During the Spring one such cask was #1982, set down in Deanston whisky distillery back in 1997 and now occupying 251 bottles. My travels this summer took me on a winding path across the Highlands, allowing me to stop by the distillery with one to say hello.
Situated just barely within the Highlands by the town of Doune, Deanston appears at first glance strangely anachronistic for a young distillery. It was only in the 1960’s that it was constructed, or rather converted from an old cotton mill, giving the grounds a reassuringly Victorian industrial atmosphere.
In fact, everything about Deanston distillery is a wholesome blend of industrial heritage and modern innovation. During its time as a working mill the grounds boasted a huge waterwheel, powered by the adjacent River Teith. As well as providing for the production of today’s spirit, this swift-flowing water also generates energy via the distillery’s modern hydro-electrical system. This means that Deanston is not only self-sufficient but can even generate electricity for the National Grid.
Yet much of the equipment involved in the production of spirit remains steadfast in whisky tradition. A familiar red Porteous mill provides daily batches of grist, which are in turn processed by an impressive cast iron, open-topped mash tun – the largest of its kind in Scotland and a rare sight these days. Watching the apparatus in action is a glimpse into past eras of distillation. The mash tun hasn’t been replaced because it contributes to the character of the spirit, producing a clear wort of slightly lower gravity.
As you might expect, the four stills occupying Deanston’s stillhouse also offer a special contribution; as the vapours make their way to modern shell & tube condensers they must ascend long lyne arms at a gentle incline, making the final spirit that little bit lighter and allowing the waxy, gentle fruity characteristics of the new make to come through in the whisky. Deanston’s malt is just barely peated, making for an overall mild and easy-going dram.
Since Burn Stewart Distillers bought Deanston distillery in 1990 the majority of production has still been going into blends, but today a wider variety of single malt maturations are on offer than ever before, with over 30,000 casks being matured on the distillery grounds. Another holdover from its previous days as a cotton mill, many of these casks are kept in the old weaving shed. An architectural curiosity, its innovative construction featured a specially sculpted roof to insulate the cotton from the elements, while the vaulted ceiling ensured against dripping water. All of this makes for an ideal maturation warehouse.
On paper cask #1982 may not have appeared to be anything special, one more ex-bourbon cask among countless others. Upon trying a dram, however, you will hopefully agree it was worth saving. A significant degree of charring has yield a full-bodied dram packed with character.
On the nose it is surprisingly rich, with waxy and savoury elements coming through to the fore. There is also a significant oak influence thanks to that heavy char, with subtle peppery spice and citrus flavours. A consistent whisky, these carry right through to the finish, with waxy and fruity notes of oranges and limes along with a sweet edge. We highly recommend not just trying the results of cask #1982, but a visit to Deanston distillery and the great staff who will be happy to show you its curiosities in person!