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The Maltman Deanston 15 Year Old

I went back and forth on whether I should review this whisky. This is a single-cask release with an outturn of 391 bottles only. If you let out a long sigh at this moment, I feel you! That’s exactly how I feel when I come across reviews of difficult-to-get whiskies.

However, when I posted about this bottle on my Instagram back in June, many of you raved about The Maltman label. It’s quite clear that this label has a loyal fanbase within Europe. Yet, compared with other independent bottlers, the brand behind The Maltman label – Meadowside Blending – is a less familiar name. And to date, there’s only one review of a Maltman bottling – a Caol Ila 12 Year Old – on Malt. So, I thought it would make for an interesting feature to speak with the independent bottler. Even if you couldn’t get your hands on this particular bottle that I review, you will probably stumble upon their other releases that might interest you.

Meadowside Blending is an independent bottler based in Glasgow, Scotland. It was founded in 2011 by Donald Hart and his son Andrew Hart. Does this family name ring a bell? Yep, Donald Hart is also the co-founder of Hart Brothers, an established independent bottler known for their often rare, old whisky bottlings. Meadowside Blending boasts six ranges of very diverse products. Single malt, single grain, peated, cask strength, you name it!

Product Range by Meadowside BlendingFeatures
The Maltman·      Single-cask single malt whisky.

·      Natural color & non-chill filtration.

The Grainman·      Single-cask single grain whisky.

·      Natural color & non-chill filtration.

The Granary·      Blended grain whisky.

·      Cask strength.

·      Natural color & non-chill filtration.

Vital Spark·      Small-batch single malt whisky.

·      Peated.

·      Cask strength.

·      Natural color & non-chill filtration.

Royal Thistle·      A blended whisky at 40% ABV.
Vintage Cask Decanter Reserve·      Single-cask rare whisky.

I contacted Andrew with a few questions. The first part of these questions is about Meadowside Blending, while the second part is about the independent whisky bottling industry in general. In preparation of the industry-related questions, I tried not to repeat questions that have been asked of other independent bottlers (e.g., Chapter 7, Càrn Mòr, etc) on Malt. I also reached out to you malt mates on Instagram and asked what you’d like to know 🙂 So, on with the show!

I: Questions about Meadowside Blending

Malt: Thanks for agreeing to some questions. I read that you started your whisky career by working as a maltman at Springbank. Does that experience have any influence on how you approach your job today?

Andrew: Thanks for having me on. I worked with Hart Brothers as soon as I left school, and it was nice to learn from my dad and my uncle. But it was office-based. So, getting to work at Springbank – which is one of my favorite distilleries – was a fantastic experience. The smell, the atmosphere… It was just great to see the workings of the distillery that sometimes you don’t think about. I guess that taught me a lot about appreciating the whisky as well, which you might not get from the office side of the job.

Malt: Your family also founded Hart Brothers. Can you enlighten our readers about the similarities and differences between Hart Brothers and Meadowside Blending?

Andrew: Yes, that’s correct. My dad and Alistair started the business in 1964. And I enjoyed a good few years cutting my teeth in the industry with Hart Brothers. The companies are now completely separate. Although Alistair still works with Hart Brothers, my dad and I are working entirely independently. The similarities, I would say, is that they also bottle high-quality single cask whiskies. And both companies work to try and keep the independent bottling fans excited with new releases. But I am not sure what Alistair has been bottling. So I cannot compare too much, as we concentrate on our own company releases and cask selection.

Malt: Most of your products are single cask releases. Tell us a bit more about the cask selection process and criteria at Meadowside Blending.

Andrew: I must say it is one of the best jobs in the world. I love coming in to work! And my dad and I really enjoy tasting the cask samples; who wouldn’t?! It usually takes place on a Friday afternoon, and we assess each sample for the most important aspects: aroma, palate/body, and finish. We usually draw samples every 8 to 12 months from each cask, just to monitor the maturation process. There have been some occasions when we feel the cask has given its all. And then we re-rack in to our favorite sherry casks, which are usually Pedro Ximénez or Oloroso, if we feel the whisky needs another dimension or layer to it. I guess it’s fun to try this sometimes. But equally it is a privilege to bottle the whisky as the distiller intended, which is not touching it at all. And hopefully our customers trust our cask selection.

Malt: You have a variety of whisky releases. Personally, I’m intrigued by The Grainman range. Single grain whiskies still receive relatively less attention than single malt whiskies these days. What propelled you to create this range? And how does the market respond so far?

Andrew: That’s great to hear! I am honestly a big fan as well of Grain whiskies. My dad had never bottled a Grain whisky until we did so under The Grainman label. He was blown away by some of the older ones: Invergordon, Cambus , and North British. I love the vanilla, crème brûlée, and Pastéis de Nata (Portuguese custard tart) flavors you get from grain. It maybe is not something for the wintertime, but there is always an occasion for it. We actually had a bit of fun with a North British cask 2 years ago and re-racked a 1988 hogshead in to a Zweigelt Beerenauslese (which was a lovely Austrian red wine cask). The whisky came out so dark, and the flavors were wonderful. Think Black Forest Gateux, cream, and toffee. It was a dessert in a glass.

Malt: What releases do you have incoming in 2022? Is there anything you’re especially excited about?

Andrew: We have a few coming up in early 2022, a young Caol Ila 7 or 8 year old. And one we have never bottled before, “Old Rhosdhu” from Loch Lomond Distillery, especially for the Taiwanese market. I am sure there will be more, but we are still going through our stock to select samples for 2022. So, nothing else has chosen yet. Actually, that reminds me there is a nice 1996 Ben Nevis, too. That one is lovely and fruity.

II: Questions about the Industry

Malt: What are the biggest changes you have observed in the independent bottling industry over the last 10 years?

Andrew: The biggest changes are for sure in stock and pricing. The prices of whiskies from brokers have gone up, and getting rarer casks is almost impossible now. You never get offered Springbank, Bowmore, Macallan casks, etc. And if you do, the price makes it very hard for us to bottle and make a margin, as our importers would not pay the prices and I wouldn’t ask them to. There has also been a rise in whisky cask investment firms, which is not always a good thing, as you don’t know if this will flood the market in a few years’ time with private sellers wanting to sell their casks.

Malt: The use of STR casks seems to be on the rise. What’s your take on this specific method of rejuvenating casks? Will Meadowside Blending jump on this bandwagon?

Andrew: I don’t see anything wrong with it. STR is not one we have used yet. But I can see the benefit, and the whisky usually gets a good boost of color/flavor, which is quite good for independent bottlers who bottle single casks.

Malt: Whisky prices have been increasing drastically in recent years, for independent bottling whiskies as well. Could you help us understand this phenomenon from your perspective as an independent bottler?

Andrew: Similar to the changes in the industry, pricing has increased throughout the industry. The glass/cork/label/bottling costs are all on the rise. COVID, and for sure Brexit, have really put prices up for dry goods.

In terms of whisky, the demand for mature stock is very high. And in our business, when we bottle one of our older casks, we may not ever be able to replace it as prices are out of our range. We always try and keep our prices fair and at a level that is affordable to whisky lovers. But for sure if we bottle a 32-year-old Bowmore, the price is going to be pretty high purely due to the rarity value and cost of the cask to begin with.

Malt: In addition to wood and age, what are other factors, in your opinion, that play an important role in shaping a whisky and should be talked about more?

Andrew: Of course, in an ideal world, we would love all our casks to mature in the same region as they were distilled. But that is not always possible. But I think it does help that our Arran casks are all on the Isle of Arran maturing. It gives it a little bit of magic that they are breathing in the surroundings. Whether it makes a difference to the taste, well, it’s hard to say for sure. But I am an old romantic.

Malt: Tell us the easiest single malt and the hardest single malt to source from an operating distillery.

Andrew: In terms of the hardest whisky to get, I would say Macallan, Talisker, Scapa, Oban, and – funnily enough – Glenkinchie. You never see a Glenkinchie single cask. My dad bottled a few in the 90s with Hart Brothers of Macallan and Talisker. But it’s changed days in terms of seeing these makes for sale by the cask.

I think there is no easy whisky to source, but thankfully we have good relations with distillers – which we are very grateful for – and we can lay down stock for future bottlings… maybe even for my sons to bottle. That’s always the interesting thing about being an independent bottler. It is not a business for a quick buck. Some of the casks we are buying now will not be in glass for another 10-20 years. It’s a strange business model, but one which we love. Thankfully, being family owned, we do not have any employees. What we earn we re-invest into the company for the future.

Thanks to Andrew for sharing his time and thoughts.

As for this bottle: on the label, it says that the whisky is “Distilled at Turriff Distillery.” Here’s a clarification from Andrew: “Sometimes distillers have distilled spirit for separate projects of their own, and they call th[ese] funny names, “Turriff” for example. This is 100% from Deanston, and we managed to buy a couple of casks. The paperwork said Turriff, but we are of course allowed to say distilled at Deanston as this is what the whisky is.”

Personally, I’m very curious about the fate of Turriff Distillery. I reached out to Deanston but didn’t hear back.

Deanston 15 Year Old (The Maltman Bottling) – Review

52.5% ABV. Bourbon Hogshead. Retails around €115 (tax included).

Color: Deep gold.

On the nose: Gently sweet with lots of fruity notes. Apple, orange, banana, and cantaloupe. The sweetness reminds me of chocolate chip cookies, with marzipan and coconut flakes in the back. Water reveals hints of peppermint and scone.

In the mouth: Just as the nose promises, it’s sweet on arrival with a silky mouthfeel. Honey, fig jam, dried dates, and red apple. A gentle burn kicks in after a few seconds, followed by oak and slight espresso bitterness. A splash of water reduces the burn significantly, making the dram sweeter (more barley sugar) and even more approachable. The finish is long and warming, with some baking spices. It gets a bit dry toward the end.

Conclusions:

This is the first Deanston that truly hits the spot for me! I have two original bottling releases, Deanston 12 Year Old and Deanston 14 Year Old Organic. They are not bad whiskies, but I was never really satisfied with them. They feel unfinished to me. Something is missing, and I couldn’t articulate… until now. This 15-year-old Deanston from The Maltman is the missing piece of the puzzle! It still carries that Deanston character – malty, easy-drinking, and medium-bodied. But it tastes rounder and offers a lot more depth. Those few more years in a cask, along with higher alcohol proof, have really worked their magic. This is not only the best Deanston I’ve tried so far, but also the best whisky discovery I’ve made in the first half of 2021!

Score: 8/10

Photos courtesy of Meadowside Blending. Bottle photo author’s own.

CategoriesSingle Malt
Alyssa

Entrepreneur turned academic, Alyssa is an organizational psychologist, a James Bond fan, and above all a whisk(e)y enthusiast. In a guarded and superficial world, she appreciates those who show her a little bit of their soul or dram. Reach out on Instagram @girlwithcaskstrength

  1. kallaskander says:

    Hi there,

    ever since I came across that bottling I wondered. Especially about the “Distilled at Turrif Distillery”.

    Here is what I found out.

    There was once a distillery in Turriff, Aberdeenshire.
    The Millfield Distillery (Highlands), Millfield Farm, Garmond by Turriff, Established: 1798, Closed: After 1832.
    The Millfield distillery east of Turriff existed from 1798 until shortly after 1832, for less than 40 years. A Millfiekd whiskey distilled in 1832 would be 188 years old today. Such old casks also have a fatal property: they are mostly empty due to evaporation.
    There are three active malt distilleries near Turriff. From north to south Macduff near Banff, GlenDronach near Forgue and Glen Garioch near Oldmeldrum. They are three of the 8 active and 8 inactive or historic distilleries in the Eastern Highlands in Aberdeenshire. Deanston is not even nearby but much further south near Stirling.

    The Turriff Malting Barley Drier is 78 miles east of the Inverness Malting Plant and 88 miles north of the Arbroath Malting Plant. This makes it ideal for using the barley fields of Aberdeenshire to supply the Baird’s Malting maltings with dried barley for the distilling market in Scotland. It was built in 1976 by Moray Firth Maltings Ltd ..
    The storage capacity in Turriff is approx. 36,000 tons of malting barley.
    The Turriff Malting Barley Drier is located on a junction of the B9024 called Birchfield. The address is
    Baird’s Malt
    Turriff Aberdeenshire AB53 4HD
    GPS coordinates
    North: 57 ° 32 ‘2.202’ ‘
    West: 2 ° 28 ‘47.495 ”

    So, there you have it. Would be nice if Deanston would enlighten us further.

    Greetings
    kallaskander

    1. Alyssa says:

      Hey Kallaskander,

      Thank you for sharing your insights! I read about Millfield Distillery as well, but The Turriff Malting Barley Drier is new to me. When I asked Andrew from Meadowside Blending about Turriff, it sounded more like an experimental project by Deanston to me (as you read at the end of the interview). Could it be that Deanston experimented with malts from them? I am just speculating. This is a mystery, and it irks me that we don’t have an answer to it.

  2. kallaskander says:

    Hi there,

    you are welcome. I think it is strange that it is labeled as being made in two distilleries, Deanston and Turrif… where is the SWA when you need them?
    With no obvious connection between modern Deanston and lost Turriff distillery it could be anything, even a tea-spooned malt by Deanston but why a Turriff distillery is mentioned at all remains a mystery.

    Greetings
    kallaskander

  3. Markus says:

    Great article, Alyssa. Deanston was one the the first whiskies I encountered when I started to explore Scotch. It has a fond place in my heart and I would love to try this one – it sounds like a stunner!
    Cheers!

  4. Graham says:

    Alyssa,

    Lovely article. The Turriff project has clearly sparked some interest. I imagine, like a police operation or the naming of a new oilfield the name for the project will have been selected as part of a naming scheme and I’d suggest that Deanston were using closed distilleries for their naming scheme.

    More interesting would be what was going on in the project, different barely types, different yeast strains, different fermentation of distillation practices? It’s all the more frustrating because Deanston presumably offloaded the casks at the end of the project suggesting it was not something they wanted to proceed with? But the whisky works well for you!

    how frustrating that Distell are such a closed house and not at all open to any communication in my experience.

    1. Alyssa says:

      It’s so frustrating to have so many unanswered questions, right?! And I still haven’t heard from them so far. Maybe the Malt community knows any of their marketing people?
      Regardless, this is definitely the best Deanston I’ve tried so far, even if they have offloaded the casks and scraped the project.

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