|"I am married... to Deanston!"|
My quest for a more reasonably-priced single malt began last month. In February of this year (2013) I left a miserable job in finance to pursue other interests. The only benefit of my finance job was that it paid well, at least relative to previous jobs I had, so I could be a bit more liberal in my spending on whisk(e)y. Therefore, I had plenty of whiskies when I resigned. Now it's been about nine months and I am at a point where I need to start replenishing my depleted stocks - but on a smaller budget.
I saw the Deanston Virgin Oak tucked into the corner on the bottom shelf of my liquor store. At $32 (US) it was well below the minimum I stated above and, being much more wallet-conscious now, it basically made the decision for me. Not to imply I only got it because it was inexpensive, it was how this whisky was finished that intrigued me and convinced me I wasn't just getting some cheap: this whisky was finished in Virgin Oak barrels.
If you've actually been following this blog, you may remember a post I had on bourbon. Bourbon, according to Title 27, Section 5.22 of U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, has to be aged in "new, charred, white oak." As a barrel can only be used once, they are generally shipped to scotch, rum, and tequila distilleries (or even some beer brewers) to be used for aging those spirits (beers). However, a whiskey in "new, charred, white oak" barrel takes its toll on the barrel - especially the layer of sap that "caramelizes" just behind the charred layer inside the barrel. Hot summers and high pressure from stormy weather in the Southeastern US force the aging spirit to expand into the barrel while the cold winters force a withdrawal. This seasonality depletes the sap layer so by the time it is emptied, there isn't a whole lot left in the staves of the barrel to influence the flavor of another distilled spirit. Perfect for scotch because, generally speaking, it's the peat that does the talking for scotch.
As this was finished in a Virgin Oak barrel, or a "new, charred, white oak" barrel, I was interested in seeing how a bourbon-finish tasted.
Seeing as how there is no age statement on the bottle, an "aged-three-year" guarantee is all one can expect as single malts need a minimum of three years in the barrel before being bottled and sold. Furthermore, it doesn't say how long it was "finished" in this new barrel. Based on the seasonality I explained above, one would hope that there would be at least one year in a "new, charred, white oak" barrel for there to be any real influence on this whisky. Anyway, three years isn't a very long time so I was expecting some heat on this whisky too.
It has the color of apple juice in the bottle: a light, golden brown. The bottle claims it is un-chill filtered and that there is "[n]othing added but had work and determination" so I can only assume they didn't add any caramel coloring. The nose has hints of honey, lemon, banana, clove and peat. As expected, there was a fair amount of heat on the first sip. Now, this is either because it may have been aged for only three years, or the virgin oak barrel provided a lot of "chemical influence." Sometimes the barrel can introduce a whole set of chemical components to a newly distilled spirit that can make it "harsher" in the first few years of aging but will mellow out with more time. Either way, this was not a very smooth whisky. Nevertheless, a lot of the same aromas on the nose were in the flavors of the scotch too, with some brine and sage too. An important note is that while this is smoky, it's not peaty smoky like scotch. The smokiness is more from the charring of the barrel than from the peat used to malt the barley. Not to say there isn't the flavor of peat but here the virgin oak is letting itself be known.
For $32 (US) I'm impressed. The Virgin Oak finish is noticeable, and while not very smooth, it's got a bit more complexity to it than some more expensive scotches I've tried and/or purchased in the past.
I may just buy this again.