Deanston Virgin Oak

This bottle caught my eye while browsing at a Total Wine & More in Phoenix, AZ. Craft presentation (46%+ ABV, and not chill-filtered), an interesting finish (in virgin oak, presumably charred), and $30? Sign me up! I’d never heard of the Central Highland distillery, Deanston, but at this price I figured I couldn’t go wrong.

I was… well, wrong.

It pains me to write this review (see Overall, below), because I’m very much in favor of distilleries getting on the NCF bandwagon and bottling at reasonable proofs. I’d love to support Deanston in its efforts, and in its price point, but the whisky is just simply not good.

Nose: An unappetizing chemical component, like partially-cured leather. Beeswax without the honey. Dry, dusty stale malt. Wet cardboard.

Palate: Nicely creamy body. Minimal tongue burn. A hint of honey, hardwood sawdust, and something saline, like salted ice cream.

Finish: Short. A lot of oaky bitterness, and a return of the wet cardboard. Slight nougat, and a tang of raw honey.

With Water: A small splash of water yielded a musty, fungal odor and upped all the negative notes. It also thinned the body somewhat, and added some hazelnut to the palate and finish, and made the finish somewhat sweeter. Not pleasant, either way.

Overall: Wow I really don’t like this. A shame, because I’ve read that recent changes at Deanston had upped its single-malt game. The craft presentation (non-chill-filtering and 46%+ ABV) is a huge plus, but it’s a pity that this NAS release fell horribly flat. I gave it the benefit of the doubt, too, and went through several glasses over several weeks before resigning myself to writing this review. It’s just not good, even at this bargain-basement price. It tastes like the “virgin oak” used to finish the whisky was from a tainted or improperly cured barrel. A pity, but I hold out hope that the age-statement releases are much better.

Update: My Deanston journey continues with the 12 year

ScotchNoob™ Mark:

About The Distillery

Owned by Burn Stewart and, by extension, Trinidad drinks corporation Angostura, Central Highland distillery Deanston has two pairs of large stills with oversized balls to encourage reflux, and thus a lighter spirit. The distillery opened in 1965 in an old cotton mill. Its process water comes from the River Teith via a canal, and the river also powers electric turbines (and, once, the water wheel for the cotton mill). A recent refurbishment of the Deanston product line has released several non-chill-filtered, craft-strength malts (including an NAS bottling), and soon an organic release.
Deanston Virgin Oak
40% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $26 - $35
Acquired: (750ml bottle) Total Wine and More, Phoenix AZ, $30

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  • Part of the reason I’m not super enthusiastic about the craft presentation movement is stuff like this – distilleries can use the no NCF, high-proof bottling to justify higher prices for some of their less impressive product. At least you didn’t get burned like I did on Glenglassaugh Evolution. Terrible value, despite the high proof, lack of chill filtration, and absence of caramel coloring.

  • Sorry you had to make this mistake. This is the worst single malt scotch I have ever tried. Thankfully it was a friend who made the mistake of getting it and not my own dollar. Cheap way to try the Virgin Oak. Compare with the considerably more expensive Auchentoshan VO. But pretty awful stuff and hard to believe it is a scotch.

  • Deanston seems to be a 50/ 50 split with our whiskey group. Some folks say “yum” however i personally would ask for blend scotch substitute. To each their own.

  • Hmmm, been drinking whiskey, scotch, single malts for 40years. Tried Glen Garioch 15 year old, Glenlivet 18 year old, woodford reserve. Maybe this is hit or miss. The bottle I opened, Mellow smell of Malt,fermented smokey fragrance. To the tongue pleasant, smooth, with a mellow malty woody taste. Finish clean and crisp no after taste. I really like this stuff. Straight up or on the rocks it’s worth a try.

  • I am totally in agreement with the 40 yr drinker above and totally at odds with the Scotch noob. This Deanston Virgin Oak is excellent. And the story of the distillery, with their refurbishment of the cotton mill and their hydroelectrics and even the fact that they keep the banks of the river tidy–the river which brings the whisky it’s aqua vitae or water of life. It’s a small, young distillery but they are doing things right—cardboard boxes instead of space consuming gift tins, no caramel color added, and above all, keeping the price in the reasonable range. As far as taste, yes it’s a somewhat young and abrupt finish, but the chocolate is unmistakable. It’s not as mellow as Glenfiddich but compares favorably with The Speyside. it’s an excellent Highland Scotch.

  • As for me I’ll hold out for the soon to be released 20 Year Old. I’d rather pay a bit more for a quality product that I can enjoy.
    I do agree that some NAS whiskys can be excellent, Glendronach cask strength comes to mind.

  • I also like this interesting scotch. The descriptor “wet cardboard” is one commonly encountered in wine: this is probably TCA, or “cork taint.” TCA destroys flavors and ruins the drink. You may well have had a tainted bottle. Perhaps a re-taste and follow-up post is in order.

  • I bought a bottle of this recently, and I have to agree with the more recent comments that this is much better than your review would lead one to believe. For $30, it’s a decent pour.

  • I hope you will revisit this traditionally crafted Deanston. The newer batches with the new label are really good, it’s one of the better NAS available and of superior quality compared to many 12yo whiskies.