“Dewar’s never varies.”
So went the tag line of the old print adverts for Dewar’s “White Label” blended Scotch whisky. Responses to this statement might serve as an interesting Rorschach test of whisky drinkers. Does that comfort you or bore you?
As an adventurous drinker, I often find myself passing over the big brand names – especially in blended whisky – in favor of independently-bottled curiosities or the new expressions that emerge periodically from the single malt distilleries. This is exacerbated by the emphasis on consistency. If nothing ever varies, as promised, then why bother going back again?
I, therefore, found my curiosity piqued when I noticed a trio of new Dewar’s expressions hit the shelves of my local bottle shop.
There’s not much of a history with Dewar’s on MALT. Jason did his duty by reviewing the ubiquitous White Label in 2016, which was served in a miniature bottle on an aeroplane. I wonder what percentage of Dewar’s sales come from this format? It’s certainly the only way I ever consume it – or did until United started offering Glenfarclas 12 Years Old for $1 more. Otherwise, coverage has been limited to the 18 year old, also reviewed by Jason. Like all the legacy pieces on the site, they’re full of insight and deserve occasional re-reading.
Thus, this novel trio seemed to offer an opportunity to revisit Dewar’s in a way that might be of interest to the MALT readership. In the spirit of trying something familiar yet new, I sprung for the lowest entrant in this fancy new range.
The first impression, before the bottle is even open, is that these look very different from the normal Dewar’s offering, ornamented as it is with Celtic knots and the gold foil crest of royal appointment. In stark contrast, these are presented with an aesthetic similar to Apple products; the packaging is modern, white, and comparatively clean.
Angular 375 ml bottles are ensconced in a heavy box that seems designed to mask the lesser quantity of actual whisky. The smaller format is reminiscent of the downsizing that occurred with the ill-fated “premiumisation” drive at Mortlach, and we all know how that turned out. Even before I opened the bottle, I was on guard, especially given the higher price point.
As Jason noted, the writer of Dewar’s labels seems to suffer from loghorrea. The quantity of words in whisky is often in inverse proportions to the amount of information provided. These new expressions are dubbed “Double Double Aged for Ultimate Smoothness.” Additional verbiage specifies “4-stage ageing, finished in Oloroso sherry casks.”
A diagram on the back of the box, reproduced below, gets into specifics. Stage 1 is single grain and single malt whiskies aged in oak casks. The second stage is blended grain and blended malt whiskies, also aged in oak casks. Step 3 entails blending the blended grain and blended malt whiskies, with additional aging in oak casks. Step 4, verbatim: “This meticulously blended whisky is finally aged in sherry casks.”
As a primer on the blending process: it’s not a bad one, if over-simplified (“Blending for Dummies”). I don’t know if the invented “Double Double Aged” designation will stick, or rather I hope it won’t. “Ultimate Smoothness” is not the type of selling point that typically resounds here at MALT. It suggests a lapidary approach to whisky making, with all the rough edges, sanded off to create something innocuous, bland, and characterless.
For a point of intrigue: these do carry higher age statements. I have often found that blends stand up to extended aging better than single malts. Perhaps this is due to the aforementioned re-vatting, in which fresher casks replace their tired counterparts? Or perhaps the complexity imparted by the multiple components requires longer to knit together into a cohesive whole? Either way, you’ve got this 21 year old (Oloroso sherry cask finish), as well as a 27 year old (Palo Cortado sherry cask finish) and a 32 year old (PX cask finish).
Dewar’s Double Double Aged 21 Year Old Whisky – Review
Color: Medium-light golden brown with peachy glints
On the nose: Highly pleasant and appealing nose. Malt and grain are intertwined. Honey, peach cobbler, grilled pineapple, some meatier scents of roasted pork, and the faintly rich citric note of Meyer lemon. Some tannic wood hovers around the periphery, but never overwhelms the layers of aromas.
In the mouth: An initial taut, fruity intensity gives way to nutty cashew notes on the midpalate. There’s once again a lemony fruitiness that transitions into a lingering, slightly soapy finish. This has a bit of edge throughout the mouth as a consequence of the reasonably high bottling strength, in a way that makes up in places for the relative lack of depth. Again, there are woody notes around, but they don’t step to the fore in a way that distracts from the overall presentation.
There are some charming aspects of this, particularly on the nose. The palate is not as dense and flavorful but has enough substance to prevent this from turning watery or dilute. I wouldn’t be able to pick this out as being sherry cask finished, much less to identify the particular type of sherry cask used. It’s just too, well… smooth. Mission accomplished, perhaps from Dewar’s perspective, but I’m left wanting more.
As Dewar’s is owned by Bacardi, I wonder if this wasn’t a case of the corporate parent’s sales and marketing folks sensing a market opportunity at higher price points, with the blenders reverse-engineering a product to fit the brief? At the equivalent of $100 for a 750 ml, this competes with Chivas Regal 18 year old, which I have not tried but which Jason indicates is comparably unassuming. It’s a great deal cheaper than Johnnie Walker Blue Label, which is the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world in terms of brand positioning at the luxury end of blended whisky.
Speaking of Johnnie Walker: while tasting this I kept having memories of the eternal Black Label, which Jason praised in this review. It’s my go-to blend; it’s on every bar shelf and is delightfully quaffable over ice, which is how I take it. It’s also 70% less expensive and does essentially the same job.
All in all: I’m not a Dewar’s convert, particularly at the price. If Bacardi is going to compel us to part with more money in exchange for a premium offering, they’re going to need to figure out how to do so in a way where the whisky in the bottle deserves more attention than the glass and cardboard surrounding it.