Distell Tasting At Fairleys

I recently had the pleasure to attend a tasting evening held by Distell in conjunction with Fairleys House of Wine (www.fairleys-wines.co.uk) in Coleraine. 

The Burn Stewart Distillers group had three distilleries under their umbrella, Bunnahabhain from the Isle of Islay, Deaston from Perthshire and Tobermory from the Isle of Mull (which also produces the Ledaig brand) and were acquired by the South African drinks company Distell for £160 million in 2013.

The tasting was hosted by brand ambassador Chris McArthur and he had a full house to entertain and inform, which he did very well. The Distell trio of distilleries do things the way whisky enthusiasts want to see. Their whiskies are bottled at 46.3%, are natural colour and are not chill-filtered, allowing their meticulously crafted products the best chance to shine without undue tampering. Its refreshing to see this attention to their craft when so many of the bigger names are merrily using chill-filtration, using copious amounts of e150 and bottling their spirits at 40% to maximise profits rather than worrying about the quality of their product.

(L to R) Bunnahabhain 12, Deanston Virgin Oak, Deanston 12, Deanston 18 (not pictured Ledaig 10)

So how do the whiskies from Distell taste? Continue reading for my thoughts below.

Bunnahabhain 12 (an unpeated Islay malt) (http://bunnahabhain.com/)

Colour: Bright copper
Nose: Earthy, vegetal, briny with late arrival of burnt embers
Palate: Hot pepper & vanilla initially, green apples, malt biscuits, salty, oily with a faint hint of smoke.
Finish: Medium, dry, salty, spicy & oaky
Overall: I really like this whisky (so much so I bought a bottle). Its a great and interesting change to the peat monster Isaly malts. The lack of peating the barley allows the spirit to shine through and it has a lovely nutty, spicy, salty flavour profile. Plenty of complexity to savour.

Deanston Virgin Oak (http://deanstonmalt.com/)

Colour: Straw
Nose: Alcohol, very floral, spicy and lemon zest
Palate: Honey, vanilla, lots and lots of oak
Finish: Short but dominated by oak and tannins.
Overall: Although a no-age-statement (NAS) whisky, this is by no means a bad whisky but not overly complex and noticeably youthful. However, as an introduction to the world of whisky its not a bad place to start with a lovely vanilla sweetness on the palate but for me it is just too dominated by the wood on the finish. I would recommend this over some of the NAS monstrosities, I mean, expressions available on the market.....Glenlivet Founders Reserve comes to mind (awful, awful stuff) and for the price of £35 its not too bad although I reckon £25 would be more on the mark.

Deanston 12 Year Old

Colour: Light Gold
Nose: Lime, Pineapple, Bubblegum....very fruity
Palate: Cinnamon lozenges, demerara sugar, tropical fruit and a slight chilli heat
Finish: Medium, spicy & dry
Overall: This is a great example of a 12 year old single malt and at around £36 a bottle is one that I would reach for before the big brands such as Glenlivet, Glenfiddich or Balvenie. It is very fruity and has a lot going on, no doubt helped by the lack of chill-filtration and the higher alcohol content. Excellent stuff.

Deanston 18 Year Old (matured exclusively in 2nd fill bourbon barrels)

Colour: Brassy Orange
Nose: Seville oranges, vanilla infused sugar, lovely oakiness
Palate: Creme caramel, molasses, licorice
Finish: Long, sweet with a subtle spiciness
Overall: No fancy dan finishes here, this whisky just highlights what can be achieved with a quality distillate, plain old bourbon barrels and time! My favourite of the night by miles. A lot of complexity on both the nose and palate and a finish that just continued to linger. Once I save my pennies I will buy a bottle of this. Sublime stuff.

Ledaig 10 Year Old (heavily peated) (http://tobermorydistillery.com/)

Colour: Summer Barley
Nose: Germolene, camphor, sugary brine and ash
Palate: Sweet peat, sea water, ginger, white pepper
Finish: Short, dry, salty and hot.
Overall: Ledaig 10 year old is peated to 40 ppm (that is Phenol parts per million) so it is up there with the big boys of peat land like Laphroaig, Ardbeg & Lagavulin. Personally I don't think it has quite hit the heights of either the Laphroaig or Ardbeg 10 year old expressions but it certainly is not far off and it is a welcome variation of the peat monster theme. I'd definitely like to do a side by side comparison at any rate! But for a venture off the beaten track in peat land I would definitely recommend you try this expression and make up your own mind.....variety is the spice of life after all!

I personally had a great night at this particular tasting and would like to thank Distell & Chris McArthur for making the trip over to Coleraine to show off their wares, of which the Bunnahabhain 12 and the Deanston 18 were my particular highlights. I'd also like to show appreciation to Fairleys and in particular, Mark Fairley for organising this event. It allowed a lot of enthusiasts the chance to try out brands that they may have been reticent to buy a full bottle of just because they are lesser known, yet they craft a product superior to many of the more readily available brands. I would heartily encourage anyone to give these brands a try over the bigger name brands out there such as Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, Glenmorangie, etc etc and I believe you will not be disappointed.

I would also encourage you to support local specialist shops such as Fairleys who through their passion and knowledge make available some of the lesser known hidden gems of the whisky, wine & beer world. Supermarkets are fine, but when did Asda or Sainsburys last organise a free tasting event in your locality? Also supermarkets tend to have a very thin spread of brands available compared to what a specialist shop will have. Personally I would rather spend £40 on a bottle of Ledaig 10 year old (age statement, non-chill filtered, natural colour, 46.3% abv) from my local specialist than £35 on a bottle of the exceedingly disappointing Bowmore Small Batch (NAS, chill filtered, colouring added, 40% abv and symptomatic of a large brand trying to make profit over quality) that is often available in supermarkets. 

Anyway, rant over! I'm off to consider some Glenfiddich's for my next post!

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