Category Archives: Deanston

Deanston 1994 (Duncan Taylor “The Octave”) Review

Deanston 1994 (Duncan Taylor “The Octave”)011

54.7% abv

Score:  88/100


There really isn’t a lot of Deanston available out there. Now, that isn’t necessarily a reflection of the spirit’s quality, I should note. Sometimes the malt has simply been predestined for other purposes, such as production for use as blend fodder. I’m not 100% certain that this is the case with Deanston, but you’d have to think that would be a reasonable assumption given what a meager core line-up we get from this Highland distillery.

The Burn Stewart family boasts two blends in its portfolio. One is the famous (or more recently, infamous) Black Bottle, a whisky once composed entirely of malts produced on the isle of Islay. In recent years, however, I believe there has been some integration of mainland malts into the smoky blend (please do correct me if you know otherwise). This leads me to believe that it is quite possible some of Deanston’s approximately 3 million litre annual output finds its way into this iconic blend nowadays. A more likely destination for the bulk of Deanston’s distillate, however, would be Burn Stewart’s other major blend – Scottish Leader. But that is neither here nor there in relation to our purposes here. Just a bit of context. Instead, let’s have a chat about a Deanston single malt from independent bottler Duncan Taylor.

These Duncan Taylor ‘Octave’ series releases are built on the concept of already mature malts that get pulled from their barrels in order to spend their last few months napping in ex-sherry octaves. An octave being 1/8th of a sherry butt. This abbreviated finishing period in such a small cask means lots of wood contact and, presumably, plenty of quick barrel-leeching. What a brand is ultimately seeking when it engages in this finishing process is to ‘sex up’ the malt a bit just before bottling.

The Deanstons I’ve tried to date have been very innocuous spirit, so it stands to reason that these whiskies would take influence well from a flash fry in a wee sherry cask. Such is the case here. The clean, mellow, vanilla-ed oakiness of the naked Deanston meets the fruity sherried influence like rich vanilla ice cream with strawberries on top. Sweet and creamy. One of the better examples of finishing I’ve ever come across, to be honest. Not perfect, but the best I’ve yet encountered from this distillery.

Nose:  Slightly jammy. A touch of mincemeat. Heavy sherry and black pepper. Spicy, leathery and vegetal. Soft jam-filled thumbprint cookies. Little bit of orange. Green ju-jube candy, but light and fresh, not cloying. Very clean oak. Slightly yeasty.

Palate:  Arrives juicy and with quite an oily mouthcoating flair. A real fireworks show of spiced fruits. Dried mango and dates. Big woody notes, but they’re rich in vanillins and complementary to the fruits. Dries to pith and rind.

Thoughts:  Great nose here, and a palate that is highly complimentary. So much more than I expected from this distillery. Nice sherry cask this ended up in.

* Sample provided by Kensington Wine Market’s Andrew Ferguson.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

Deanston Virgin Oak Review

Deanston Virgin Oak016

46.3% abv

Score:  78/100


It was bound to happen.  If for no other reason than that I have no moral qualms with receiving samples for review.  So long as the reviewer is utterly transparent about it and the resultant review is not so obviously biased as to call into question anyone’s integrity or motivations…so be it.

A few weeks back I was contacted by a representative for the good folks at Burn Stewart.  The email was polite, articulate and not even remotely as ‘staged’ as most of the whisky-related email I usually get flooded with, asking me if I’d care to call them on the heels of their latest award in order to speak with ‘so-and-so’, or please post ‘this’ or if I want to hear more about ‘that’.  In other words…this email was refreshingly straight forward and literate, and I have to add that this tack was hugely appreciated.  In return I agreed to sample and share a few words on the Deanston Virgin Oak, though I cautioned that “I’m always happy to try new whiskies, with all of the usual caveats that I have to write them up as I feel they deserve (good, bad or indifferent) and that I have to cite that it was an industry-provided sample.” (exact words)  The reply I got was as cordial as the first contact.  A week or so later I had a sample in hand.  For the sake of disclosure, let me add that this was a 700ml sample (read: full bottle). 

Anyway…let’s get into it…

I approached this malt with mixed feelings.  On the one hand…I was excited to try something new from the stables of Burn Stewart, and Deanston was certainly that (think I’ve only tried one other).  On the other hand…I’m generally not a fan of virgin oak-matured whisky.  I tend to find it often unbalanced, leaning too heavily on spice and vanilla, at the expense of complexity and all the benefits that time generally instills.  Virgin oak casks are very lively.  It’s very easy to over-oak even at a young age.

I’m happy to say we haven’t overcooked this one.  In fact we may have gone too far in the other direction.  I think this one could have happily simmered away a little longer…albeit perhaps shifted into a slightly less active barrel.  This is a very clean and estery spirit that has a world of potential.  It’s just not fully realized in what I assume here is a rather youthful drink (the inherent dangers of NAS bottlings are that I’m always gonna assume the worst and trust to my senses to guide me).  Off the cork it’s a little rough, but given a few minutes in the glass it opens up nicely and some of the more volatile elements dissipate, leaving more fruit and soft baking notes.  Again…so much potential. 

Over the past couple of weeks it has been softening a bit in the bottle as it oxidizes, but I can tell it won’t be enough to take it up any more than a point or two.  I’ll keep ya posted.

Oh yeah…one final note:  Un-chill filtered and bottled over 46%…nice.  Very nice.  We like what Burn Stewart are doing.

Nose:  Too young.  Slightly feinty.  Crème brulee.  White bread.  Cinnamon.  Ginger.  Pepper and dust.  A little bit of orange and lemon.  Oaky, yes…but clean cereals too.  Both creamy and tangy.  So many pleasant notes, but they haven’t had quite enough time to fully realize.  Throw this whisky in a refill hoggy for a few more years and I imagine we’d get something special.

Palate:  A lot of cereal and woody notes.  Very young-ish and spirit-y.  Peppery and still kinda bite-y.  Some grassy notes coming through.  More vanilla.  Soft pudding (tapioca? vanilla?).  Pleasant enough really.  Not there yet, but you can definitely see quality inherent in this one.

Thoughts:  Like an under-ripe banana, this one wasn’t quite ready to be picked yet.  Not nearly as bourbon-esque as I’d feared either, which is a good thing.

Now that I’ve firmly scored myself out of further industry-provided samples…let’s keep moving on.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt