Tuesday, 25 August 2015

A Plethora of Pilgrims. 22nd August. St George's Distillery (The English Whisky co)

When I was at University the average birthday would see a Friday evening trip to Ocean, the local Student Club where traditionally, after several curious 'cocktails', the theme from Baywatch would be
played, accompanied by all the gents removing their shirts and waving them around their head for the duration of the song. Today is my birthday, and I am driving to East Anglia to tour my first English Whisky Distillery. There is talk of a pub lunch with my Uncle, Aunt and Cousin. This is it. At the age of 25 I am a Grown Up.

Certainly I am more grown up in age than the distillery that I am visiting. The first Distillery to be built in England in over a Century, St George's only began distilling in 2006, by which time I already had a more than passing interest in the product of its cousins North of the Border. Perhaps because of this, and probably also because I was a Scotch snob until midway through University, the English Whisky Company had passed rather under my radar. In fact it was only the night before the tour that I had my first of their expressions: the magnificent Chapter 16, which is peated, sherried, and the sort of Malt that deserves to be drunk to the strains of 'Jerusalem' with a montage of 2012 Olympic Winners and stills from Richard Attenborough films playing in the background.

It is also going to be a first for Rachel, my best friend Greeners (who will probably be a recurring character in this blog series!) and also my Uncle, Aunt and Cousin, who are all joining me. My Uncle Neville was hopefully not stung by my words concerning his and my father's whisky preferences in the Penderyn entry, and it is a real joy to have a good group of pilgrims gathered on this extraordinarily stunning day.

The Distillery was custom made for its purpose, and so as you would expect everything is incredibly pretty both inside and out, with gleaming white walls, immaculately kept lawns and an airy, spaceous interior. It also plays an incredibly straight bat so far as the competition is concerned; I have never seen a distillery shop with such an startling array of bottles from around the world. Scotland is very well represented, as is America and Ireland, and even more obscure bottles are available. Their range of the magnificent Indian distillery Amrut's whisky is particularly good, and I rather cheekily buy Greeners a bottle of the inimitable Amrut Fusion as his
birthday present for the week after next.

Our guide Joy leads us up the carpeted staircase to a large function room, where we are given a brief history of the distillery and the founding family, She has a wealth of stories and jokes which she presents fantastically personally considering the large size of the group, and it is lovely (and somewhat refreshing) to hear it from the guide, rather than an introductory video! It is clear that, whilst distinct in character from any Scotch Whisky, there is a real willingness to learn from the expertise of the Scots; all the copperwork was done in Scotland, the Scottish legal minimum maturation law is followed, and they even brought the legendary Iain Henderson, distiller at Laphroaig for so many years, out of retirement to helm their distilling for the first 9 months.

Production is small at St George's, with Stills, Mash Tun and Washbacks all in one room. Joy wasn't 100% certain, but she reckoned something in the region of 90,000 bottles were filled a year, which considering the range of whiskies and other spirit-based drinks they are spread out across is not large
at all. The equipment is also small by comparison with some Scottish distilleries, but again the room is not only fantastically picturesquely laid out, but has clearly been designed with tours in mind, as there is ample space at each presentation point, so nothing was lost or hidden to any of the visitors.

We had a slightly bizarre experience when we entered the cask house, as it was lit with ultraviolet light. Joy soon changed this to regular electric light citing the ultraviolet making her feel ill, but between the ultraviolet and all the booze in the air I at least got a couple of links to the heady days of student nightclub birthdays! The booze in the air is rather more prominent than in the distilleries I am used to: where Scottish distilleries lose 2% of their spirit a year to evaporation, in the sun-drenched tropics of East Anglia it's nearer 5%, which means that the spirit
matures and extracts rather more quickly, and that there is certainly a heady atmosphere in the cask house! It gets even headier when we are given a taste of the new make. St George's distil to 73%ABV, which is reduced to 68% before being put in casks. I am developing a rather worrying taste for eau-de-vie, and this stuff is some of the best I've smelt, with wonderfully rich fruit and barley.

We keep the sips small, because afterwards we leave the cask house, and after a brief peek at the bottling machinery we come to the business of the tastings! I was initially planning to knock off a facetious point or two for their use of small plastic shot-style glasses, rather than something more along the lines of a Glencairn until it became apparent that their reason was the sheer number of tastes that we were to be given. On your common or garden whisky tour I have come to expect one, perhaps two tastes for my ticket price; here we were given three tastes of whisky (Chapter 14, their unpeated flagship which won last year's European Whisky of the Year in Jim Murray's bible, Chapter 9, their lightly peated whisky and the more heavily peated Chapter 11) followed by tastes of the Sloe and Blackberry Liqueurs and a drop of their Pedro Ximenex/Whisky blend. I was very grateful to Rachel for driving! Technically the Chapter 14 that we had was not the European
Winner, as it was the 46%ABV rather than the cask strength, but it is serious, serious whisky, and my note is below.

English Whisky Co Chapter 14 - Vanilla, as so often pops up in a tasting note for bourbon matured, but never so creamy as this, like the filling of some luxurious biscuit! The outside of that biscuit is also here, with brilliant savoury barley, and a hint of tropical fruit. Perfect level of palate heat for me; the size and richness of the malt balancing the relative youth. More crunchy barley and slightly greener fruit on a finish dryer than the nose would have suggested. 46%ABV

We have already been treated brilliantly by this superb distillery, but when Joy discovers from Rachel that it is my birthday she offers me a free taste (in a proper Glencairn!) of another of their range. I choose the rum-matured Chapter 7, and don't regret it. It is another stunning expression, and completely different to the three tastes that have preceded it. I have commented before about distilleries bottling wide arrays of different styles of expressions, and often you find the occasional mistake or experiment gone awry. So I can't think of a much bigger compliment to pay St

George's than to say that for the average calibre of its output set against the sheer diversity of its range I have not come across a distillery doing better. Whatever your taste they will have something for you, and I guarantee it will be of the highest calibre. I have a few more English distilleries to visit, but the yardstick has been set staggeringly high.

Neville buys a bottle of the Chapter 11, along with some of the PX and liqueur, and after Rachel has taken a group photo we leave for our pub lunch before Rachel drives me and Greeners back home. During the car journey we put on the Baywatch theme tune and Greeners and I wave our shirts around our heads. Because grown up is all very well, but there are some traditions that matter.


Tuesday, 18 August 2015

The Wysgi Pilgrim: 25th July, Penderyn

Like a lot of people I got into Whisky through my family. Specifically through my father and his brothers, and my cousin Justin and I have been very attentive students. But when I was growing up I was very much presented with the idea that good Whisky was Scotch, and good Scotch was Single Malt from Islay (or Arran.) In fact, whilst I may be doing them slanderous disservice I would be
willing to bet that I am the only member of my family who has drunk Whisk(e)y from England, Wales, Sweden, India, Taiwan etc. I know my father has drunk Japanese, because I bought him a glass of it, and whilst I suspect that some American and Irish will have been consumed, I imagine it will have been viewed as very much a second class citizen.

Which is a mistake, though one which is very prevalent around the Whisky drinking world. In wine, of course, the equivalent of Scotland is France, and I know huge numbers of people who would shudder at the very expression 'new world.' Which is a great shame, because the number of countries making truly exceptional wine is immense, and the same can be said for Whisky. Now don't get me wrong, Scotch Whisky was what made me fall in love with the Water of Life. My favourite distilleries are in Scotland and more often than not the Whisky I'll buy will be Scotch. But when I think back on my top Whiskies of the last year there have been so many astonishing expressions made by so many countries that exceed the capabilities of so many of Scotland's finest. And one of those is from the only Distillery currently making Whisky in Wales. If you are new to Whisky, or are a Scotland snob, pay attention. This post is important.

It's a glorious day as I set off from my girlfriend's house in Much Dewchurch just South of Hereford. I've tricked her into visiting Penderyn with me, as the camera on her phone is better than mine. She is also a focal point of my attempt to prove that there is a Whisk(e)y for everyone - being a stalwart of the wrinkled nose and disgusted noise brigade if I can find a dram for her I can find a dram for anyone! Huge numbers of roadworks characterise the journey, and the diversion signs are pretty misleading. 'I know, it's crap isn't it?' is the comment of one workman we ask for directions! Eventually though we reach the village and pay for our tour.

In a way Penderyn influenced my decision to start my pilgrimage; with nothing to do one weekend shortly after arriving in Bristol I decided to pay them a visit. Having driven all the way there I was
told that the tours were all full (lesson learned, book ahead!). The lovely lady behind the desk gave me a taste of the whisky however, and in the shop I decided to buy a copy of Jim Murray's Whisky Bible. The effect of reading this book was to make me realise how little I knew about the drink and industry that I love, and many months later we find me back at the distillery, listening to the start of the introductory video. (Which, rather appropriately is a male voice choir singing 'Guide me O thou great Redeemer, Pilgrim through this barren land'!)

Penderyn is not an old distillery; it was only in 2004 that the Whisky was first available to consumers, so don't expect age statement expressions here. What you should expect is superb distillate expertly managed in seriously good casks. One obvious reason for this is that their consultant, Dr Jim Swan, knows about as much about the use of wood for whisky as anyone living. (World Whisky of the Year - the Kavalan Solist is from a cask he selected) Just as importantly though, the quantities that Penderyn make their whisky in makes micromanagement more of an option. Until recently they were only filling one barrel per day with their spirit (happily it is now about three) and I am here to tell you that that is a tiny amount, particularly when you consider that they are also making Gin and Vodka.

The most unique aspect of Penderyn Single Malt however is their stills. Unfortunately due to alcohol
fumes I couldn't get any pictures of them, but where the majority of Scotch is made, as I explained in my description of Auchentoshan, using a two-still process, Penderyn's spirit goes through only one still, which acts simultaneously as pot and column. I won't explain pot/column stills here, as I guarantee that it would bore you, but the upshot is that Penderyn's Spirit emerges at 92%ABV. I tried a sip of this, and whilst I described it as being astonishingly clean and pure, with just a touch of sweetness, you could also probably have used it as a classy way of getting the Apollo missions to the Moon!

Our guide David was absolutely brilliant, and really knew his stuff. He saw me taking my notes during the tour and was only to happy to answer my questions, approaching me and Rachel after the tour for a further chat. He even pointed us in the direction of a good pub to get lunch afterwards! Penderyn is also very tour-friendly - the production all happens in one massive warehouse, which is often conducive to being stuck at the back of a large group and not hearing a word, but here there are microphones at every point, so there's nothing being
lost. Marks down for not being able to go into a cask house I'm afraid, but still a brilliant brilliant tour. We were also shown two tiny pot stills which Penderyn have installed for making Whisky with a completely different character. I imagine based on their size that they will create a massive, hugely characterful spirit, and I can't wait to see if I'm right.

Despite not being taken into a cask house, the casks are an important and emphasised part of the tour. Penderyn source most of theirs from Buffalo Trace, which Jim Murray reckons to be the finest distillery in the world. Their flagship expression is finished in Madeira wine casks, and there are also expressions finished in Sherry and Port. Most interesting for me is the way they create their peated expression; rather than using peat smoke to dry out the germinated barley for malting they simply put the unpeated spirit into casks previously used to house ultra-peaty Laphroaig. Personally I found this a brilliantly innovative way of creating a lightly but distinctively peated whisky with more than a little bit of Islay character.

We were given two 'vouchers' at the end of the tour, entitling us to two tastes or a miniature each. Rachel took a miniature of the Madeira finish, and I opted for a taste of the Madeira finish flagship and a taste of their peated expression.

Penderyn Madeira Finish - Massively clean spirity notes on the nose. Light honey, apples, pears, almost something biscuity with just a whiff of tropical fruit. Oh, and barley. Barley, barley, barley! Fiery but silken on the palate approach; breakfast whisky par excellence! Going back to the nose Rachel is reminded of rhubarb and custard and I can definitely see where she's coming from in this delightful balance of sweet and savoury! The spirit may be pure, but it's super creamy, and that's all to the good. Honeycomb and a touch of white chocolate. Really delicate, really elegant - I keep coming back to the word 'clean.' After it had been in the glass a while massive cocoa arrived with a touch of muscovado sugar on the finish. 46%ABV

Penderyn Peated - 'Diet Laphroaig' is a harsh and untrue thing to write, but one whiff of this and I'm imagining what South Islay would taste like if it was polite, graceful and safe to introduce to your mother! Seaweed, iodine and the sort of salt you get off the West Coast; they're all there, but backed up again by that classically clean Penderyn Spirit. If, like me, you're a Springbank fan then definitely get your hands on this. Less salt, and the fruit is more tropical than citrus, but they'd make a hell of a pretty pair. 46%ABV

Innovation and dynamism are, for me, the two key characteristics of Penderyn's Whisky, as they were of Australian Wine several decades ago. The only rule is...there are no rules, and the only object is that what you create should be really top-end, A-Grade stuff. Take it from me, they have certainly succeeded; this is a Premier League whisky that everyone should be drinking, unhampered by many of the regulations governing Scotch. I cannot wait to see where the next few years take this truly remarkable distillery, and surely if they keep the calibre up it won't be long until there are a few more Wysgi distillers following in their footsteps. This is not some second-class citizen, or simply a quirky alternative to Scotch. This is one of the best distilleries anywhere in the world. And you can tell my dad I said so.

Cheers! - (Or as you should say with this dram, Iechyd da!)

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Pilgrims Plural, and The Way Home. July 9th and 10th. Auchentoshan, Glengoyne and Glenkinchie

So I wake up, and if I'm honest it's with mixed feelings. On the one hand I'm not in a tent or my car and am at the house of one of my best friends Will. I've properly met his lovely fiancee Alison and their baby daughter Jessica, who I successfully managed not to drop. On the other hand, I'm not sure
about today's distilleries. Don't really know much about Gelngoyne, though as I've discovered with Springbank, Glengyle, Aberfeldy, Blair Atholl, Tullibardine and Deanston that doesn't necessarily mean anything, but I have encountered Auchentoshan before, in its 'triple wood' form, and if I'm honest it didn't really float my boat. Also Will and I, who are both in the Wine Trade and used to do blind tastings for each other when we were revising for our WSET got heroically drunk the night before when Alison took Jessica to her mother's house, and the world's still a bit unsteady.

Auchentoshan, when we reach it, is another rather fetching distillery. There's someone on traffic directing duty in the car park, which seems a bit overkill, but Alison drops us off (she is acting as
chauffeur today, the star, but Jess seems very unhappy that she's not being taken on the tour!) and we buy our tickets. Stephen, the guide, is an absolute hero. We're with a family of Germans on the tour, none of whom have a word of English, but he faultlessly guides us the entire way round switching from one language to the next without missing a beat. He also apparently has fluent French and Lithuanian (!)

For those lucky enough to be taking their first steps into whisky, the chief USP of the Auchentoshan distillery is that they are the only Whisky Distillery in Scotland who triple distil everything. Basically in your usual distillery the fermented wash at 8%ABV is fed into the first 'Still' and emerges around 25%ABV. It then goes into the second
still and the spirit they take out to use as whisky is about 70%.ABV. At Auchentoshan they use a distillation process through three stills, with the spirit emerging at 18%, 54% and finally 81%ABV respectively. This removes more of the esters from the spirit resulting in a 'purer new make.' I am given a tiny sip of this 81% spirit. It is not for the faint of heart!

Like most other Distilleries Auchentoshan's casks are mostly ex-bourbon, with a few sherry and unfortified wine butts and hogsheads here and there. Will, who is a very talented photographer takes a few pictures, and then we are in the tasting room. As I mentioned the Three-Wood and I were not the best of bedfellows when I encountered it a year ago, but I have to say that I was really impressed with the 'American Oak', and when Stephen gave me a taste of the Distillery exclusive straight from cask Chateau
Legrange matured Whisky I was blown away. I can pay it no bigger compliment than to say that it is the first unfortified wine-matured whisky that I would happily buy with my own money. I didn't though, as at the time I had barely any left!

Auchentoshan American Oak - Spirit character really coming through in pear drop and green apple form. Got a sweetish white chocolate too. Slightly flatter palate initially - (40%ABV...) Easy drinking and smooth despite youth. Bourbon oak comes through more on the palate than the nose though, and grows in the glass with time, the coconut distinctively emerging after a while. Very different to Tullibardine because of that pronounced, triple-distilled spirity character, but influenced by the cask in a similar manner. 40%ABV

We eat lunch with Alison at a lovely Lochside pub, next to a Cafe entertainingly named St Mocha. (Turns out he's actually a bona fide Saint, though jokes about St Filter Coffee, St Flat White, St Nespresso Machine etc flowed fairly freely.) Afterwards we made our way to Glengoyne, and I'm in for a shock.  This distillery, of which I have heard almost nothing beforehand is hands down the most gorgeous to look at that I have ever encountered. And I say that despite my beloved Arran and Edradour being achingly beautiful themselves. Apparently Glengoyne was used for exterior shots in The Angel's Share, and I am not surprised. It is what I want my future mansion to look like. (Future architects take note - I'd also be on board with you installing a mash tun, a washback, and some stills. Actually, you know what, I just want to move into Glengoyne.)

Less beautiful is the sight of two coachloads of tourists arriving at the same time as us. There is only one tour left in the day, so they're absolutely rammed - apparently these coaches are late - but the staff respond admirably, and we are all split into several smaller groups for the journey round. We watch the generic opening video (I swear to God the same script is used in every one of these, they just chop and change the names - 'our water is the purest, we're the most patient, we're tucked into the most peaceful glen etc') and we sip the 12 year old Glengoyne (which I love love love) before the tour. I ask a guide about the casks used in the 12yo and am told 20% 1st fill sherry, 20% 1st fill bourbon and 60% refill. This comes as a surprise to me and Will, who had been remarking on the wonderful clarity of the Sherry character. Fans of Sherried Speyside Malts, I heartily recommend this as a super

The guide is full of interesting facts about Glengoyne, and considering it's so late in the day and he's leading a big party he's brilliantly tolerant of my nosy questioning. Amongst other things he tells me that Glengoyne have the slowest distillation process in Scotland and that they do a 100 hour fermentation (about twice as long as a lot of other distilleries). I also learn that it takes 100 litres of water to make one litre of whisky and about one kg malted barley to make a bottle of Scotch. Well I found it interesting anyway, so you can all stop laughing.

Glengoyne 12yo - Lots of sherry aromas on the nose. Bags of fruit. Apple and pear with floral topnotes. Still fresh and youthful. Malt quite clear in the background with some tasty sugars going on too. Good warmth, touch of pudding spice and baked apple. Toffee and white pepper on the finish. Teeniest teeniest whiff of ignorable sulphur, but that's me being picky about a wonderful malt that is new to me and that I recommend to anyone as a whisky starting point.

After a couple more photos we drive back to Will's house, my apprehensions of the morning having been demolished as swiftly as last night's wine.

I'm up early the next morning, as Will has to go to work, and I have a lot of driving to do to get to Glenkinchie. The journey takes me past Edinburgh, my favourite city in the world, but I don't have time to visit, but merely pass it by as I meander along the country lanes to the south leading to the consummate 'Lowland Lady.' Glenkinchie is another I know very little about, beyond the fact that it is another of Diageo's classic malts, and that I thus have free entry once again! There's a bowling green just outside the distillery, and the scenery is much more rolling hills and woodland country than crag and pine - I could almost be in England, though the good folk of East Lothian won't thank me for saying so!

They've got a very nice model distillery which I peruse as I wait, after buying my girlfriend some shortbread from the shop. (I promised her some when I came up here, but completely forgot until today, so I'm glad they stock it!) It's another small group on the tour, and the guide takes us quietly around explaining the workings and the history. As I've come to expect from Diageo's distilleries open to visitors it's all very well laid out, with informative poster boards in each room meticulously explaining the processes. Glenkinchie goes for a light, delicate style of whisky, achieved in part by having the largest (though not tallest) stills in Scotland. The casks again are entirely Bourbon, though like many other classic malts they have a 'distiller's edition', in this instance finished in Amontillado Sherry. I haven't tried it (yet), but that seems to me to be a highly appropriate style of cask to finish the Glenkinchie in, and doubtless works very well.  We did however try the Glenkinchie 12 yo, and my note is below.

Glenkinchie 12yo - White flowers on the nose with lemon, granny smith apple and light notes of
vanilla from the bourbon. Spirit character still present in fruity, estery pep. Much more about the oak on the palate - very light and delicate - but the barley still happily playing its part. Caramel not overwhelming and pleasant zip of alcohol. 43%ABV

And with that I'm done. There's still Bladnoch in the lowlands left to do of the distilleries currently bottling whisky, but since they're closed to visitors at the moment I decide to leave them for another time. I'm tired, and I've done 13 distilleries in 6 days. The enormity of the task that I have set myself has impressed itself massively upon me, and it will be a long 18 months before I am done, but it is with the most positive (if weary) feelings that I look back on my week as the M74 becomes the M6 and I cross back into Bristol. I have encountered so many distilleries, whiskies and people over the brief start of this pilgrimage, and it has been a hell of an adventure. I honestly know so much more for having done just this first part, and my love for Whisky has deepened greatly.

So which was my favourite? Well of this trip, Springbank. It blew me away to a degree that only two or three whiskies in the world have previously done with its complexity and elegance, and I will be drinking malt from that distillery for the rest of my life. But this trip, this adventure was not about finding my favourite, but about finding the right whisky for everyone and anyone. With that in mind I will happily and honestly summarise by saying that there was not a single distillery on this trip who I would not warmly recommend, and which does not deserve legions of followers just as dedicated to them as I am to that whisky temple in Campbeltown. And I cannot wait for the next dram, the next distillery and the next adventure.


Wednesday, 5 August 2015

The Rest is Silence. July 8th, Tullibardine and Deanston

It had slipped my mind that at the start of July large numbers of distilleries go through what's known as 'the Silent Season,' when the spirit stops flowing, the Stills become still and the vital maintenance and repairs take place. At Tullibardine I was told that one keen visitor had expressed disappointment at not having seen any distilleries at work on his trip to Scotland, but from my point of view I've got surprisingly lucky. Whilst I miss the smell and the buzz of the still room and the cask houses, the silent season gives me the opportunity to look into the machinery itself. Furthermore, no booze fumes in the air means cameras are allowed, so I can get photos of the stills!

It's just me when I turn up to Tullibardine on the Wednesday morning, but I'm rather fond of the odd solo tour. Guides are invariably friendly, and it means you can ask your questions more privately and speak in a little more depth. The distillery is just off the A9, by a closed down shopping centre (which Tullibardine have bought, so they'll soon do their coopering and bottling on site - hurrah!) I'm ashamed to say I didn't actually know much about them beforehand (or indeed about Deanston) but that's half the point of the pilgrimage, and I'm ready and raring to learn.

My guide Jim and I chatter away as we make our way through the familiar stages of the tour, but I can't help feeling that the silent distillery has a somewhat eerie silence to it; where there is usually sound and fury we instead have absolute quiet, and open skeletons of machinery without that all-important lifeblood of barley transforming to spirit beating through them. Tullibardine has a fairly large output - something
like 2.9 million litres per year, although this is mostly used for blends.

At the bar, Jim gives me a smell of their new make Spirit. It's utterly gorgeous - sweet, fruity, almost honeyed! 'You should bottle it' I say. He agrees! We then get to the tastes, and as with Edradour the second is a Burgundy Wine Finished Dram that really isn't for me. For my money the wine itself is too light to exert much influence on the Bourbon-matured Spirit, but every off barrel means the Sulphur rumbles a little louder. There isn't much of it here to Tullibardine's credit, but I'm just not sure I'm a table-wine finished Whisky kind of guy! (Open to being changed though.) That said, their 'Sovereign' is delicious (though I'd like to see something a touch more mature - but we'll cover Age Statement vs Non-Age Statement another day.)

Tullibardine 'Sovereign' - Lightly honeyed. Fairly full bodied, vanilla growing out of the nose but still a touch light on flavour. Smashing aperitif whisky. Would be interesting to see an older expression as the malt is gorgeous and crispy, with just the right balance of fruit and barley. 43%ABV
Other Range - 20 and 25 yo and some cask finishes (Burgundy, PX, Sauternes.)

I've told Jim about what I'm doing over the course of the tour, and after the tastes he shakes my hand and says 'there's a book in there.' I tell him I hope he's right before I hit the road south to Deanston.

My first impression upon visiting Deanston is that whilst the riverside setting is very pretty, the distillery itself leaves a lot to be aesthetically desired. As it transpires the building used to be a cottonmill in the industrial revolution, which explains a lot. And the inside makes up for it; a beautifully welcoming little shop and 'Coffee Bothy.' I've actually arrived just in time - the tour is about to start. The guide Victoria, an incredibly friendly lady who reminds me a little of Sue Perkins apologises that I will have missed most of the introductory video. No apologies necessary whatsoever!

The mash tun makes for a rather odd sight, as it's full of caustic soda for its deep cleansing, so instead
of wort it's brimming with viscous, evil-looking black sludge. It's another quiet and eerie trip, but I have to say that more cottonmills should convert into distilleries, just as long as the space can be used as well as Deanston have managed. Victoria is a brilliantly confident, rather bubbly guide who
rapidfires facts to us as fast as my pen can follow. We see a turbine engine designed by a man who went on to create Gearboxes for Aston Martin (David Brown - hence DB series - maybe James Bond should drop Macallan for Deanston...) we see the second most beautiful stills I've thus far encountered (behind only Glenmorangies) and we are told about the long fermentation process that results, according to the master Distiller, in a sweeter finish.

Like Tullibardine and most other Scottish Distilleries the focus so far as wood is concerned is on Bourbon, and based on my tastings I think lovers of Bourbon should definitely check Deanston out. I often like a bit of Sherry and/or a bit of smoke in my favourite drams, but I have to say, Deanston made a hell of an impression, and if I had to recommend a whisky from this trip for the uninitiated to fall in behind, Deanston would take the laurels. It doesn't affect me personally as deeply
as Springbank did (only one or two whiskies ever have) but I'd also admit that Springbank is likely to be a bit more of  marmite malt. Let me simply say that I love what Deanston are making, and the more of it that is readily available, the happier I will be!

Deanston 12yo - Really nice Bourbony richness. Decent heat that melts into honey and toffee and oak, and finishes in sweet coconut. 46.3%ABV
Deanston Virgin Oak - More Spirity, estery and overtly youthful on the nose (and palate) than the 12yo. Silky on the palate, with a little bit less heat. Touch of savoury, salty barley and fruit. Very clean. Smatter of ground coffee on the finish. Lots of zip. 46.3%ABV

An old friend and invaluable tasting colleague is expecting me in Strathaven, so I leave Deanston quickly and hit the road. There are two days left of this short Odyssey, but they'll be heavily filled.
Babies, wine-binges and triple distillation await. In the meantime I am thrilled to have discovered two  absolutely top-notch distilleries that I know will become lifelong friends...