Posted in Daytripping, Stirlingshire

Tasting the angels’ share

Fresh from a star-turn at the Cannes Film Festival, the UK release of The Angels’ Share has caused quite a buzz among Scottish movie fans.

Shot in and around Glasgow, The Angels’ Share is the latest offering from writer Paul Laverty and director Ken Loach. The film follows the (mis)fortunes of a group of unemployed young offenders – Robbie, Albert, Mo and Rhino – after they’ve been sentenced to community service. When their supervisor takes them on a jolly to a local whisky distillery, the youngsters suddenly find themselves presented with an unanticipated way out of their seemingly blighted lives. Paradoxically, however, to escape from a life of crime they must first commit a crime… 

Having seen and thoroughly enjoyed The Angels’ Share at our local multiplex last Sunday, we set out a couple of days later to visit one of the key locations: Deanston Distillery, where Robbie and his mates take that fateful first whisky tour and tasting.

The distillery sits on the banks of the river Teith, just outside Stirling. A brand spanking new visitor centre opened in May and guided tours are available throughout the day. Joy McAvoy (sister of James) plays the part of tour guide in the film. We were shown around by Kevin, who may not have such a famous sibling (I presume) but exuded enthusiasm for both whisky and the process of making it. If you take the tour, look out for members of staff who doubled up as supporting artistes during filming.

Deanston is unique as far as Scottish distilleries go because it started life in the 18th century as a cotton mill.  Consequently, it’s not exactly the most picturesque place you’ll ever clap eyes on (indeed another distillery – Glengoyne – provided the exterior shots for the film). Nonetheless, the attributes that made Deanston good for cotton have now been harnessed to make single malt whisky. The river Teith provides both power (in the form of hydroelectricity) and one of the three ingredients of the final product (water), the other two being unpeated malted barley and yeast. After distillation, the whisky is slowly aged in oak bourbon casks in the old weaving shed, a crypt-like room permeated by a cool, hushed atmosphere of expectation. It’s at this point in the process that the so-called “angels’ share” is lost through evaporation. 

Naturally enough, the tour ends in the tasting room. I’m probably too much of a red-wine-guzzling philistine to appreciate the subtle aromas and flavours of Deanston; however, “honey”, “apple” and “vanilla” were all mentioned by the more enlightened members of our party. Kevin recommends Deanston as an excellent “starter” malt for people who’ve never tried one before or else have had a bad experience with a peaty variety. 

Deanston isn’t just about the whisky though. In the on-site café – The Coffee Bothy – I treated myself to a vast slab of homemade lemon drizzle cake. It was absolutely delicious and provided the sugar rush required to deal with the screeching kids at our next destination, Blair Drummond Safari and Adventure Park.

The adjacent shop is well-stocked with bottles of Deanston, as well as single malts from sister distilleries on Islay and Mull. The branded merchandise is tasteful (none of the usual tourist tat!), reasonably priced and comes in muted, natural colours that seem in tune with the whole handcrafted ethos of Deanston. I have my eye on one of the rustic pottery water jugs next time I visit.

A great deal of care and attention to detail has obviously gone into the design and sourcing of fixtures and fittings for the visitor centre. I loved the hefty furniture made from reclaimed rail sleepers and all the archival material on display. If I have one slight niggle, it would be that the mirror in the ladies’ loo is hung a tad too high. I consider myself to be of average height but struggled to see what I was doing when reapplying my lippy post-lemon drizzle cake.

On heading back to the car, we caught a glimpse of a grey heron stood immobile in the river, testament to the purity of the water and an unexpected wildlife sighting that nicely rounded off our trip.

If you’ve seen The Angels’ Share (or even if you haven’t), consider paying Deanston Distillery a visit. Frankly, it’s worth the drive just for the cake.

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Prone to magpie tendencies, I enjoy nothing more than musing – in pictures and in words – on a few of my favourite things.

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