One of the perks of being a slow drinker is that I unconsciously build my “collection” as I continue to acquire new spirits to try.
I use quotation marks because I don’t really have an active goal of increasing my stock of bottles. Instead, I always open bottles right after acquiring them (and often after taking photos for my personal use, of course), then from that point onward, drinking those spirits takes a slow and steady march. Despite the joy that spirits bring me, I don’t drink every day, and when I do, it isn’t typically more than a couple of drams. After all, I drink to experience flavor and not to get wasted or to brag about killing bottles; flavor can’t be appreciated when you’re drunk or seriously harming your health.
This means that I tend to acquire bottles faster than I can finish them, which benefits my health and my personal preference for enjoying my liquor. When I do decide to drink, I randomly decide which bottle to get and enjoy a pour or two from. Naturally, some of those bottles sometimes get pushed toward the back of the shelf and are forgotten for quite a while, waiting for those random moments when I’d remember them. The 2008 vintage Deanston Brandy Cask Finish is one of those whiskies, but this time, I remembered it because of another spirit category.
Fairly recently, I attended a blind tasting arranged and facilitated by John. Once we had tried and talked about the different numbered samples, he revealed that the samples were all kinds of French brandy: Cognac, Armagnac, and Calvados. That tasting was the first time I took a focused dive into French brandy, and it got me wondering about how brandy would influence the flavor of whisky or rum.
In the past, due to my exposure to whisky that was influenced by wine casks like ex-Sherry or ex-Port, I made it a point to try out the fortified wines themselves to better understand the whiskies that I drank. I wondered if I could do the same with brandy-influenced whisky, just the other way around since I’m starting off with the brandy. Then, I remembered that I have a bottle of the 2008 Deanston Brandy Cask and realized that this was the perfect opportunity to revisit that whisky and understand how that brandy influence manifests on the whisky’s flavor.
Let’s first briefly talk about Deanston: Deanston is the brand of a Highland distillery of the same name that was built in 1785. It was initially used as a cotton mill until it was bought by Glasgow blenders and distillers in the 1960s and refitted as a distillery. Not long after it was sold to Invergordon, under whose ownership the Deanston brand was first launched in the 70s. After closing in the 80s and being bought and reopened by Burn Stewart in the 90s, the distillery and brand were acquired and currently owned by South Africa-based spirits company Distell International.
To my understanding, due to the different aspects of their production process like their fermentation process (that goes for up to 100 hours and an average of 85 hours, longer than many Scotch distilleries), slow distillation (which entails increased copper contact in the stills), and still shape (with ascending lyne arms that also encourage copper contact), Deanston’s house style leans toward being light yet fruity. Their distillery DNA is also often described as waxy, which is a characteristic I’ve come across in the previous expressions I’ve had, and I’ve read that it this also associated with their longer fermentation.
The 2008 vintage Deanston Brandy Cask Finish is a nine-year-old single malt that was part of the 2018 annual collection of limited edition single malts released by Distell. Each release in that collection was matured or finished in ex-wine casks. According to Derek Scott, Distell’s brand director for malt whisky, “Using the flavor profile each brand is known for as the guide to select the finishing casks, we’ve been able to create six limited release whiskies that are not just of interest for their points of difference, but are also fantastic drams that remain true to the whisky’s style.” Adding to that here, Scott explains that each release tells its “own story of where they came from by maintaining the flavor profiles known to each of the brands, while having individual enhancements from being finished in carefully selected casks for their final maturation.”
In the case of this Deanston single malt, the whisky was first matured for 7 years in refill ex-Bourbon American oak casks, then matured for at least a year in ex-French brandy butts. When I reached out to Julieann Fernandez, Deanston’s Master Blender, she said that ex-brandy casks were chosen because for them, the brandy influence would complement but not overpower or mask Deanston’s DNA, especially its waxy character that Fernandez emphasized as being capable of holding up against the bold brandy flavors.
She also explained that the ex-brandy casks were not charred prior to being filled with the whisky; instead, the casks were filled once the brandy was emptied. This might mean that the casks were “wet” or still had some leftover brandy in them. They do not indicate in their marketing the kind of French brandy that those butts previously held, and when I tried asking Fernandez about it, she unfortunately didn’t provide an answer.
Now, let’s get to tasting this. From what I’ve read, this release was initially priced at $80. I bought it for around $105. It is presented naturally and bottled at 56.4% ABV.
2008 Deanston Brandy Cask Finish – Review
On the nose: I’m surprised that the top notes first involved malt before accompanying aromas like milk chocolate bars with nuts and subtle cinnamon powder. Strawberry jam, sesame seeds, and old rosewater. It becomes more intense and rich leading to chocolate cereal, warm toffee, and a hint of crisp apples alongside stewed fruit that provides an accentuated lightness. There seems to be a curious minerality that transforms into a steady chili-and-peppercorn layer of spice.
In the mouth: The minerality is more prominent here, translating into almost a brine note. Still rich, with dried figs, nutmeg, a touch of ginger, and earthiness on top of a still-noticeable malt-forward base. There are undertones of bright raspberries and candied apples which easily shift toward the direction of warm candle wax and dusty paper. The brine returns briefly, but with an imposing yet succulent spiciness. At the end of the development, dark chocolate shavings shift into sweet tobacco. The mouthfeel is medium-bodied and quite drying. The finish is clearly long, led by roasted ginger, malt funk, and sandalwood.
For me, the brandy influence does seem to work because the Deanston DNA still shows up compared to other finished Scotches that are drowned by the wine influence. Comparing the whisky with some of the samples I had left from John’s tasting, this seems to more closely resemble Cognac compared to Armagnac or Calvados. It has some complexity, especially on the nose. The overall richness, in particular, tells me why I found this whisky to be so interesting when I first got to try it a couple of years ago.
However, it doesn’t seem to be as satisfying as it once was. The brine gets a little too much. And ironically, while I still like its richness, I also can’t help but feel like I’m looking for more beyond that richness that I can’t quite put my finger on. After having tried this whisky over the course of several days (like I normally do whenever I write my reviews), my best guess is that I find the development too focused on one direction, toward flavors that seem to be from the brandy influence. In that sense, the whisky seems to prioritize character at the cost of balance.
As for price, in hindsight, the $105 that I paid is a little too steep for this, which will warrant it a one-point demotion. It would’ve been better for it to stay in the $80-$90 range.