A day out at Deanston
TL;DR: In early December 2022, we spent a day at Deanston distillery for their Winterfest. Many drams were sipped throughout lots of fun whisky activities. Definitely a day to remember, and hopefully to repeat next year!
The first weekend of December, right after Gianluigi’s birthday and to celebrate the passing of huge deadlines for both, we were looking for some whisky activity. At first, we thought about going to the West Highlands, Ardnamurchan or Mull, but then we decided to postpone this trip: we would have had to rent a car, book accommodations…We wanted something simpler. However, having visited most of the distilleries in the area, it wasn’t easy to pick something new. But well, who said that it had to be new? The solution was there all along: Deanston, Warehouse 4 tasting. We figured the casks would have definitely been different from the ones we had sampled from in May 2021. When we checked out their website though, there was no availability for the day. Unlikely, a bit strange, but oh well. It’s after some snooping on their website that we found out that something different was going on: the Winterfest! Tickets were £50 pp, for a tour and some tastings, plus a snack and a meal. Couldn’t believe it, so off we went!
So, there we were, on a cold Saturday morning, jumping on train at Waverley (train we almost missed, thanks for the n-th time to Lothian Buses), direction Stirling, similar to our January 2020 trip. And if here you are asking: “wait, January 2020, May 2021…is it the third time you visit Deanston?”, the answer is yes, and probably won’t be the last. Anyway, we had some time to kill before the bus to Doune, so we had a quick pie and a coffee. The bus was on time and in about 20 minutes it brought us to Deanston (on the bus we bumped into Rachel from The Grail Tastings, which we’d seen only on screen before!).
When we arrived, the shop and café were already full of people ready to start the day at the distillery, some were from the Friends of Deanston Facebook group, others from the East Linton Whisky Society. We checked in (to find out that our badge names were Teresa…and Teresa 2, ahah) and joined one of the three groups. Ours headed off to the production plant, where we did an in-depth visit, including the water turbine.
This time we paid more attention to the open mashtun and to one interesting characteristic: there is only one receiver where low wines, foreshots, and feints mix together. For the non-geeks: the low wines are the result of the first distillation (usually around 20%abv) in the wash still. The second distillation, in the spirit still, is what produces the new make spirit, which will be put into cask and matured. However, not all the product is kept, only the middle part (or “heart”). At Deanston, it is taken between the abv of 75% and 67% (the “cuts” or “cut points”). The foreshot (or “head”) is the first part of the distillation which contains a lot of methanol so no good for drinking, while the feints (or “tail”) are the end of the second distillation, too low in abv and containing some undesirable compounds. These two don’t go to waste, they are distilled again. At Deanston, they mix it with the next batch of low wines, and the receiver tank never goes empty: according to their master distiller, this is the reason why the spirit is so waxy. Very fascinating.
When the tour finished, the guide took us back to the café, where breakfast was served: coffee (or tea) and a yummy morning roll. After this half-hour break, we started the second activity of the day, a warehouse tasting…nope, not the usual Warehouse 4, but Warehouse 2. Here, they gave us a tote bag with plenty of gifts (funnels, glasses, etc.) and we started the tasting. Unlike the Warehouse 4, the Warehouse 2 tasting consisted of three bourbon-matured drams of Deanston directly from the cask: one young-ish (5y old, can’t remember the abv), one a bit older (12y, 57.2%), and finally a 21y (54.3%). The aim was to understand how the cask affects the whisky, which was a great purpose, very educational (similar to what we did at Lagavulin). The 12y old sample probably came from a very active cask, as it was much darker than expected, darker than the 21y as a matter of fact, but all three were delicious.
After a short break, we went to Warehouse 4, for yet another tasting: this time the drams were four, and they were all matured or finished in sherry or other casks. We started with a 10y finished in an ex-Lepanto brandy cask (59%), followed by a vintage 2004 in an ex-amontillado butt (58.7%) and an organic distilled in 2001 and matured in an ex-fino hogshead (55.3%). We finished with a sublime 29y (vintage 1993) which spent 11y in an ex-bourbon cask and 18y in an ex-port wine cask (47.5%).
They were all delicious, and very happy to have tried them (unfortunately, once back to the visitor centre, we noted a steep increase in single cask bottling prices since our 2021 visit…probably a bit more than what would be caused by inflation alone). The variety of the drams we tried was huge, and we could see how Deanston’s spirit can deliver in ex-bourbon casks, and how it holds up in stronger casks, like port or sherry: a chameleon of a spirit, and we’re very happy to confirm so after these tastings.
Then, the three groups got together, and we headed to a big tent outside (someone joked: “like the Dothraki in Game of Thrones”) where we enjoyed a full meal, including a delicious soup, coffee, etc. Once finished, we were asked to wait a few minutes to clean the tables and prepare the final tasting (yes, another one!). This time, the tasting was hosted by the Master Distiller Brendan McCarron, who’s always very funny and insightful to listen to. We tried four cask-strength drams (this time 10ml only, fortunately for our livers). We started with the (at the time) newly released Deanston Virgin Oak cask strength (57.5%), a celebration for the 10th anniversary of the visitor centre. It was followed by an Organic 2000 vintage (50.9%), a 2009 Bunnahabhain Coterie (Winter 2022), finished in Amarone casks (59.7%), and by a peated dram, a Ledaig Ink Doublewood (Winter 2022, 53.8%).
We left the distillery soon after the tasting (thanks Ronnie for the lift back to Edinburgh!), not that tired, but definitely happy. What a day, probably one of our best whisky-days so far. Deanston is one of those distilleries that we didn’t fully appreciate at the beginning, it was not immediate “love” like Tobermory/Ledaig or Glen Scotia. However, over time it grew on us, so much to become one of our favourites.
Until next time, slainte!
Price: £50 (December 2022, inclusive of tour, three tastings, breakfast, and lunch)
Duration: All day
Tasting: SO MANY DRAMS (see above)
Value for money: Very, very good
Highlights: Great atmosphere, great whisky, very friendly staff