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
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.
Labels: 40 year old, deanston, featured