With the Deanston 12, I don't know whether my feelings are a result of the scotch desperately trying too hard, trying hard in all the wrong areas, or not trying hard enough.
By most accounts, Deanston is an also-ran distillery—the kind that for years was content to sell its scotch to other blenders, living a life of quiet anonymity to those outside of the industry. But all of a sudden, it's 2008, and hold the phones: the millennials are drinking single malt whisky!?
If you're an eco-conscious, fair-trade, organically-produced, non-GMO kind of consumer, let me tell you: Deanston really wants to jump in the Prius and go home with you. They're apparently the only self-sustaining distillery in Scotland that runs on hydroelectric power, they use only Scottish-grown barley, and they refuse to even use computers as part of their production process. These guys would be totally off the grid if their marketing department didn't spend so much time oohing and ahhing over it, incessantly pointing out how off the grid they are.
If I seem dismissive, it's because I don't think much of this translates to making a good whisky. The Deanston 12, paraphrasing a guy I know, is positioned as a craft product because it has to be. That identity is the only real quality the distillery has going for it. In most respects, it's mild-mannered at best and boring at worst.
The main quality I get from most of the Deanston range is apples. It starts off well enough, with tart apples, then cinnamon-baked apples on the development. It's drinkable at a relatively generous bottling strength of 46.3%, though with just a splash of water it opens up to give a bit more cereal and maltiness.
The finish is a bit of a bummer, though, since it's a lot more bitter and musty on the exit than you'd think. I think the Deanston 12 fades out with kind of a burlap, sawdust kind of taste. It often leaves you with the gritty, mealy sensation of apples that makes some people avoid the fruit entirely. That's definitely not the best presentation of the wood used in the maturation. Once that shock is behind you though, the cinnamon does linger and the dram is quite warming.
At the end of the day, I dunno: maybe a computer or two in the still house wouldn't hurt. Unfortunately for Deanston, there are a lot of chill-filtered, artificially colored, and aggressively-diluted scotches that taste much better than their flagship malt. Especially at a $50 price point. I like the distillery's mission and applaud their values, but I don't think any of it has translated (here at least) to a better bottle of scotch.