“It takes a lifetime to build a good reputation, but you can lose it in a minute” the saying goes. Similarly in whisky, building the visibility, awareness and reputation of a distillery doesn’t happen overnight. There’s a raft of distilleries I would classify as presently underappreciated – Deanston is one of them. Though owners Distell have clearly heavily invested in the distilleries across their portfolio, Deanston still feels a little like the neglected younger brother.
This is far from the truth at the actual distillery proper, (Those who missed it should read about our visit earlier this year), but out on the circuit, Deanston sometimes feels unnecessarily squeezed on both sides by Distell’s other distilleries – Bunnahabhain and Tobermory. Over the last few years, much has been done to improve this – from an evolutionary brand redesign, to an increasing number of limited and distillery only editions – some of which are rather interesting, some of which are rather excellent. And yet, when you visit the Distell stand at a show, I’ve usually found Deanston consigned into the ‘warm up’ slot. Merely an appetiser before the main meal of Bunna and/or Tobermory/Ledaig. This does the distillery no favours in terms of improving perceptions and widening customer awareness.
It’s clearly more economical to organise a single exhibition booth/table for Distell’s entire range – but, perhaps rather than bundling everything together, it would be interesting to let Deanston stand along, and to champion why the distillery and its products have their own merits and are laterally different to that of Bunnahabhain and Tobermory. For consumers to embrace Deanston’s differences, its owners need to fully commit do doing the same. They're certainly getting there, but I'd love to see even more.
Today’s review is of the core range Deanston 18 year old, released in 2015. It is matured in ex-bourbon hogsheads before being finished in 1st fill ex-bourbon (for an unspecified amount of time). It’s bottled at the Distell standard ABV of 46.3% and costs around £75 here in the UK (though if you shop around you’ll find it closer to £70).
Nose: Plenty of barley sugar sweetness here – and bakery – with breakfast. Oven fresh buns and rolls, pancake batter, buttered toast , biscuit crumb and yeasty loaves get together with oatmeal and pancake batter for a hearty start to the day. Running throughout, orange petit fours, vanilla cream and a sense of dustiness – not quite dunnage, but heading towards mustiness. Reduction lessens the initial sugar hit, adding an interesting aroma of liver salts, stem ginger and freshly hung linen.
Taste: Similarly to the nose, this opens sweetly. The arrival delivers a sugar parcel that is saccharine, but not rich and indulgent – as if the sugars are raw and unprocessed. This sits atop orange peels, chocolate (So why not a Terry’s Chocolate Orange) and creamy toffee. The development quickly loses the explicitly sugary top notes and brings forth a basket of malts, bread and spiciness – golden barley, multi-grain loaf and pitta with white pepper and ginger. These sit with coffee beans, foamed milk and some roasted oaty cereals. The introduction of water (be sparing) adds a rounder, more fruit-forward outlook (oranges, tangerines and toffee apples), but at the same time emphasises both ex-bourbon casks with vanilla, popcorn and some suggestions of astringency around the spicier elements.
Finish: Medium with dusty drying pepper and plenty of residue maltiness.
This Deanston is rather different to many distillery’s stock 18 year olds – whereas sherry is oft-times the order of the day across many ranges, here, the sweetness feels more naturally sourced from the barley itself rather than from cask. But, there’s a fundamental difference between nature and nurture and despite these origins, there’s a lack of ‘specialness’ to this whisky that I suspect most folks would be expecting from its age statement – the sugars don’t feel entirely integrated and the bready notes (whilst pleasant to my tastes) might possible not suit everyone. Nevertheless, this is well-made, tasty and comes at a pretty reasonable price all things considered. Sometimes it makes a pleasant change to embrace something different.