky Exchange.