Before I get into the review of this lovely whisky, I just want to highlight a small, yet significant change to the name of this review series. Changing the word “Budget” to the word “Value” implies that you are getting the maximum bang for your buck. “Budget” can be misconstrued for “Cheap”, which I was not going for in the first place. Although the majority of the reviews in this series will involve whiskies under $100, there are some above that amount whose quality punches far above its price, delivering exceptional value in the process. In keeping with the original premise, these whiskies should be readily available in Canada and definitely available in Alberta. Now, on to the review!
When we are talking about Deanston, it’s useful to talk about their owners, South Africa’s Distel Group, and their other brands. Whether it be Tobermory (and Ledaig), Deanston, Bunnahabhain or the blended scotch, Black Bottle, all of their 10 and 12 year old (and Black Bottle’s standard offering) expressions offer exceptional value for money. Although I don’t have the details in front of me (editor’s note: “He’s lazy”), the quality of their whiskies come down, in part, to their cask management program. Whether it be ex-sherry, ex-bourbon and everything in between, their base offerings showcase a perfect balance between spirit and cask that you simply don’t get from old, tired wood. With a potential takeover by Heineken in the works, it will be interesting if the potential new owner stays the course or tries to appeal to a mass market and moves in a similar (and in my opinion, controversial) direction to what Brown Forman is doing to Glendronach. Only time will tell. Fingers crossed.
When it comes to Deanston specifically, it has only been in operation, with some shut-downs, since 1965. Formerly a cotton mill, their electrical turbines on the River Teith power not only the distillery and all of their operations, but also generates a surplus that can be sold back to the national grid. Score one for clean energy.
Deanston has become a very popular brand in Canada thanks to Mike Brisebois, Distel’s former national brand ambassador. I’ll say this every time I review a Distel product: These brands wouldn’t be as popular in this country if it wasn’t for him.
The Deaston 12 year old, our whisky under review today, is matured in ex-bourbon barrels and bottled at 46.3% abv. The bottle says no chill filtration. A quick visit to their website confirms that it has no added color, but I just wish they would proudly say that on the packaging.
Nose: This is a classic ex-Bourbon matured scotch, if ever there was one. This is tropical fruit all the way with pineapple mostly, but also ripe mango and the oils expressed from an orange. When I first opened this bottle many months back, there was quite a bit of honey on the nose. The tropical character has since taken over, but the honey note becomes just a bit more prominent the longer this sits in the glass. What I love most about this whisky is the significant malted cereal and barley sugar notes that I get as soon as I pour this into my glass. Over time, I also get a slight floral note. It’s not overly perfumed, but just enough to slightly offset (and compliment) the sweetness. The vanilla and toffee notes get stronger over time. In terms of spices, I’m getting quite a bit of ginger, but not really any spices that are earthy, like nutmeg or clove.
Palate: Right from the get go, the honey character is far more prevalent on the entry, eclipsing the topical notes by a wide margin. The honey note is deep, rich and creamy. Subsequent sips give me some vanilla and medium toffee. Thankfully, some acid and a bit of bitterness come through in the development to offset this sweetness. First, it’s the maltiness with a little bit of barley sugar, then the acid from the tropical fruit shines through. Finally the oak, ginger and a bit of clove give the experience a spicy kick. This progression of flavors is remarkable for a 12 year old whisky. As I smack my lips, I get some medium dark chocolate, a hint of nuitiness and a lot more citrus. As I continually sip this (and trust me, it’s hard to stop), I’m picking up a slight saltiness which is weird as this is not anywhere near the sea.
Finish: This is a medium finish in perfect balance. Not too dry and not too creamy. The sweetness from the entry holds. There’s enough citrus to make the mouth water. A little bit of ginger spice and some oak bitterness. That saltiness actually builds during the first half of the finish before fading away. Again, that was quite an unexpected note.
With water added…
Interesting. I’m still getting those tropical fruits on the nose, but a super ripe peach has joined the party as well. The vanilla and honey notes are much stronger with water. There’s a little bit of citrus herbal tea. The ginger note has increased as well. I feel like I could make an interesting, hot winter drink with all this! That herbal tea note definitely carries over onto the palate and the ginger note has increased. The palate is much less sweet now. That malty cereal note is bobbing along the surface. The finish has lengthened and, like the palate, is much less sweet. There’s a little bit of menthol and it’s a tiny bit herbal too. Italian Parsley perhaps.
This is definitely a tale of two whiskies. It’s rare to see that much of a change with just a few drops of water. Part of me wishes that I could have just a little bit less sweetness without water and a little more with. I do appreciate the contrast though.
To me this is a value dram because of how much dense flavour is packed into such a young whisky. The ex-bourbon cask allows for the subtle flavours of the distillate to shine through in a way that would be potentially masked by an aggressive sherry influence. For the price, this is a steal of a whisky.