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