Deanston 18-Year-Old Bourbon Cask Finish

Deanston 18-Year-Old Bourbon Cask Finish.  Price in Israel: NIS 550

[Note: This review was edited in July 2017 as I felt I had given an overly negative impression of the distillery which after was undeserved).
Well, after my review of an American Kentucky Straight Bourbon I thought it would be a good idea to review a Scotch Single Malt which has been matured in Ex-Kentucky-Bourbon casks so here is one such example from Deanston in the Southern Highlands.

Deanston distillery is found just north of Sterling and about 35 miles north of Glasgow. Deanston distillery has a marketing image of a small artisan village distillery yet anyone who has ever visited there will find something rather different.

The minimalist third world style boxes they pack their malt into scream at you “Small craft cottage distillery” and one can imagine the distillery situated in some tiny picturesque Scottish village or on top of a mountain with dramatic landscapes, Deanston is in fact a large factory complex with early English 1900s style red brick buildings in the town of Doune. The surrounding area is actually quite beautiful with nearby salmon river and the thirteenth century Doune Castle.


I found the ultra-plain presentation of this very expensive whisky rather disconcerting. The cardboard box and brown label look like they are made from basic recycled paper to give it that environmentally friendly “save the planet” look. I am all for being environmentally friendly but the beige brown colour of the packaging makes it look like they are trying too hard to shout how environmentally friendly they are. Recycled paper does actually come in different colours, not just “environmentally friendly” brown! It could be that I’m overanalysing this as a logical colour for a heavily charred American Ex-Bourbon style whisky should probably be brown but then again, looking at the hideous thin paper strip glued over the plain generic cork I don’t think I am.

You know those jams you find in the supermarket where the manufacturer has added some doily patterned paper to the top of the jar and sealed it with a ribbon to make it look kind of local cottage homemade style but it just looks tacky? Well that’s the feeling I get from the Deanston.

I much prefer a proper metal or plastic seal rap covering the cork but that wouldn’t be so environmentally friendly I suppose?  I found that that thin paper strip over the cork gave it a look reminiscent of a days-gone-by Wild West American Bourbon whisky. Hold on a minute. Was that their intention?

Exanples of paper strips on Bourbon bottles

The label states “UN-CHILL FILTERED – EXACTLY AS IT SHOULD BE” and “SIMPLE, HANDCRAFTED, NATURAL” as well as a banner on the right stating “NOTHING ADDED BUT HARD WORK AND DETERMINATION”, in bold capital letters but unfortunately nowhere does it say that it is natural colour so we have to assume that this whisky has had some E150a Caramel colouring added to it? [UPDATE: In fact all Deanston whisky is bottled at natural colour but for some reason, they do not state this on the bottle or box!]

Alcohol Level

It is bottled at 46.3% abv which we might consider an oddly specific alcohol percentage but this is obviously a company policy as both standard expressions of Deanston’s sister distillery, Tobermory on the Isle of Mull (Tobermory 10-Year-Old and Ledaig 10-Year-Old) are also bottled at 46.3% and also Non-Chilled Filtered! Chill filtering a whisky prevents the whisky turning cloudy in the glass when water or ice is added or in cold climates, which it was thought would put many drinkers (particularly Americans) off. What is not in doubt is that chill-filtering removes some 25% of the flavour! However, as was once explained to me by a distillery manager on Islay, if the whisky is bottled at an alcohol level above 46% abv then this also reduces this cloudiness effect when water is added. Hence 46% and another 0.3% just about does it?


Important Advice. Please do not add more than a tiny drop of water if any and this dram is easily drowned. I tried it neat and then added a drop and waited 5 minutes.

Putting my nose in the glass brought some Interesting aromas of sweet and sour fruit, honey and fudge, fresh ginger, dry cinnamon and milk toffee but with a dominant corn grain alcohol edge. Hmmmm, now where have I smelled these identical aroma notes before? (Big Hint: See my last review of Four Roses Kentucky Straight Single Barrel Bourbon). You can tell right off the bat that this Deanston has received all its character influence from American Ex-Bourbon barrels. What was peculiar though was that roasted malty barley aroma you get from other Ex-Bourbon matured Scotch Single Malts was missing. Instead, there is a distinct Bourbon sour corn mash distillation note which is far more dominant here but without the heavy maple syrup sweetness and intensity of an actual bourbon. This is instead a much more delicate and fragile nose than one would get from a big all American “punch in your face” Kentucky bourbon.


To its credit, tasting was very consistent with the aroma. Light flavours of dry wood spices with a touch of brine and toffee banana chews and ginger. Sour lemon drops and milky fudge toffee all on a base of powerful thick milky tin corn juice, a bowl of cornflakes and milk left to go soggy and smooth honey grain-alcohol very suggestive of a premium blended whisky rather than a single malt. There was also a hint of some weak (Chinese?) tea and demerara sugar.

An agreeable and pleasant medium to light mouth feel but entirely let down by the finish which is almost non-existent. The malt whisky event seems to be gone almost as soon as you’ve swallowed. I would suggest swirling this whisky around in your mouth for a few seconds because once it’s gone down the throat, that’s it.

The label says that it is finished in Ex-Bourbon casks and the back of the box mentions that it matured previously (for the first 17 + years presumably) in 500L hogsheads. I also assume that these hogsheads were also Ex-Bourbon casks but probably 2nd/3rd fill. The whisky was then re-casked and placed into very fresh wet active 1st fill 200L Kentucky Bourbon casks straight from the United States used to finish the whisky and give it some oomph. Well the dominant Straight Bourbon influence is certainly there but what is lacking is that accumulative maturity you should be getting from a whisky matured for 18 years.

The whisky experience was a bit of a non-event. This is pleasant, completely non-offensive but ultimately disappointing whisky. It is what I might expect from a well-crafted standard 12-year-old but this is an 18-Year-Old with a premium price tag to go with it! Simply put, with all this Ex-Bourbon finishing the whisky has lost that malted barley influence which for me, defines what a Scotch Single Malt tastes like.

In fact, looking back on my tasting notes for the No Age Statement Deanston Virgin Oak (which is actually matured in Ex-Bourbon casks and finished in charred virgin white oak) which I tried around six months ago, I see some similar tasting notes but with slightly less Bourbon influence and much more burnt black toffee notes and malted barely coming through with the Deanston Virgin Oak. I have not compared these two side-by-side but from memory only I would say that I enjoyed the Virgin Oak more and you can pick this bottle up for a fraction of the price of this 18 Year Old. (I've seen it in the shuk for as low as NIS 150).

Final Comments

I don’t think anyone who drinks this whisky, whether they be a bourbon drinker or Scotch whisky drinker will find the Deanston 18-Year-Old in anyway unpleasant. It’s just that for the price and amount of years in the cask, you deserve a lot more than this.

Cask Influence

Despite being, shall we say, less than impressed with this whisky, what it has shown me is that after tasting Kentucky Straight Bourbon you can definitely smell and taste the unmistakable influence of the previous contents of these casks in this Deanston as it shares common and very distinct aroma and tasting notes.

In conclusion, it is quite clear to me that anyone who knows what Straight Bourbon tastes like would be able to recognise its dominant flavour impact in this and other single malts having also been matured in fresh 1st fill casks without difficulty, even in a blind tasting session.


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