Last summer I went to the UK for my best friend’s wedding—a week-long Indian affair that redefined the whole concept of a party. At the time I was between jobs and had spent a stupid amount of money on a plane ticket, so I decided to make the most of it and take another week to trek around Scotland, mostly solo. This meant renting a car and making a good effort not to kill myself or others with my opposite-side driving. Thankfully, Enterprise has automatic transmission cars for hapless Americans (though their claims to offer American-style customer service are pretty suspect). And even more thankfully, the first leg of my journey—and easily the most difficult, as I had to get used to the driving—brought a traveling companion, the lovely Crystal Coverdale. She’s Canadian and thus forgave me for making some hairy turns in the first part of our journey.
We met at the Edinburgh Enterprise and set off on the M9 for Doune and Deanston Distillery, passing the magnificent Kelpies along the way. Being an American, I’m used to road trips taking many hours, so it surprised me when we arrived in what felt like no time at all. The wee town of Doune has two main attractions: the distillery and Doune Castle, also known as the Monty Python castle. Naturally, Crystal and I had to stop in for a visit and we enjoyed ourselves immensely, Quite Extraordinarily Rude Frenchman notwithstanding.
Visiting the distillery offered its own interesting rewards. Deanston is a massive facility. Once a cotton mill, it was converted to distilling in the 1960s and still retains many of the features that enabled it to produce cloth. Sitting directly next to the River Teith, there’s an on-site hydro-electric plant that not only produces enough power for the distillery, but actually feeds power back into the grid. The Teith also provides the distillery’s water source for mashing and for cooling the spirit as it comes off the still.
From 1982 to 1990, Deanston was silent as a result of the “whisky lake” of oversupply and low demand. But since it’s come back, the distillery has produced some really excellent spirit, aging primarily in ex-Bourbon casks with some finishes in Sherry, Port, Cognac and other interesting barrels. The finishing is always to good effect and I recommend trying as many finishes as you can, as they tend to improve on what is already a solidly flavorful whisky.
I spoke with Deanston’s Master Blender, Ian MacMillan, who is responsible for the latest release, an 18-year-old that was matured 11 years in ex-Bourbon and a further seven in Hine Cognac casks. He confirmed that a 100-percent certified organic Deanston will be coming sometime soon. He also noted that Deanston has done no chill-filtering in several years (Whisky Advocate notes that Burn Stewart ceased the practice across its single malt range in 2010).
Those who have seen the film The Angels’ Share will recognize Deanston’s tasting room and gift shop, and perhaps some of its warehouses. The cast of the movie also signed a cask, though I’m not sure if it’s been set aside for them or if in a few years we’ll see it up for sale in a DVD box set special.
Some fun facts about Deanston:
– Deanston is the primary malt in the Scottish Leader blend, the number-one selling Scotch whisky in Taiwan.
– Once upon a time, Deanston made gin, as well as a cream liqueur.
-There’s a resident friendly pigeon that hangs around hoping to be fed (and usually succeeding, apparently).
– The “dean” in Deanston shares its root with “Doune,” both coming from the Gaelic “dun,” which means a hill-fort.