John Dewar & Sons Ltd was founded in 1846. Originally, like many of his early competitors, John Dewar operated a small wine and spirits shop that specialized in blending its own proprietary whisky blend. When he died in 1880, the firm was taken over by his sons, John and Thomas, who transformed it into a global brand.
In 1886, John Dewar’s whisky won its first medal for blended whisky at the Edinburgh Exhibition. The first of what would be more than 500 medals to follow. Five years later Dewar, inadvertently, pulled off the marketing coup of the century. Andrew Carnegie, the American steel magnate, had a small keg of Dewar’s whisky sent to President Benjamin Harrison in order to chide him for not supporting homegrown American products like bourbon. The resulting publicity led to a quintupling of American sales of his blended whisky.
With a solid foothold in the British market, and his American sales booming, in 1892 Thomas Dewar embarked on his “ramble round the globe.” His one man, two-year sales mission visited 26 countries, resulting in the appointment of 32 agents and a worldwide export network. His success earned him a Royal Warrant from Queen Victoria. The company has received warrants from every British monarch since.
Thomas Dewar was an iconic character, famous as an inveterate storyteller, and for his pithy epithets. His all-time favorite was the oft quoted remark that, “There are lots of people out there trying to find new ways to make mistakes.” One of his favorite stories described how during his travels through “dry” counties in the southern US he once asked about the availability of whisky. He was advised none was available but that he could try the local anti-cholera medicine.
The medicine turned out to be a bottle of Dewar’s, still with the original label on one side, and a new label advertising it as anti-cholera medicine on the opposite side. Dewar was fond of reporting that he took his anti-cholera medicine as instructed three times a day and not once did he come down with cholera while traveling through the US.
In 1899, Dewar unveiled White Label, still the company’s flagship whisky more than a century later. To guarantee a supply of malt it also acquired Aberfeldy, Aultmore, Macduff (since closed), Craigellachie and Royal Brackla. The distilleries eventually became part of the Distillers Co. The group, after many mergers and acquisitions, would eventually morph into spirits giant Diageo.
In 1998, Dewar’s and its associated distilleries were sold to Bacardi. Dewar’s White Label was the best-selling blended whisky in the US, with sales of over a million nine-liter cases in 2017, and ranks eighth overall worldwide with sales of 2.7 million cases.
One of the company’s early innovations was the practice of marrying whiskies, by region of origin, for six months or more before blending them into the final expression and aging it for another six months or so. The process, developed by A J Cameron, Dewar’s first master blender, was described as “double aging,” and was credited by the company with making its whisky particularly smooth and giving it a consistent “it never varies” character.
The company has now announced a new four-stage aging process, termed a “double double.” It was developed by its current master blender, Stephanie Macleod and is designed to further enhance the brand’s legendary smoothness. The four-step process begins with the conventional aging of malt and grain whiskies in separate oak casks. The grain whiskies are then blended together and allowed to marry while they are being aged for a second time in neutral (or exhausted) oak casks. The malt whiskies undergo an identical process.
In the third step, the grain and malt whiskies are mixed together into the final blend and then aged again for a third time in neutral oak casks. They typical aging during the second and third steps is usually for six months, although the final decision is left to the discretion of the master blender. Following the third stage, the blended whisky undergoes a fourth and final finishing in sherry casks for up to a year. The process creates an exceptionally smooth and complex whisky.
Recently Dewar’s announced the release of the first three whiskies in its new Double Double series. The range features a 21 YO, 27 YO and a 32 YO blended whisky, which has been finished in a variety of sherry casks. The whisky is non-chill filtered and no artificial coloring has been used. The series is only available, for now, at travel retail outlets and are packaged in 500 ml bottles.
Dewar’s Double Double Series, 21 YO, 46% ABV, 500 ml, $90
The 21 YO is finished in a cask that previously held Oloroso sherry. The color is a rich golden amber. On the nose, there are notes of honey, along with some ripe apple and hints of golden raisin, stone and tropical fruit, along with a little bit of licorice and marzipan. There are spice notes of cinnamon, pepper and a little nutmeg.
On the palate, the whisky is smooth and rich, with a pronounced palate weight and viscosity. There are sweet honey and caramel notes, along with hints of peach and apricot, as well as a little sweet marzipan, followed by a little cinnamon and a pronounced pepperiness that steadily builds. The finish is medium length, smooth with sweet caramel notes, and a pronounced pepperiness.
Dewar’s Double Double Series, 27 YO, 46% ABV, 500 ml, $160
The 27 YO is finished in a Palo Cortado sherry cask. Palo Cortado is an unusual form of sherry that undergoes an initial aging under flor, like a fino or amontillado, but inexplicably loses its veil of flor and starts to age oxidatively like an Oloroso. The result is a sherry that can have the weight and richness of Oloroso, but still retains the crispness and dryness of a fino or an amontillado. The color is a bright gold. On the nose, there are aromas of mint, golden raisin and ripe peach, as well as some cinnamon and slight vanilla notes. There are also aromas of new saddle leather, along with very slight hints of smoke.
On the palate, the whisky is smooth with a pronounced viscosity and palate weight. There are sweet honey notes, along with crème caramel and some caramel, a bit of lemon zest, and a hint of ripe peach and tropical fruit. There are also vanilla and cinnamon notes, along with slight hints of smoke. As the whisky opens up a pronounced cooked oatmeal note also emerges.
The finish is medium length, featuring sweet stone and tropical fruit and a persistent licorice note, along with some cinnamon and peppery elements.
Dewar’s Double Double Series, 32 YO, 46% ABV 500 ml, $250
The 32 YO is finished in Pedro Ximenez casks. Pedro Ximenez is a very sweet, syrupy sherry that is made by raisinating the grapes before they are vinified. The color is a dark gold. On the nose, there is a pronounced waxy aroma, along with notes of baked apple, stone fruit, fig and golden raisin. There are notes of saddle leather, along with vanilla, cinnamon and clove notes, as well as a bit of mint and smoke. There is also a cooked cereal note that gradually emerges as the whisky opens up.
On the palate, there are dried figs and sweet golden raisins, along with notes of caramel, stone fruit and licorice. There are additional notes of cinnamon, nutmeg and a little clove, along with some pepper. Like its siblings, this is a thick, viscous whisky with a smooth texture and a pronounced palate weight. The finish is medium length, featuring notes of caramel, tropical spices and pepper and a hint of licorice.
These are excellent sipping whiskies. They are exceptionally creamy and smooth with a nuanced palate that features pronounced fruitiness and tropical spice. The different sherry cask finishes add an element of complexity and helps to differentiate the whiskies from each other, although their common DNA is unmistakable.
Looking for a cheaper alternative that still reflects many of the same characteristics of Dewar’s Double Double series? Consider the Dewar’s White Label core range. It consists of White Label and the Dewar’s 12, 15, 18 and 25 YO expressions. All of these expressions are a blend of malt and grain whiskies that have been matured in either ex-bourbon or sherry casks.
Dewar’s White Label, NAs, 40% ABV, 750 ml, $20
This is the original expression that is the foundation of Dewar’s whisky empire. The expression has undoubtedly changed since it was first formulated in 1899. It is blended from 40 different single malts and grain whiskies. The color is a pale yellow. On the nose, the whisky is honey sweet with floral notes, along with elements of apple and cooked cereal. The whisky is spirity, with a bit of alcohol harshness on the nose.
On the palate, there are sweet honey notes, cooked cereal and notes of apple and a bit of pear, as well as peach and lemon zest. Aberfeldy is the core malt in the Dewar range, both the core range and the new Double Double series, and gives both series a common denominator of aroma and flavor.
The finish is very short. This is a young spirit, although there is enough creaminess on the palate and enough sweet fruit notes to be interesting. This is a whisky that works equally well on the rocks and in cocktails.
Dewar’s The Ancestor, 12 YO, 40% ABV, 750 ml, $29
This is a similar blend to the White Label, but with a bit more age. The color is a light gold. On the nose, it has a creamy character. There are notes of lemon zest, along with notes of stone fruit. There is an herbaceous note—a bit of licorice and cut grass. There is also some vanilla and some cinnamon spice. There is still a bit of noticeable spirity alcohol on the nose, although less than in White Label.
On the palate, there is stone fruit, principally peach, along with notes of salted caramel and citrus zest, and also some lingering cooked cereal notes as the whisky opens up. The finish is still short, featuring some peach, cooked cereal and pastry notes and a hint of bitterness. There is still a bit of alcohol burn. This whisky is better on the rocks or in a cocktail as the addition of a little water makes it sweeter and rounder and emphasizes its creamy character.
Dewar’s The Monarch, 15 YO, 40% ABV, 750 ml, $42
This is a slightly older version than the 12 YO, and also consists of a blend of 40 different grain and malt whiskies. Historically, the 15 YO had an element of 27 YO Aberfeldy at its core, although it is not clear if that is still the case. The color is a bright, polished copper. On the nose, it offers floral aromas, along with notes of sweet honey, cooked cereal, stone fruit and some oak and a hint of smoke. There is just a hint of alcohol burn, otherwise the alcohol is well integrated.
On the palate, it is smooth and creamy. There are the characteristic notes of peach, sweet honey and cooked cereal that are typical of Dewar’s, along with some vanilla and cinnamon. The finish is a little longer, with peach and vanilla notes and some pepperiness that builds toward the end. Another versatile whisky that is excellent both on the rocks and in a cocktail.
Dewar’s The Vintage, 18 YO, 40% ABV, 750 ml, $66
The color is a bright gold. On the nose, there is the characteristic creaminess of Dewar’s, along with notes of peach, orange zest and a bit of cherry. There are herbaceous notes, but these are drier, more dry heather and hay than cut grass, than in the younger expressions, along with the characteristic sweet honey notes of Dewar’s and some vanilla and cinnamon.
On the palate, there are sweet honey and salted caramel notes, along with candied orange zest, mint, peach and some cooked cereal. The whisky is smooth, creamy, almost buttery, with a more noticeable palate weight than the other expressions. There are tropical spice notes of cinnamon and all-spice, along with some ginger pepperiness. The finish is long, creamy smooth, with a touch of sweetness, tropical spices and a hint of oak and smoke. This is an excellent sipping whisky and very versatile. Although if you prefer your whisky on the rocks, the 12 YO and 15 YO will probably do as well and are considerably cheaper.
Dewar’s The Signature, 25 YO, 40% ABV, 750 ml, $239
This is the top expression in the Dewar’s core range. It is also the most recent addition. It replaced the NAS Signature and utilizes some of the oldest whiskies available at Dewar’s. The final marrying of the blended whiskies takes place in casks that were previously used to mature Royal Brackla. Although Aberfeldy is considered the core malt in the Dewar’s range, Royal Brackla has also historically played a prominent role. The color is a deep yellow gold.
On the nose, it has the characteristic Dewar’s profile of sweet honey and caramel, along with notes of baked apple, stone fruit and some tropical fruit. The sherry cask influence is more evident here, likely the result of using first fill casks, than in the previous expressions. There are additional, layered notes of raisin, fig and prune—what are typically referred to as fruitcake or Christmas pudding notes. There is also that distinctive saddle leather element, which is often found in ultra-aged whiskies, along with vanilla and cinnamon notes.
On the palate, the whisky is smooth and creamy. There are sweet honey notes, along with some salted caramel and baked apple and pear. There are additional notes of peach, as well as some dried tropical fruit notes of mango and pineapple and a bit of fresh melon. There are also some milk chocolate notes, along with vanilla and cinnamon, also some clove and allspice. Additionally, there are some licorice elements and a bit of ginger. A pronounced cooked cereal flavor emerges as the whisky opens up.
The finish is long, smooth and creamy. It is dry, notwithstanding the sweet note on the palate, and is marked by fruitiness that gives way to a long lingering finish of wood spice and a bit of oak and smoke.
This is a superb whisky. It offers nuanced complexity wrapped up in a smooth, creamy character with a lingering finish. Like its 18 YO sibling, it is excellent as a sipping whisky, but on the rocks or in a cocktail, the younger, cheaper expressions will probably do just as well.