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Deanston distillery began life as a Cotton Mill in 1785, using the power of the fast-flowing River Teith to drive the largest water wheel in Europe. When the mill closed in 1964 however, it was bought by a man named Brodie Hepburn, who converted it into a distillery. Today, Deanston continues to draw its power from the river, with a turbine processing some 20 million litres of water every hour. The turbine creates far more power than could ever be needed onsite. A whopping 75% of the electricity produced is sent to the National Grid.
The distillery suffered a lengthy period of closure during the slump of the 1980s but reopened when the current owners, Burn Stewart, came on board in 1990. The whisky produced onsite is bottled at 46.3% abv as standard and the use of caramel colouring or chill-filtration is strictly avoided, much to the owner’s credit.
Touring the Distillery
Deanston is in Doune, around a fifteen-minute drive from the city of Stirling, which makes it fairly accessible for those who wish to drop in. Having long planned a visit but not got round to it for one reason or another, I was excited to finally approach the distillery on a typically wet Saturday afternoon in February. As the taxi pulled up, the Teith hurtled by at an astonishing pace, giving an effective demonstration of its ability to provide power for the distillery and the mill that came before it.
The distillery itself is unique. Its industrial revolution architecture contrasts pleasingly with the rampaging river and lush forestry on the opposite bank. Inside is a warm welcome awaits with a well-stocked gift shop and cosy cafe, offering the perfect stomach liner before a tour and a few drams.
Distillery tours culminate in a visit to the cavernous warehouse onsite. This vast room with its vaulted ceiling would have once housed a few hundred weavers working in a cacophony of noise, but today they are replaced by rows and rows of casks, slumbering in eerie silence.
I opted to follow my tour with a whisky and chocolate tasting. The Deanston 12, Virgin Oak, 18-Year-Old and 20-Year-Old Port Finish were matched with delicious chocolates by Highland Chocolatier Iain Burnett. Each dram was of high quality (as was the incredible chocolate), though the standout in my eyes was the wonderful 18-year-old. For those on a budget, however, there is simply no looking past their 12-year-old.
Smell: Notes of honey and orange. Heather, vanilla, toast and a little fudge. Pleasingly malty.
Taste: Caramel, orange and a little salt along with a warming hit of cinnamon and clove. Also, shortbread and a touch of lemon. There’s a subtle but pleasant oiliness that gives a somewhat silky texture on the palate.
Thoughts: A real quality dram at a relatively low price.
If only more 12-year-old’s were bottled at this strength. What a difference it can make, especially to a fairly subtle flavour profile like Deanston. Chill-filtered and watered down to 40% this dram would lose so much, but thankfully we have a natural presentation that shows the whisky off in its best light. I was going to describe this malt as a solid, dependable dram. But actually, that would be doing it a disservice. It is an excellent 12-year-old from a seriously underrated distillery.
Regarding presentation: I don’t concern myself too much with label design, but the decision to feature the signature of not only the Distillery Manager but also that of the Engineer, Stillman, Mashman and Warehouseman gives an appreciation of the teamwork that went into making this fine single malt whisky. The Deanston 12-year-old is a great example of a central highland malt and the distillery itself is well worth a visit should you find yourself in the area.
*If the whisky reviewed in this article has caught your eye, you can buy it from Master of Malt here. Please be aware that as an affiliate I can be paid a small commission on any purchases you make after following links from my page. The whisky is also available from several other excellent retailers.