It’s not uncommon for Malt reviews to be a little behind time. Often, taking time to get to know a spirit or let the hype die down makes for a better more accurate review. It’s less common for Malt to review an actual behind.
The rear I am referring to is that of Deanston: Deanston village. I’ve been to Deanston distillery three times and only recently took a wander behind the distillery to discover the charming conservation area of Deanston Village. I’m not sure how many Malt readers might have missed this element of the distillery, but I can imagine it’s easy to do.
The distillery is down a dead-end road and the carpark is encountered before the distillery itself. From the carpark there is a fairly short dash (it’s normally raining) past the offices and modern 1960s extension to the visitor centre doorway nestled in the crook between the extension and the 1800s mill building. The distillery road gives no indication of the habitation beyond.
Deanston is one of the many distilleries that was not purpose built, but was modified within a pre-existing cotton mill building in 1965. The mill itself dates back to 1785, extensively rebuilt in 1820. It is situated on the banks of the River Teith, a significant tributary of the River Forth. The river powered a hydro-electric scheme built in the 1940s which still provides power to the distillery and visitor centre today.
Deanston village was created as a planned village as part of the development of the Adelphi Mill in which the distillery now resides. Most homes are now in private ownership. Designed by Richard Arkwright, the streets are called “the divisions” or “rows.” The mill lade provided mechanical power initially, with one of the largest waterwheels in Europe, known as “Hercules.”
Eventually the waterwheels were changed for turbines, creating electrical power to the mill. The village sits along the banks of the lade. In 1799 Deanston village was described as “a village inhabited chiefly by the labouring people belonging to the Adelphi cotton-work where upwards of nine hundred persons are employed.”
The mill was such an economic force in the local area that in 1786 it produced its own coins and paper money for issue to its workers to overcome a shortage of currency in circulation at the time. Originally owned by the Muirs of Deanston, there is a clock erected in 1929 in the memory of Lady Muir of Deanston, who was active in the community including the setting up of clubs and other community groups amongst the workers. The mill owner’s grand residence, Deanston House, was in 1945 purchased and converted into a convalescence home, later a hotel, and now a care home.
In contrast to the modern vehicles parked in Deanston streets today, a review of historic papers reveals simpler times when life was harder for the residents. In 1902 the Labour Leader publication is quite vocal about the quality of the wages offered to the workers and highlights the disparity between those wages earned by families and the wealth of the owners on display in the “big house.” Also reported is the most scandalous 1910 motor car crash into the bowling green (below), a fairly impressive achievement at the end of a 2-mile-long dead-end road. In the chauffeur’s defence, the village would have been dark at 8 PM at the end of October! I include the clipping from the Dundee Courier January 1930 (below) that, whilst tragic, paints a picture of youthful abandon in the “divisions” above the mill and perhaps suggests that children were allowed to live more freely than in the days of child labour during the previous century. Other articles reveal the impact on the villagers of two World Wars.
Why does any of this matter, these historic times long before Deanston became the distillery we know today? Personally, I feel it helps put these industries within the context of the landscape, and within our recent history. Distilleries are not Disney destinations where visitors experience a “standard tour” then quickly move on to other attraction (Macallan excepted), although perhaps many of us do.
Distilleries are year-round industrial operations with their foundations in the local communities from which they draw their workers. I do wish more distilleries would focus on the real and interesting histories – the stories of their workers and the impact on their local communities – rather than myths and legends. We are more likely to enjoy the life and spirit within the dram with such honest context than some shiny illustrations for any special release.
For more information about the distilling process or some other aspects of the distillery I can recommend some recent Malt reviews include the Brandy Cask finish by Jigs. A Marsala finish by C Ryan, an Oloroso finish by John, and a lovely indie Deanston review from Alyssa.
For the reviews below I have focused on the recent Chronicles release, a sample of which I recently picked up at the visitor centre. In truth, I detoured there from the A9 on my way North hoping to pick up some 20cl distillery exclusive bottles after I recently extoled the value of the bottle size here on Malt.
I was somewhat shocked that these small bottles have now been priced at £55 up from £35 on my previous visit. Distell the current owners of Deanston, Tobermory and Bunnahabhain have been consistently driving up prices across their range but nearly doubling the price to distillery visitors is obscene profiteering. Not surprisingly, the visitor centre in Deanston is now selling 3cl miniatures of the distillery exclusives as a build your own tasting pack, but essentially they have to offer a cheaper take-away for visitors than the pricy 20cls. Visitor centres should be places of great value; after all, a good visitor centre experience can create a lifelong customer for the brand but a poor one can equally put people off a company permanently.
Deanston Virgin Oak 4 – Review
Refill bourbon with a virgin oak finish. 46.2% ABV. £30 to £40.
Colour: Pale gold.
On the nose: Light fruity and fresh, crushed green apple, buttermilk pancakes, a pinch of cinnamon, dusty grist, vanilla custard, nutmeg, shaved oak, toffee, green apple peel, Soor Plooms, lime zest, peach.
In the mouth: Medium weight and buttery, bright and fruity, fresh green fruits, lots of oaky spice and a prickly of spirty warmth with a medium length finish which is both juicy and peppery, still fresh but becoming slightly bitter.
Solid dram for the price, of course young, but thoughtful use of casks has delivered the best of the dram for a fair price point.
Deanston 2007 to 2020 Calvados Cask Finish – Review
57.4% ABV. £140
On the nose: Buttered toast, Brulé topping, slow roasted caramel apple, short crisp pasty case, nuts, praline, raw Pillsbury cinnamon roll dough, dry oak spices.
In the mouth: Spicy baked apples, lots of spicy baked apples, juicy plump raisins, fresh ripe sticky fig, sweet pastry, hobnob biscuits, chilli heat on the finish which is short, water brings more toffee but the peppery heat is untamed.
I recall when discussing the order to carry out this tasting that the member of staff at the visitor centre was a little reticent of where to place this whisky in the line-up. First might have been better, because the rich baked apple is present but not nearly as apple-like and fresh as the virgin oak, having tasted the virgin oak first this dram felt, well, over-cooked.
Deanston Chronicles Edition 1 – Review
Distillery and online exclusive. A vatting of 1977 refill casks, 1994 Madeira casks, 2004 Amontillado casks, and 2011 bourbon casks. Released in 2022. 46.3% ABV. £85.
Colour: Warm gold.
On the nose: Warm fruits, apricot jam, sponge cake crusts, toffee sauce, peach stone, cinnamon, blackcurrant cordial, ground dates, lovely aromatic oxidised fruits, fresh tarragon and mint leaves.
In the mouth: Extra smooth, subtle integration of the casks, old wood and fruit, still quite fresh too, baked apple turnover, over-ripe melon, rum baba, oiled oak, long complex finish giving a little dunnage funk and dried herbs.
This reminded me of the Tomatin Contrasts I reviewed seven years behind its original release. Prepared in a similar format: vatting different ages of spirit together. I like that there is good disclosure, too, about the main components which matters in an NAS release. It’s what good Non-Age Statement (NAS) whisky is all about. The price is keen, with 12 year old indie single malt reaching £85 at some retailers.
There is real value in accepting the skill of the master blender Julieann Frenandez-Thomson (since 2020) in blending these casks together for this release instead of an overpriced youthful single cask from an indie. I would also note that this release is allows the spirit to do the talking, which is very unlike the Distell style over the last 10 years, with overly powerful casks being most common in the visitor centres. I really enjoyed this one and hope this marks a more nuanced approach to flavour at Deanston going forward.
Deanston 2004 to 2020 16 Year Old Amontillado Sherry Cask – Review
This was one of the warehouse 4 casks offered on the warehouse tasting experience in 2020 and 2021 and is now sold out. 59.4% ABV. Around £130
On the nose: Biscoff, brigadeiro, date sponge, flapjack, toasted almonds, sesame seeds, blackcurrant liquorice, baking spices, fig chuntey, tinned fruit cocktail syrup, treacle toffee.
In the mouth: Chocolate caramel digestive biscuits, chocolate milkshake, fruity blackcurrant crème in dark chocolate, hazelnuts, bramble jam, peppery spice, slightly fatty, smooth fairly short finish.
This is a big full-flavoured sherry bomb, tasty but uncomplicated, the Distell style.
Deanston 2001 Organic Fino finish
The spirit spent 2001 to 2016 in recharred (rejuvenated) casks before getting a year finish in Fino sherry casks. Released in 2020, again this was one of the Warehouse 4 tasting casks and distillery exclusives. 55.3% ABV. Roughly £130
Colour: Antique pine.
On the nose: Dry dusty vanilla, icing sugar, maple syrup, fruit toast, blackberry jam, fresh plums, manuka honey, savoury and meaty: BBQ pork ribs, Ritz crackers, hot chocolate sauce, butterscotch, crushed fennel seeds.
In the mouth: Luxury hot chocolate, roasted coffee, cacao nibs, roasted hazelnut and peanut skins, liquorice and aniseed, soft caramel, blackcurrant, fruit pastels, fruiter with water and more roasted caramel, funkier dunnage notes developing too.
The recharred casks, spirit, and sherry all playing their part here to deliver something more complex than a sherry bomb, more interesting. I’m always amazed at the complexity fino casks bring to whisky when my experience of the sherry itself is dry crisp and simple.
Deanston Cask No. 28 2009 to 2021 Organic Oloroso – Review
54.9% ABV. £120.
On the nose: Rich roasted coffee, dark chocolate and over-ripe fruit, dunnage, sesame oil, chocolate raisins, dark roasted pecan nuts, soy sauce, mushroom ketchup, chargrilled asparagus, wild garlic beds, charcoal, a little salt
In the mouth: Smooth warming sherry bringing sweet dark fruits, fresh brambles off the bushes, chocolate mousse, creamy texture, big meaty sherry, earthy dunnage, the finish smooth an nutty.
This was the most drinkable at cask strength. The organic sherry has tamed or overridden the peppery spirit found in some of the other casks. As with the fino finish reviewed above, the sherry itself is imparting a lot of interesting notes beyond the classic singular sherry flavours that can be expected. Still a Distell style of maximum flavour, but on this occasion working well.
Photos courtesy of Deanston’s website and Whisky International.