Deanston 26-year-old vs Bruichladdich 18-year-old (RF)

Today’s side by side sip is courtesy of another [paid for] tasting I participated in this past Monday at Soho’s Milroy’s. In this case, “rare find” is not a playful description of some uncovering that I have partaken in, but rather a name of an actual independent bottler’s range, literally called Rare Find Whisky. It’s owned by Gleann Mòr Spirits in Edinburgh, which is also behind the Whisky Row, among other gin and spirit brands. But today, I am tasting a few of their new [old] releases, focusing on these two distilleries. So, let’s see how this goes, but first, we need music! Now playing: Arthur RubinsteinThe Chopin Collection (1984 RCA Red Seal vinyl boxset).

All of the releases from Rare Find are un-chill filtered, un-coloured, and bottled at cask strength (where possible). This Deanston was distilled in 1995 and aged for 26 years in ex-bourbon refill barrels. It’s got that beautiful colour, scent, and, indeed, taste that can only be imparted upon with the older bourbon-only barrels. What’s interesting about this particular release is that it is actually one half of a pair. The second bottling came out of the same barrel but finished in an ex-sherry quarter cask for 7 months. Whereas this bottle comes in at 53.9% ABV, the additional ageing of the second brought it down, almost two per cent, to 52.2% ABV. This is a fascinating pairing, as it shows what further ageing (as in Balvenie’s DoubleWood) could do to an already fantastic whisky. In fact, it tastes completely different, as the sherry notes overwhelm that scrumptious caramel extracted from ex-bourbon. It also demonstrates what only 7 months can do, and if it was an Octave barrel [even smaller than a quarter cask], it probably would have changed in half the time. Although I am a big fan of sherried scotch, I think, in this case, the purity of the original stands out better. Here, honeycomb, red cherries, and boiled sweets give way to Christmas cake, baked apples, and spiced finish extracted from the oloroso. Meanwhile, Deanston is a Highland distillery new to me, and I make a mental note to check out their core range releases.

So yes, although, realistically, I actually had two drams already with the above, I’m really comparing here only the ex-bourbon release to the next pour. And that is an 18-year-old Bruichladdich, bottled in 2003 at 52.1% ABV. Right away, I am biased towards this single cask from the Islay distillery. The Bruichladdich is not peaty. The distillery’s peaty range is Port Charlotte, and yet an even heavier super-peaty face punch is the Octomore [of which I am a big fan]. And yet, there is a special character behind this whisky. It was finished in a sherry hogshead, which added more dark chocolate and warm earthy tones to its sweet toasted aroma. It’s very different from all Bruichladdich’s that I’ve tried before, and when I look up the price of this bottle, I’m not surprised to find it selling at £200. It’s very different from Deanston and deserves its own review against the other bottlings from the distillery to see how Rare Find stands out and how a single cask tastes compared to a vatting of the many barrels blended for the classic taste. But then again, I won’t find an 18-year-old finished in a sherry hogshead from Bruichladdich unless I dip into their Rare Cask Series. This is the one you may want to break your wallet on, folks, as it is indeed, one of a kind experience, which is exactly what an independent bottler offers. This is why my 28-year-old Bruichladdich from TBWC is still unopened [for now].

So yes, it’s fair to say I have a favourite. And once again, I will admit that I am biased towards Islay. For that alone, it’s easy to deduce my call, and I’ll proclaim that Bruichladdich wins this round.

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