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!

18 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:


      • I guess it’s really really silly of me to jump into this slightly pedantic discussion 6-and-a-half years after the fact, but here goes…

        To my mind, what you are missing Dworgi is that the 100-point scale was never intended to be “maximally informative”, i.e. spread whiskies as broadly and uniformly across the scale as possible so that each point in difference between two scores has a statistically well-defined bearing on how different in quality these two whiskies are. In fact, the 100-point scale was apparently adopted in loose analogy with the school grading system. This also doesn’t seek to populate the 0-100% scale as broadly as possible, but uses a scale of 50-100 or 60-100 for pass marks (depending on what the grading conventions are where you live). I find the table of letter grades and percentages (here: offers a pretty happy correspondence with MAO’s usage (A – 90%-100% – “outstanding” to “close to perfection”; B – 80-90% – “solid” to “very good”; C – 70-80% – “acceptable” to “drinkable” etc).

        So the mistake I think you have made Dworgi, if you will allow me to say so, is to see a 100-point scale and assume it ought to be equivalent to the centigrade scale for example, with a defined start- and endpoint at 0 and 100 respectively and intervening values spread out uniformly. But that’s simply not how the 100-point scale is defined in drinks tasting – it is instead simply an extension of the letter grade system, allowing the reviewer to express a slightly higher degree of nuance than the A-F scale allows, but should not, I would argue, be read as a quantitative measurement but rather as a loosely defined code for a subjective value judgment. Nobody is stopping you, if you would prefer, from converting MAO’s scores to letter grades, and personally I don’t think you would be loosing a huge amount of information if you did – but I also don’t think anyone is claiming that the 100-point scale offers anything much more than that. (See eg Serge here: or here: – “Scores are opinions, expressed in a numerical form”, or of course MAO himself in the Protocols section of this very website: “I have large reservations about such a [100-point] scale as it tends to suggest an ability to make fine distinctions that are not actually humanly possible.”)

        I strongly suspect that all of this makes a fool’s errand out of your statistical normalisation procedure, as attractive as it might sound in theory. The other more practical problem is that you will have no way of accounting for differences in selection bias between different reviewers, which means comparisons between normalised scores from different sources will be completely meaningless. You will fare much better by sticking to well-defined social conventions than trying to impose some kind of (false) mathematical certainty on the issue.

        For what it’s worth, I also think you’ll enjoy your whisky more if you don’t worry about trying to figure out how good it *really* is, quantitatively speaking. My own way of dealing with scores is to treat a score of 80-ish and above as a rough indication of a level of quality that I consider worth buying, and to go by the verbal description beyond that. Some whiskies are scored highly by reviewers I respect and do little for me, others are scored in the low 80s or even high 70s and would get a 90 from me. But the point is that I know I have different taste in whisky that MAO or other reviewers – but I can use a combination of their tasting notes, their score and my own experience to work out which whiskies are interesting for me. Look ma, no false pretenses at objectivity!

        Now if anybody actually read this far into this accidental essay I may as well say what I actually think about Deanston 12, being most of the way through a recent bottle. It’s OK, in a word. I agree with Alex below on “easy daily sipper”. I get a fairly generic combination of malt biscuits, ginger and slight oranginess on both nose and palate, i.e. robust first-fill bourbon cask whisky, but no stand-out features – would score around 80 for me probably. I get none of the interesting notes in Serge’s 2017 review (grapefruit, coal smoke, tobacco, iron filings, shoe polish…!).

        Liked by 1 person

        • Not sure what this says about me, but I read your post in its entirety and agree with your points on the numerical scores. Serge’s review of Deanston that we both referred to highlights a different issue in whisky tasting/reviews: that of comparison and context. It’s a rather obvious point, but tasting a whisky in isolation will produce very different notes compared to tasting it alongside others. For example, I always found the Balblair 2000 to be very good, but lacking a bit of ‘Balblairness’ because of the strong sherry notes – I would never get the citrus and light floral notes that I consider the Balblair ‘signature’ which are so abundant in their younger bottlings. More recently I had it next to a Glengoyne 21, and all of a sudden, next to a whisky matured almost exclusively in first fill sherry, the Balblair emerged as a lot more balanced and subtle than I previously thought.

          Why the long digression? Because Serge tried the Deanston 12 after a Cardhu, Macallan and Glen Moray, all bottled at 40%, and all very easy, fruity and sweet. No wonder the Deanston at 46.3% is “wilder, earthier, with even wee whiffs of coal smoke, then rather grapefruits and limestone, rather ala unsherried Highland Park.” Next to the uniform smoothness of the other three, he even goes on to say the Deanston is “the missing link between Springbank and Highland Park”.

          Now, I’m not rubbishing Serge’s notes, nor am I saying that the Deanston cannot be any of these things (although it isn’t for me, personally). Perhaps it highlights that whisky reviews are nothing more than transient snapshots in time, with tasting notes and marks very highly dependent on whether a whisky was tasted on its own, with stablemates from the same distillery, or with different whiskies altogether. Obviously it’s possible to arrive at a slightly more ‘scientific’ method – unless we’re tasting small sample bottles we are able to taste a whisky on various occasions in different contexts and create a sort of aggregate. (I do doubt the extent to which Serge can do that, given the sheer volume of spirits he reviews. That’s again an observation, not a criticism – as he says after all he has no pretensions of being a professional and is doing it all for fun.)


          • I agree with what you say about the contingent nature of tasting notes as it is what I say myself on my “Protocols” page:

            “It should be borne in mind that there are all kind of variables in tasting–of environment, palate, the condition of a bottle etc. etc.. Each rating is a snapshot of an intersection of various variables. While a numerical rating may seem solid and precise, this is not really the case. A whisky that rates 85 points on one occasion might get 89 on another. And I may well review a whisky more than once and assign different ratings–in such cases, both ratings will be “accurate”. Nonetheless, as I rarely venture into the 90s, scores above 90 points should be seen as very solid and considered endorsements. Similarly, scores below 70 (if any should be posted; most whiskies are at worst acceptable) should be seen as indicating possibly poisonous swill.”


          • Yes, very good point on the context-dependence of tasting whisky. Well put, MAO, when you call it a snapshot. I hadn’t really thought about that in the context of tasting notes, though it is such a big part of my own experience of drinking whisky! I guess because I think of whisky-bloggers as godlike creatures outside of the realm of earthly human weaknesses…

            And I have to admit that, for whatever reason, when I had the Deanston again last night I *did* get some grapefruit and limestone notes, as well as a sherbet-y quality on the palate that I enjoy a lot and which does remind me of Springbank. So suddenly I’m a lot closer to Serge’s appraisal than I was last time! I still would file it under brash and bourbon-forward overall, but that is a style I currently have a gentle grudge against – somebody who didn’t suffer from that bias might well find a lot to like.


          • 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.


  5. Fast-forward a few years and I think the Deanston 12 has improved considerably – not sure if you’ve had a change to taste it recently. Serge has given a more recent batch 87, with the 18 year-old fetching the same score. Ralfy has even named it his whisky of the year – while I wouldn’t go that far, having first tasted the Deanston in the beginning of the last decade I do feel it’s better now. It’s no nosing whisky but they’ve used a lot of first-fill casks in the vatting and it shows. Would recommend it for a re-evaluation or just as a relatively easy daily sipper.


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