The Angels' Leftovers

The Angels' Share

In the film dubbed “Scotland’s answer to The Full Monty”, The Angel’s Share, logic is twisted as a matter of sport… 

“Whit’s that up there?”

“That’s Edinburgh Castle ya numpty”

“What did they put it up there for?”

That’s Ken Loach for you.

The film title refers to the 2% or so of whisky that evaporates in the barrel and never actually makes it into a bottle – much to the frustration of Messrs Customs and Excise. Two percent may disappear but, as with the spirit, 98% of the movie remains engaging, entertaining and exciting.

In addition to a fine cast, there are some stellar film locations. Chief among these are the Balblair and Deanston distilleries. Their roles in the film have never been adequately appreciated so it falls to to recognise their contribution to both Scottish cinema history and Scottish whisky fame.

Balblair and Deanston are two particularly distinctive distilleries (hence their inclusion in the film no doubt).

Take Deanston. It has only been around as a whisky brand since the 1960s so, in category terms, it is a young upstart. But the distillery is housed in an 18th century cotton mill near Doune, north west of Stirling so it is cloaked in history. It’s adjacent to the River Teith too, so a key raw material for a fine dram is immediately on hand.

Cavernous windowless rooms host barrel ageing which is much more civilised than their former roll as cotton loom mums and kids worked their magic for hour after hour in conditions much more trying for human stock.

Today, fine craftsmanship has replaced hard graft and Deanston is all the better for it. Deanston drams are ‘craft whisky’ distinctive because only strictly traditional methods of distilling are employed. So no chill-filtering for cosmetic effect here. No sir, hand made not machine finished thank you very much.

And the result?

Whisky that is distinctly fruity and sweet on the palate before giving way to a more restrained spicy honeyed finish whilst malt is a constant companion throughout. Age refines and restrains these key ingredients as they are melded into significantly more mature experiences.

Michael Jackson’s much more professional Malt Whisky Companion describes the Deanston product thus: “Light…accented toward a noticeably clean, malty sweetness.” And Deanston’s own 12 year old malt label asserts, noticeably more modestly, it is “simple handcrafted natural”.

Check out for more inside track on this stellar distillery’s dream dram-making.

 In contrast…

The Balblair Distillery. Nowhere near Balblair, incidentally, as your writer discovered on an impromptu drive a few weekends ago. (It’s actually in Edderton, Tain in Ross-shire.)

Another point of difference with Balblair is they brand their bottles according to the year of production so, for example, a sixteen year old single malt is labelled 00 – for the year 2000 but becomes a seventeen year old malt next year. Kinda makes sense if you think about it. (Assuming you are capable of making a bottle stretch into the New Year, that is.)

So Balblair is unique because it is only ever released as Vintages. Each Balblair Vintage is only ever selected at the absolute peak of perfection and is hand-picked to represent the very best the distillery has to offer.

In contrast to central Scotland’s Deanston, the northern highland Balblair features water that has flowed down from Alt Dearg burn “over dry crumbly peat” according to the Malt Whisky Companion. “The typical spicy and fresh dryness…is now complemented by a richer fruit sweetness in the new Balblairs.”

But do not worry, readers. Whisky has been distilled from these surrounds since the mid 1700s with Balblair officially opening its doors in 1790. So they know what they are doing.

However, the similarities with Deanston are hard to ignore.

Take the 2000 Balblair. If you can get hold of it, that is. Pale gold in colour, its makers describe their product as follows:

“A superbly well balanced, full bodied malt with aromas of pears, pineapple and green apples: hints of honey and vanilla that come from the long years of maturation in American bourbon barrels can also be detected, adding to the complexity of this exceptional vintage.”

This is exceptional whisky making and fully justifies Balblair’s presence in The Angels' Share movie. (Mercifully, the angels' share remains a modest 2% so there is plenty to go round aficionados from within and outside Scotland.)

“There’s something quite special about a perfectly matured, Highland single malt whisky. About having the essence of a Vintage year, captured in a bottle. About tasting it, feeling it. For Balblair, timing is everything. It’s an art, an alchemy, a way of life,” said Balblair’s John MacDonald.

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