I’d like to talk about the oft-divisive subject of adding water to whisky.
Nothing can tear apart a good discussion about whisky quite like differing opinions on the subject of exactly how it should be enjoyed. Some people happily add liberal teaspoons of water to every dram they consume, commenting on how it “releases the aromas” and “opens up the dram”. Indeed, blenders water the constituent whiskies in their concoctions down significantly when nosing potential additions so perhaps there is some merit to this approach. Others are quite adverse to the concept, happily sipping on cask strength drams and wincing in pain when somebody mentions the word “water”. And don’t even get them started on ice.
Each to their own I say. I personally find that a couple of drops often does enhance a dram for me, however there are exceptions, and I do mean a couple of drops. Half a teaspoon at most usually. I never add ice, and find the emerging trend of whiskies that are marketed as “best served from the freezer” frankly terrifying. Serve vodka from the freezer by all means because most of it is engineered to taste of nothing anyway but the only logical reason I can find for a whisky producer telling you to deliberately chill away flavour from your dram is because they know there are things going on with it that shouldn’t be.
Enter Deanston 12 year old, a single malt offering which is thankfully not recommended to be served from the freezer. Bottled at 46.3%, un-chill filtered and natural colour, the very smart bottle tells us that it has been aged in ex-bourbon casks and the label bears the signatures of 6 people who were involved in the making of this whisky. The whole thing rings of pride taken in a job well done and it’s impressive. The cork stopper comes embossed with a heavy metal embellishment which adds to the impression of quality. I try not to get too carried away with packaging as a rule, but when it’s as classy and tastefully done as this it’s worth mentioning.
Upon pouring my first dram of this the word that I could best find to describe it was “restrained”. A restrained nose which consisted of a few bitter citrus notes but mostly alcohol nip. The palate reflected this with a bit of extra spice. Not unpleasant, pretty rich, but not necessarily a great deal going on. It took me approximately half the bottle to work up the confidence to splash in a teaspoon of water upon pouring, and then leave it alone for half an hour to come alive, and boy does it make a difference. As i’m writing this review I’m drinking a pour to which I’ve done exactly that, and also a smaller measure of the same dram but neat just to fact-check myself, and the difference is marked.
The much improved version with water, which has now developed a healthy scotch-mist cloudiness as a result has a nose of lemony freshness, with a lovely biscuity maltiness. There’s dry grassy notes, floral perfume and under-ripe apples present, with rich honey holding everything together. Those among us who have ever visited a distillery and been invited to stick your head in a fermenting washback will notice a hint of sour yeastiness reminiscent of that experience alongside the vanilla sweetness of ex-bourbon casks.
On the palate there’s sherbet, more citrus including pineapple now, some banana and a hint of barley sugar. Again, tasted neat everything is a little spicy but with water the arrival is much better paced, giving the flavours time to seperate themselves out on your palate which actually delivers a more robust and engaging flavour experience, contrary to what you might expect from watering down a dram.
You really can detect the ingredients used in whisky making in this dram. It’s raw, rustic and a refreshing alternative to the standards flowing out from big producers and I’m really enjoying it. Deanston is a relatively recent addition to notable single malts, having been an overlooked background player for some time, but I hope they continue on the path that they appear to be following and I look forward to trying other bottles from their range.
N.B. As I’ve got towards the end of my bottle, I notice a few particles in the whisky. I initially thought I’d poured it into a dirty glass but upon checking the bottle, they’re coming from inside! It hasn’t affected the flavour or quality in any way that I can detect so I’m putting it down an encouraging sign of cask particles that have been untouched by the obviously minimal filtering process. If anyone else has noticed similar, please note it in the comments below, just out of interest!