Deanston 12

Deanston 12I know nothing about Deanston. I even had to look up which region it’s in (the Highlands). It’s owned by the same group that owns Bunnahabhain and Tobermory/Ledaig and is one of a few distilleries that has never been listed as anyone’s favourite (the most Serge has ever given a Deanston is 82 points). In fact, I’m not sure it has an identity or a style as such that I’ve ever read or heard anyone talking about. But somehow it chugs on; if it were an action film star it would be Gerard Butler. Anyway, now that I’ve spent all this time insulting the distillery maybe it’s time I actually taste this 12 yo (which along with the rest of the group’s whiskies got upgraded to 46.3% abv and no chill filtering a few years ago).

Deanston 12 (46.3%; from a sample received in a swap)

Nose: Nothing at all at first and then a sour, yeasty note. After a while, nothing at all and a sour yeasty note. This must be what people who interact with Gerard Butler experience. After a bit the yeasty thing recedes and there’s now some dry, acidic white winey notes and wait, is that acetone? This may be the first time that I’ve marked the presence of acetone as a positive development (not because I like it here, but because something happened). After a lot of time some of that lime and maltiness from the palate make themselves known on the nose. No real change with a drop or two of water.

Palate: Okay, there’s a little more happening here. There’s some lime zest, some mildly prickly wood and some maltiness. With time all these flavours get a little more intense and there’s a little more sweetness too. Seems to get more spirity as it sits. Nothing new with water at first but after a bit the maltiness expands and there’s generally more there there.

Finish: Medium. The notes from the palate hang around for a decent while but there’s no development as such. A slightly metallic note emerges late with water.

Comments: I’m going to upgrade this from Gerard Butler to Sam Worthington (is that an upgrade? I’ve at least liked one film starring Worthington). It’s not very interesting but it has no real flaws. The nose had me thinking this would be in the low 70s but the palate does redeem it (with time and water). Probably a good candidate as a base for home blending.

Rating: 78 points.

Thanks to Patrick for the sample!

12 thoughts on “Deanston 12

  1. I have to agree with the not interesting aspect. Even though it’s a higher ABV than other distilleries, Deanston tastes like a very typical Highland whisky (bit of Glenmorangie here, hints of Balblair there). That said I do like the craft presentation which is a step in the right direction.


  2. By the way, for some obscure reason I watched Wrath of the Titans last night and I think Gerard Butler : Sam Worthington is an appropriate upgrade for this. While Worthington is profoundly uninteresting, he’s inoffensive. Butler, on the other hand, may or may not be a douche but seems to specialize in playing them.


  3. I’m going to have to be honest with you here and say that 78 seems awfully high for this, judging from your notes and my personal experience.

    Even just looking at your review score distribution from the sidebar, you’ve got twice as many reviews between 90 and 94 as you do between 0 and 79, and over twice as many between 85 and 89 as you do between 80 and 84. Statistically estimating, your scores are on a normal distribution with a mean of 87 with a standard deviation of 2. That only gives you about 5 points to work with for 90% of your reviews.

    I know whisky reviews tend to suffer from an enormous amount of score compression, but your record is one of the worse offenders I’ve seen recently. Don’t you think that’s something worth working on, perhaps?

    That said, your notes tend to be spot-on so I’ll keep reading your reviews and just assuming that an 80-83 is pure swill.


    • What is it with my blog and the statisticians?

      Thanks for the gut check. I will note only that my ratings are severely skewed by selection bias. I tend to buy very cautiously and the majority of samples I’ve swapped in the past have been based on reasonable confidence in the quality of what I was getting back (though I’ve let go of that in recent months). (Edit to add: see also Alex’s comment on the subject on a different post.)

      This, by the way, is my rating system (linked above):

      >95 points: as close to perfection as I can imagine.
      >90 points: an outstanding whisky in all respects.
      >85 points: a very good whisky.
      >80 points: a solid whisky
      >75 points: drinkable but not remarkable in any way.
      >70 points: acceptable in a pinch.
      <70 points: I would not drink it again even if it were free.
      <60 points: best served to enemies
      <50 points: probably banned by the Geneva Convention

      So, this Deanston falls in the "drinkable but not remarkable in any way" category which I think is consistent with my comments.


      • I fully understand selection bias, but I felt that in this case your notes and your score aren’t fully in sync – maybe they are to you.

        I gave Deanston 12 a 60 and felt like I was going easy on it, because it was only a sample and I hadn’t had time to fully explore all the nuances of how little I liked it.

        I’ve read your score descriptions too, I guess I just don’t agree with the amount of score compression that’s inherent in your essentially refusing to use the top 5 points and the bottom 70. You could restate your scale as A+ to F and you wouldn’t lose much in the way of accuracy, because you’re only using a tiny fraction of the 100-point scale.

        When reading your reviews, there’s an ocean of difference between 85 and 90. In 6 points, things go from “average” to “sublime”, and it seems like there could be much more range in your scores if you used more of the scale.

        I’m not happy about completely removing even the possibility of giving sub-50 scores, despite it being the Parker/industry standard. I’ve stuck to it for the most part, and don’t often give sub-50’s, but it’s always irked me as artificial.

        It feels like it started out as a way to guarantee that your industry partners don’t get too upset with you handing out low scores, because marketing people can still spin a 75 as “better than 75% of wines/whiskies!”, even if it’s the lowest score Parker (or Serge or whoever) has ever given anything.


  4. To separate out the issues:

    1) Again, I found this Deanston to be inoffensive and drinkable. That in my system is a score in the 70s and on that night it was in the high 70s. You clearly disliked it far more than I did and that’s fine with me.

    2) Now your larger point is that I am setting the bar for drinkability too low. That perhaps “drinkable but not offensive” should be 50 points and not 70. Well, I generally agree with you there, and in our local group’s tastings that is pretty much where we set it. So, why don’t I do it on the blog? It’s an unsatisfactory compromise I made to make my ratings intelligible among the prevalent system (and I wanted to use a larger spread than F-A). I didn’t want to spend my time constantly fielding the opposite question: “How could you give Whisky X only 70 points?” I leave it to people to figure out that it’s easier to get from 79 to 85 points than it is to get from 85 to 90. By the way, I grade from F to A for a living and in that world too it is much easier to go from F to C than from C to A.

    But now you’ll remind me that 85-89 is the band where most of my scores cluster. This is true but I’d say that it is in this part of the spectrum that selection bias most comes into play. I think most malt whiskies are above average (80-84 points) and that as the majority of my reviews so far have come from my own carefully purchased bottles they come in above that. If you look at the individual whiskies that I’ve given scores in that range you might find (I haven’t actually done this myself) that I am less willing to promote whiskies into the 90s or even the high 80s than many others. Perhaps if I restated the groupings (78-82, 83-87, 88-92, 93-98, perfection) you’d have fewer problems with it.

    As I say, I’m aware it’s a compromise with convention and not a satisfactory one. As you enjoy the notes or find them useful at any rate I’d suggest you don’t pay attention to the scores–they’re shoved all the way down to the bottom of the reviews for a reason. You should feel confident certainly that my scores have nothing to do with my not wanting to upset the industry or lose access to samples: I have no contact with the industry and don’t accept samples.

    Are your own scores in a personal spreadsheet or do you have a blog as well? If the latter, please do share a link. And thanks again for the critique.


    • It’s a topic I get into with anyone willing to listen, because it’s a problem that seems eminently solvable if it weren’t for all those pesky people giving the scores.

      I understand that the current system sets 75 as “somewhat unsatisfactory”, and trying to change the perception of your readers would take a lot of extra effort on your part, so it’s fine, I guess. I wasn’t accusing you of being an industry shill, just Robert Parker and Whisky Advocate.

      I’m a programmer, so I even wrote a normalizer app that intended to remove personal bias from scores by applying some statistical techniques that someone else gave me, because I am not a statistician. It produces some pretty interesting results when applied to a large enough sample size.

      My intention was for me to be able to rank whiskies relative to each other and it would take into account your scores while trying to get some semblance of a normal distribution. For example, the difference between an 85 and a 90 would end up being more “normalized” points than between 84 and 85. It kind of works, but it’s not perfect. Something to come back to, I think.

      I’d also like to create some sort of recommendation engine for whisky that would use an archive of scores to give you recommendations. Rate a bunch of whiskies, it’d tell you what you’d like. I think there’s a couple around, but none I consider that great. Oh well, one must have projects. =)

      I mainly post my reviews on the Scotch subreddit, because I’ve tried maintaining blogs and didn’t like it. It has a nifty review archive for the community:

      And these are mine:


          • Yes, it did, and very interesting salesmanship around the commentary:

            “The announcement that it was going to replace some of its age statement range in favor of a new selection of No Age Statements graded by color certainly got plenty of people’s backs up.” – acknowledgement of the controversy itself, but no comment from the author as to whether the idea of grading by colour actually makes sense – it’s just “controversial”. This is waffling at its best by avoiding the topic altogether and the message is quite clear to me: Broom will let Macallan have their marketing fantasy, but he won’t tie any part of his reputation to it.

            “Those who did try them would, hopefully, have found that Gold, Amber, Ruby, and Sienna were not only excellent whiskies in their own right, but were excellent representations of Macallan, and, in this writer’s opinion, were superior to the whiskies which they were replacing.” – Dave Broom’s entitled to his own opinion, yet WA scores don’t reflect this 1824 Series superiority.

            “Yes, people will continue to carp, but if they do, ask them this: why replace one range with another that costs more to produce…and tastes better? Better still, sit them down, pour them a glass and watch the result. For quality and also for chutzpah, Macallan Ruby deserves the award.” – apparently part of the award is being given out just for sheer nerve (and there were no new Speysides that had both nerve and a score above 90?). What’s more, leaving aside whether Macallan ever COULD prove something through colour as opposed to age, it’s no real defense of why production information beyond obvious colour HAS to be hidden, OR proof that age is immaterial just because age remains unknown (and because Macallan doesn’t want to talk about it) – first show me a confirmed Macallan 8 that’s better than a confirmed 18 and THEN you can tell me age doesn’t matter.


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