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...


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