The Deanston distillery, located in Perthshire in the Midlands (also
known as the Southern Highlands) was one of the most recently
constructed distilleries in Scotland at the end of the 20th century.
In fact, I could argue that Deanston wasn't really 'constructed' at all.
In 1965 and 1966 Deanston was converted from a cotton mill (built
in 1785) by the Deanston Distillery Co Ltd. - which was a subsidiary
of James Finlay & Co Ltd.
The first spirit was distilled in 1966 and in 1971 their first
whisky became available under the name 'Old Bannockburn'.
Deanston was sold to Invergordon Distillers in
1972 who released the first single malt under the
'Deanston' name a few years later.
The distillery itself fell silent in 1982 and
remained closed until 1990, when it was
purchased by Burn Stewart & Co plc.
Burn Stewart later went on to buy the distilleries
Tobermory (in 1993) and Bunnahabhain (in 2003) .
Let's see, what else is there to tell about Deanston? Not that much, apparently...
The single malt whisky itself used to be relatively hard to find (well, at least here in Holland).
Based on my research in the 1990's I'd have said that it hardly seemed worth hunting down.
True to the ongoing 'concentration' trend in the whisky world,
Burn Stewart was aquired by Angostura International Ltd.,
producers of bitters and rum - and themselves a subsidiary
of the investment company C L Financial Ltd. from Trinidad
& Tobago). The new owners bought an 18% share in Burn
Stewart in 1999 and acquired the remaining shares in 2002.
However, maybe my preferences have changed - or maybe I've found a new appreciation
for the unique 'farmy' traits of Deanston. Batches of some official bottlings released in the
third millennium were most certainly interesting... Nevertheless, I imagine most of the malt
whisky distilled at Deanston is still used in Burn Stewart's own blends anyway. Compared
to many other single malts, Deanston isn’t very expressive - which makes it more suitable
for use as a ‘base’ in blended whisky.
Around 2010, only 15% of the malt whisky that is distilled at Deaston is bottled as such;
the rest goes into generic blended whiskies like Scottish Leader and Black Bottle.
Other products containing Deanston malt whisky are Wallace Single Malt Liqueur
and Drumgray Highland Cream Liqueur. Around the year 2010 the official (international) range of
Deanston consists of 12yo and 17yo expressions but in France a 6yo version is available as well.
It seems independent bottlings of Deanston are relatively rare too.
A few years ago the MMMonitor of single malts showed no more than two dozen Deanston IB’s...
Cadenhead's and Signatory Vintage are the independent bottlers that have released the most
independent bottlings of Deanston malt whisky. Other bottlers like Douglas Laing and The Whisky
Shop have also released the occasional bottling, but they are the proverbial exceptions to the rule.
With so few official and independent bottlings visible on the shelves of liquorists around the world,
Deanston clearly isn’t one of the big brands in the malt whisky world. So, one would imagine that
the production capacity is quite limited. However, nothing could be farther from the truth.
With a production capacity of 3,000,000 litres of pure alcohol per year, Deanston is actually
Burn Stewart's 'powerhouse' distillery. The production capacity greatly exceeds Bunnahabhain's
2,500,000 and Tobermory's 1,000,000 litres of whisky. Capacity-wise, Deanston distillery ranked
#27 on the list of all Scotch malt whisky distilleries in 2005. The recent construction of a number
of new distilleries with a large capacity will have had an impact, but its size is still impressive.
The number of distilleries in the Midlands is fairly
limited. That’s too bad, because they are the most
accessible for international visitors that travel to
Scotland via Glasgow or Edinburgh.
Deanston might be an interesting option, although
it is not the most ‘traditional’ distillery in the region.
A more typical example in the area is Glengoyne
while Glenturret and Tullibardine might be other
interesting destinations for a distillery visit.
As a former cotton mill that used water to power its
machinery, the Deanston distillery is located on the
bank of the river Teith (Gaelic: ‘Uisge Theamhich’).
The Teith river is also the source of the process water that is used to produce the Deanson malt whisky.
1) The Deanston distillery was converted from a
weavery which was constructed in 1785.
2) Did you know that it takes almost a litre of oil to
produce a litre of (regular) whisky? After the conversion
Deanston became the only whisky distillery in Scotland
that's completely self-sustaining as far as electricity is
concerned. Water from the river Teith drives a turbine
that powers Deanston. The distillery even sells the
surplus energy to the national electricity grid. As you
can see in my tasting notes not all bottlings of Deanston
impressed me very much, but as an armchair eco-warrior
I'm very eager to give Deanston another chance; I
sincerely hope they put all that eco-power to good use!
3) A 30yo official bottling of Deanston that was released
in 2006 contains only malt whiskies that were distilled
before the (temporary) closure of Deanston in 1982.
4) The Deanston single malt is an important
component of the 'Scottish Leader' blended whisky.
5) Capacity-wise, the Burn Stewart group ranked #10 among the whisky producers in Scotland in 2010.
2002 - CL Financial buys the remaining shares
in Burn Stewart, after already acquiring part of
the company in 1999. So, that makes them the
owners of the Deanston distillery as well.
2009 - A new packaging is released for the
official bottling of Deanston 12 years old whisky.
2011 - In a press release of early March 2011,
the Scotch Whisky Association makes a big deal
about their green credentials because they
"encourage" distillers and whisky drinkers to
turn off the power for an hour on March 26.
The impact on global warming seems minimal.
2013 - Burn Stewart (owner of the Bunnahabhain, Deanston and Tobermory distilleries) was sold by CL Financial
to drinks conglomerate Distell from South Africa.
2006 - A thirty years old official bottling of the
Deanston single malt Scotch whisky is released.
Unfortunately, I'm too bad at mathematics to figure out exactly how much hot air the average pot still produces in a single day (not to mention the amount of hot air that is produced by the PR people of the SWA), but looking at the large number of distilleries that have gone from five or six production days per week to seven in recent years, I think that it's safe to classify this appeal as largely symbolic. In sharp contrast to the SWA, Deanston puts its money where its mouth is. The Deanston whisky distillery is completely self sustaining w.r.t. electricity, so it actually IS green.
2012 - Part of the Ken Loach drama "The Angels' Share" is filmed at Deanston distillery.
Whisky writer Charles MacLean plays a part in the movie as well; the name of his character is 'Rory McAllister'
but I'd say that Charlie is basically playing himself; sampling and talking about malt whisky.
2015 - An 18 years old expression of Deanston is added to the range of official bottlings.
Here are my notes on some 'core range' OB's and a selection of my personal favourite independent bottlings.
Interestingly enough, all of these independent whisky bottlings were from 1977 and bottled by Cadenhead's.
Deanston 12yo (46.3%, OB, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Oily, nutty start. Then the strange fruity notes emerge that usually indicate some kind of finishing.
Sweet & sour. Some smokier and farmy elements appear after a few minutes. Becomes too sour in the end.
Taste: Round and sweet start. It feels hotter than the relatively modest proof would suggest. Menthol.
Score: 74 points - Nose and palate were not really consistent over time. Loses points after a decent start.
Deanston 12yo (46.3%, OB, Bottled +/- 2009)
Nose: Softly sweet start. Hint of mint. Menthos? Fairly restrained. After a few minutes more sour fragrances in
the 'farmy' spectrum. When I revisited the malt after a few months the sour notes were dominant from the start.
Taste: Caramel, a very soft and smooth start - almost like an Irish whiskey. Malty with a hint of burnt coffee.
Powers up over time, but the finish is quite harsh and peppery. Some notes in the herbal side of the spectrum.
Score: 77 points - no extraordinary single malt, but much, much better than Deanston was a decade ago.
Deanston 12yo (40%, OB, Burn Sytewart, Bottled +/- 2006)
Nose: Smooth and sweet. Apples? Grows farmier and metallic over time.
Not bad whisky at all. It's still a little 'weird' and farmy, but that definitely sets it apart.
Taste: Phew! Very bitter - astringent like aspirin. Harsh. I have to say this pulls down the score.
Score: 76 points - which makes it one of the highest scoring Deanston OB's I've tried so far.
Deanston 25yo 1977/2003 (50.3%, Cadenhead's, Bourbon Hogshead, 198 Bottles)
Nose: Light and surprisingly sweet. Grassy. Salmiak. Melon. A well defined nose.
Taste: A tad tired. Malty with a hint of eucalyptus or menthol. No sweetness.
Score: 81 points - once again this IB is much better than the OB's. Could Deanston be another example of a
distillery that doesn't live up to its potential due to careless cask management or lack of interest in small series?
Deanston 12yo (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 1999, 70cl)
Nose: A little sweet and oily, with a hint of chloride. Quite pleasant at first, but the bouquet vanishes quickly.
Taste: A bit disappointing. Nutty (hazelnuts/almonds) after a while.
Clean, with a malty finish, becoming very bitter with water.
Score: 57 points - which means that this Deanston equals a sub-standard malt whisky in my book.
Deanston 12yo (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 1990)
Nose: Grainier and lighter than the NAS. Hint of oil? Sweetens out. Sunflower seeds. A little sweaty.
Taste: Phew! Gritty and bitter. Herbal – in a Swiss herbal bonbons way. Resinous. Pine. Tea Tannins.
Score: 65 points – yes, this is much more along the lines of the unimpressive 1990′s Deanstons I know.
Deanston 17yo (40%, OB, 70cl, Short, fat bottle, 7156 97/0331 L16 15:53, Bottled 1990's?)
Nose: Strong & sweet at first, malty & spirity later on. Veggy whiffs. Intruiging suggestion of fruit.
Taste: Not very sweet. A bit of mint and menthol. Fairly MOTR with little distinguishing elements.
More pine and resin after I added some water. Falls apart. Unpleasant bitter twang in the finish.
Score: 68 points - much better than my 57 points for the 12yo from the late 1990's but nothing to boast about.
Deanston NAS (40%, OB, "100% Highland", Bottled Late 1970′s)
Nose: Sweet. Faintest hint of dust. Some antiquity? Lovage. Lots of 'gravitas' in the nose. A few weak moments.
Taste: Old oranges. Orange skin. Gritty. Pretty pleasant – certainly for a Deanston which I wasn't a fan of.
Score: 83 points – which made it my favourite Deanston by far for a few years.
Deanston 18yo 1977/1996 (54.7%, Cadenhead's, Distilled November 1977, Bottled January 1996)
Nose: Strong late summer fruits. None of the usual 'farmy' notes that I get in Deanston. At least...
There is some dust and rotting milk powder far in the background. More cask than country...
Taste: Very hot - I needed to add some water right away. With a few drops it really opens up.
Still powerful at slightly below 50%, but much better. Excellent mouth feel with smoke in the finish.
Score: 87 points - which made it my new favourite Deanston expression, decisively beating the Deanston NAS
(40%, OB, "100% Highland", Late 1970's) at 83 points, Deanston 25yo (40%, OB, Burn Stewart, Decanter with
silver cork, Bottled +/-2000) at 82 points and Deanston 25yo 1977/2003 (50.3%, Cadenhead's, Bourbon HH, 198
Bts.) at 81 points. All other expressions of Deanston I've tried so far scored below 80 points.
My own tasting notes for some expressions of Deanston malt whisky are collected on this distillery profile.
Those were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Deanston I've tried over the years, but the notes should
convey how I felt about those whiskies. However, these tasting notes only reflect my purely personal opinion.
Your tastes might be different from mine - so it would be prudent to check out some other opinions as well.
Serge Valentin’s Whiskyfun website offers tasting notes on thousands of whisky bottlings, including Deanston.
The Malt Maniacs Monitor provides opinions of several other aficionados on over 15,000 different whiskies.
But perhaps you'd like to read a little bit more about whisky in general or single malt Scotch whisky in particular?
In that case, you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky - 10 chapters filled with (almost)
everything you need to know in order to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky. Or, if you’d like
to dig a little deeper, the Whisky Lexicon offers more detailed information on a bunch of whisky-related topics.