About two weeks ago now I stopped by the Deanston distillery for a tour, located in Doune, near Stirling. As always with these distillery tours it seems I was again joined by my Girlfriend, and I again was the designated driver – this arrangement really has to be addressed! Deanston, as some of you may already know, if one of the few distilleries in Scotland that was built inside of an existing building. The building itself was an old cotton mill, built back in 1785, though closed as a result of changing times and in the mid 60’s renovation began to turn the old building into a distillery – a far better use of the space if you ask me!
I’ve always loved Deanston as a whisky, and the history behind it is very interesting and so it’s a distillery that I have been planning on visiting for quite some time. As we arrived I couldn’t help but notice how beautiful and picturesque it was. It’s not picturesque like most distilleries with the Doig ventilators (Pagoda roofs) and the brickwork chimneys, but it’s just a beautiful old building with bags of character set in stunning surroundings.
We arrived at the distillery just a few minutes before the next tour was going out, so we were taken through to watch a short film which introduces you to the distillery with some of its history. Then after that finished it was time to head through to see the production. Our guide for the day was Gerry, and after we had went through the usual health and safety stuff we headed off to start the tour. We went into an outside courtyard behind the distillery to start with, and we were met by a sea of casks, literally hundreds of them. Gerry talked us through the different cask types and gave us an idea of the ratios of casks used; approximately 80:20 Bourbon to sherry, with a few others thrown in as well.
While here Gerry mentioned that the distillery was the only one in Scotland to be powered solely by hydroelectric, and said that if we were interested then he would take us in to see it. Being the geek that I am I of course wanted to see so he took us into the turbine room. Deanston only use roughly 15% of the power that they produce so the remainder they sell back to the national grid – so they are making money before they even start making whisky! The room used to contain their giant water wheels, which have since been replaced for far more efficient water turbine blades.
We were then talked through the malting and milling processes then shown through to the mashing. The mash tun at Deanston is open topped, and the smells in that room were just incredible, lots of sweet malty goodness. I’ve been round other distilleries which have open mash tuns, but unfortunately they have been empty at my times of visit, so this experience was a first for me. After this the next stop was the tun room, where the fermentation was explained and also the flavour giving compounds etc. that are developed within the washbacks resulting from fermentation.
From here we were shown down to the still house, the stills at Deanston are very good looking, four stills that have been well maintained and lacquered to a high sheen. Both wash stills and spirit stills are of boil ball form to increase reflux, and all collection is into one safe after condensing through narrow shell and tube condensers.
After the distillation we were shown to where the casks are filled, the assortment of different casks and the neat boxes of different sizes of bung (the corks for the casks) and the scales for excise purposes was a nice thing to see, most distilleries will do tasks such as this off site now, or not let you see it. From here we were shown into the warehousing which was just spectacular. The storage space was originally where the spindle machines were housed in the mill and as a result high vaulted ceilings were built in to avoid water vapour collecting above the machines and falling onto the cotton below. The vaulted roof meant that water would collect and run down the curved roof away from the mill, avoiding damage or breaking to the cotton threads. In its current use it makes for one of the most atmospheric warehousing spaces that I have ever visited, it is a real spectacle and definitely worth visiting the distillery to see! The picture below really doesn’t do it justice…it was dark…sorry!
Tour done we headed back to the visitor centre where we got our dram of the Deanston 12yo, a great characterful dram that is always of consistent quality, and a wander around the shop. We also stopped in at the Bothy café in the distillery which must get an honourable mention for the good food, the haggis and lentil soup was a personal favourite, very interesting combination. After lunch we headed back through to the shop for a wander – as it would be rude not to buy anything – where I got a bottle of the 12yo, to replace the one I had finished a while back. I also managed to get a small try of a few of their other products, including their current self-fill which was delicious and a 7yo single cask sherry-hogshead bottling – an interesting whisky this, quite young but the use of a sherry-hogshead spiked my curiosity.
I had a really great visit to Deanston which I must say I would highly recommend. One of the best tours I’ve had in a long time, so thank you to Gerry for the great tour. And also thank you again to Gerry and Declan for the discussions and tastings in the shop, it was great meeting you both.