Deanston 40-year-old

Tuesday, February 28, 2017


There’s an undeniable imposing aspect to being faced with any bottling proclaiming to be 40 years of age. It’s arguably the classic aspiring vintage for all Scottish distilleries, surpassing the staple 10 statement or the more luxurious 18-year-old. There’s a certain celebratory status when those figures appear on a label and expectations are raised.

For Deanston, it marks the oldest release that I’m aware of to date, officially or unofficially. Over the years I’ve managed to build up a decent bank of releases from this overlooked distillery that has put out a series of quality bottlings (often exclusive to visitors) and at realistic prices. The pinnacle prior to this review is the sublime 1974 Oloroso cask,bottled at 37 years of age and would have set you back around £850 from the distillery. This was an exceptionally limited release with just 102 bottles coming from a stunning cask and unleashing a captivating experience.

This 40-year-old Deanston is a more widely available proposition, as it’s not just limited to the distillery and with an outturn of 500 bottles. It’ll set you back a thousand pounds which admittedly is a great deal of money to many of us, but put into context a Bunnahabhain of the same age is more than double the price - even before we move into the realms of more established distilleries – and it seems appropriate for the vintage and a rising star.

Deanston distillery has a rather unique history even for a Scottish distillery. Originally starting life on the banks of the River Teith as a cotton mill in 1785 it brought much needed employment to the area and education. Around the distillery are what were formerly the managers and workers houses, effectively creating a community that lasted into the 1900’s. It’s a historical industrial site with many firsts for the nation and remains a lovely spot alongside the fast flowing Teith. This natural resource was used to power the mill via a series of waterwheels, including one dubbed Hercules. If you take the tour you can see where this imposing wheel once stood and how it was the largest of its kind in Europe and the second biggest in the world. The rising cost of cotton and competition from abroad put an end to Deanston’s original aspirations in 1965 after years of decline.

Fortunately, a group of businessmen had the foresight to see the potential offered by the site which they acquired with a consortium known as Deanston Distillers Limited. This took place shortly after its closure and work began on converting the former paper mill into a distillery with the historical weaving sheds offering an appropriate climate for warehouse maturation. The work was completed in early 1967, when the distillery began production. It’s worth considering that someone had the vision in the early 1970’s to lay down casks for a future release such as this. Whether it was purely by chance or genius remains unknown, as is much the case with things in whisky history. What it does offer us is the opportunity experience an early example of a Deanston distillate from this period. Considering that for many years Deanston provided whisky for blending fodder such as Old Bannockburn and Teith Mill. It did not enjoy the most welcome of reputations, nowadays it has more status as a single malt whilst providing spirit for blends such as Scottish Leader.

It's a transformation that has now led us to the era where Deanston was recently acquired by the South African Distell group along with Bunnahabhain and Tobermory distilleries. It marks a new chapter in the history of Deanston so it seems apt we have a release that echoes back to its very foundations as a distillery. For the initial 30 years of its maturation the whisky resided in ex-bourbon casks before moving into a prolonged period of 10 years in oloroso sherry butts. This in essence is a double maturation rather than any brief finish. Bottled at a cask strength of 45.6% with no chill-filtration it continues the core Deanston beliefs. I suppose it’s time to see where this Deanston 40 lands in my list of favourites, or if it’s a disappointment?
Colour: a succulent and inviting rich toffee
Nose: a dense arrival with orange peel and caramel aromas. The sweetness and richness of honeycomb with golden syrup, flushed with wood shavings, vanilla nougat and a sticky apricot jam. Beneath it all, hiding in the back room is some subtle spicing with cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom.    
Taste: the first sip unfolds with a really buttery pastry and moves into a gentle orange finish with a hint of dryness. More of those apricots and a little twist of red watermelon. There's a lovely luxurious texture almost satin-like. Spicing with a gentle star anise, black pepper and more of that cinnamon bark and stewed fruits then a fig and vanilla tarte tatin. 
Overall: a very confident and accomplished example from Deanston. The use of excellent casks with the spirit has delivered a harmonious whisky where the wood does not dominate for such an advanced maturation, nor are the gentle subtleties of the spirit swamped by the introduction of the sherry cask.

In summary then, a rather excellent Deanston for a fair price. Does it topple the aforementioned Oloroso bottling? In my opinion no, but its right up there alongside the divine Toasted Oak which makes for fine company on any evening.

My thanks to Deanston for providing the sample.

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