Malt’s shocking announcement of a few months back made me remember that humans, regardless of taste, take plenty of things for granted. News of an institution closing usually causes a knee-jerk reaction. There was a surprisingly high amount of support and well wishes which were strongly heard and felt in the social media comments. Yet, this makes one wonder why these supportive voices aren’t consistent.
This additional observation has made me realize that anything constantly present in our life, such as anything related to food and beverage (F&B), is more susceptible to be taken for granted. You’re probably seeing this most now in regard to how multiple governments have ignored the pleas for help from their F&B establishments. This has resulted in many such places closing down, and many folks in the F&B industry have lost their jobs. It also doesn’t take a pandemic to see that folks too in touch with their ivory tower often lack manners and treat F&B staff poorly. It’s a sad fact that these necessary frontliners, to whom we look for sustenance and to brighten our day, are sometimes treated as less than human because of their “lowly” post. If you need more proof, just look at how little regard for farmers society usually has.
Staying in theme with those we take for granted, I was able to catch up with some local bartenders and bartenders-turned-brand advocates. They helped me remember what the infancy of Manila’s craft cocktail and spirits scene was like. The local craft cocktail scene here emerged in 2011 or 2012. Back then, it was so new that there was very little knowledge or demand for brands and categories deemed necessary, yet taken for granted now. Mezcal was unknown. Islay single malts were only arguably present in bars in the form of being part of the Johnnie Walker blends such as Black Label. 100% agave tequila was hard to find. Maker’s Mark was also seen as premium bourbon back then.
Comparing the back bars of today’s establishments to back then, there’s much more variety. There was a time little more than half a decade ago that the most progressive and premium of local cocktail bars would put numerous bottles of Maker’s Mark at their back bars to look more presentable. That brand was so new here that simply not being Jack Daniels and Jim Beam was enough to impress newbies, who were almost everyone at the time. Seeing a row of bottles from a single brand at back bars nowadays doesn’t bring the same awe as it did then. Well-known brands from then have now become stepping stones for the better-informed. With the echoes of the American whiskey boom reaching here, more informed drinkers are going for newer names from Wild Turkey to Sazerac. Safe to say, the lot of us have become spoiled.
Dewar’s shares a similar story to Maker’s Mark in the local sense. I’m not usually a fan of Bacardi brands; they tend to be anemic. But Dewar’s is a refreshing blended Scotch brand to have when you grew up on Chivas and Johnnie Walker. The brand enjoyed some local limelight when it was heavily promoted for a while; I can recall times when the more premium cocktail bars would use the Dewar’s White Label as their pouring bottle for cocktail recipes that ask for blended Scotch. Even so, the local love for Johnnie Walker is deeply rooted, and the hype for single malts is slowly taking over.
I guess Dewar’s even shares the same story of being taken for granted on Malt. The last Malt review on Dewar’s (18) was by Jason and released in January of 2017. There’s not even a review of Dewar’s 15 on Malt yet. I’ll take the chance to be the first!
Dewar’s 15 The Monarch – review
On the nose: A light and pleasant mix of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry cask flavors. The first (and quickly-fading) scents that hit me are honey, leather, pink grapefruit, melons, rosemary, thyme, orange peel, vanilla and cinnamon. A sudden rush of ethanol assaults me next. The scents reset, but I get milder and longer-lasting scents of prune juice, raisin cookie and mocha. There’s another wave of ethanol rush accompanied by a scent of old wooden furniture.
In the mouth: Initially light, round and pleasant as the liquid enters my mouth. The ethanol slowly creeps up on you, but its intensity is typical of big brand blends. Behind the slight sting of ethanol are light and brief tastes of vanilla, honey, melons, cinnamon, and raisin cookies dunked in supermarket chocolate milk.
This has a really great nose. It’s understandably short due to the ABV and this being a big brand blend, but it’s complex and well-structured. You can really smell the ex-bourbon and ex-sherry influence. Sadly, it all falls apart once you take a sip. The tastes get jumbled up and are less distinct.
I’d have given this a 6 or a 7 (a bottle here only costs $30) if it were better in the mouth. But being available for £42.25 at Master of Malt or via Amazon £44.75, this 15-year-old blended Scotch bottled at 40% ABV just doesn’t cut it for me anymore. Having more knowledge of what’s out there, I’d go for the smaller brands. While without an age statement, Douglas Laing’s Scallywag NAS would be a better alternative. It has ex-bourbon and ex-sherry cask influences like Dewar’s 15. It’s bottled at 46.8% and goes for £35.92 in TWE. If you want a Malternative, Foursquare’s Doorly’s XO is double matured in ex-bourbon and ex-oloroso sherry casks. It goes for £35.42 in TWE and is bottled at 43%.
Does this bottle deserve to be taken for granted? I think it depends on who you’re drinking with. Folks who only care to get drunk and/or bother with brands will, I think, love it. Folks just getting into whisky will find it easy to drink. A plus is that it smells great and is 15 years old. That said, I wouldn’t share this with more discerning drinkers who know that age and brands don’t necessarily bring about flavor.
Maker’s Mark Bourbon – review
Color: dark orange candy.
On the nose: Instantly a wave of intense ethanol heat. It gives way to mild but quickly alternating scents of vanilla, muscovado sugar, toffee, dehydrated oranges and cinnamon. I get hints of quickly dissipating Szechuan peppers, honey, maple syrup and berry juices.
In the mouth: The heat is much more mellow in the mouth. The tastes go away as quickly as on the nose as well. I get mild tastes of toffee, vanilla, orange jelly, dried apricots, orange candy, rye, adzuki beans and caramel. In between those are light and very quick tastes of mint, maple syrup and Fox black currant candy.
This bourbon is not boring yet it doesn’t hit the spot. It has lots of flavors and shows enough complexity. Although the structure of the flavors aren’t cohesive and are less enjoyable due to the heat. Yet this is so affordable as it usually costs around $20, it’s £23 at Amazon, Shared Pour for $31.99, Master of Malt £27.75, The Whisky Exchange requests £27.95 and is bottled at 45%.
With the bourbon boom, do I think Maker’s Mark is being overlooked? I think yes, and I see it from two angles. Despite not being based in the US, I still pay some attention to the US scene. With all the clamoring for wheated bourbon, I wonder why this isn’t as talked about. I think it’s partially because it because, in contrast with the past, it lacks any FOMO factor now. Maker’s Mark also releases so few kinds of products that they don’t create the Buffalo Trace “halo effect” Taylor mentioned in this review.
Is Maker’s Mark being taken for granted locally to me, in the Philippines? The industry doesn’t, but I do. For some context, here, Maker’s is usually used as a cocktail mixer. Because of how long it’s been in the market and how affordable it is, many recognize and thus use it. As a cocktail geek, I’m just not a fan of using wheated bourbon in cocktails. I prefer the spice that comes from rye whisky, or if there isn’t any, bourbon with rye as the secondary grain. Maker’s simply makes a sweeter and less full-bodied cocktail.
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