The folks at Dewar’s have been making blended scotch whisky for quite some time, and we’ve tried some of their offerings in the past. They make a “standard edition” white label that we reviewed about three years ago, as well as their collaboration with Ilegal Mezcal. Those bottles were fine, but they mostly left us wondering what their product would taste like with just a little more time and attention… which is (hopefully) where Dewar’s 12 Year comes in.
As with the majority of other popular Scottish whisky brands, Dewar’s started out life as a wine and spirits merchant in Perth, Scotland. Founded in 1846 by John Dewar Sr., the shop employed his two sons and was in the business of importing wine and blending whiskey into their own store brands.
Relatively quickly, the brand gained worldwide acclaim and success. It built itself into a market leader by 1896, when it decided to finally build its own distillery in Aberfeldy. The business continued to do well and joined the Distiller’s Company, a conglomerate of Scottish whiskey businesses, in 1925. That conglomerate would be purchased by Guinness in 1986; however, when Guinness eventually formed the massive British spirits company Diageo in 1997, Dewar’s was actually kicked out of the group and sold to the Caribbean-based Bacardi company along with Bombay Sapphire gin.
Dewar’s remains a wholly owned subsidiary of Bacardi, which is one of the largest privately owned family run spirits companies in the world.
- Learn More: What Is Scotch Whisky?
Despite the recent single malt craze, blended scotch is actually the more common and traditional expression of the spirit. But although blended scotch existed before Dewar’s, this company added something unique to their approach.
As with most scotch whisky, this spirit is distilled and matured within the borders of Scotland. Some of that spirit comes from malted barley grains, and some come from other cheaper grains like wheat. Once the whiskey has matured, it is purchased by Dewar’s who then blends it together with the product from other distilleries to create a flavor profile that they prefer.
The trick that Dewar’s introduced was the idea of “marrying” the whiskey in a cask after the blending process, which is what the packaging on this bottle is referring to in terms of the “double aged” aspect of this spirit.
Normally, blended whisky is put together and then immediately shipped out the door — but Dewar’s decided to spend some time letting the final mixture mature in an oak cask before bottling it for sale. This process is thought to improve the quality and balance of the flavors. At the bare minimum, it certainly sets Dewar’s apart from the competition.
For this version of their spirit, Dewar’s selects varieties of whisky that have been matured for a minimum of 12 years and blends them together before spending an additional six months in an oak cask prior to bottling. All of the maturation is done at the source distilleries before Dewar’s buys it, with only the last little bit done in-house.
This looks like a typical traditional whiskey bottle, for better or for worse. The body is cylindrical, with a flared base for greater stability and a gentle slope as you move up from the waist to the shoulder. There’s a Scottish knot (the Dewar’s logo) embossed in the glass on the front of the shoulder. From there, the bottle finishes off with a medium length neck and is capped off with a plastic and cork stopper.
The bottle is tinted a dark brown color that prevents any of the color of the spirit from actually showing through, which can be a bit of a disappointment. Instead, the stark white labels on the front of the bottle do most of the work to make the bottle visually interesting, but there’s not a whole lot going on there either. The labels seem a bit cluttered and bland, with only the lower label (looking like a certificate of some sort with the embellishments) having an illustration of an oak cask that is nice to look at.
As is usual with Scottish spirits, the bottle comes shipped in a cardboard sleeve, which in this case is dressed up to appear metallic and copper clad. It’s just ink and glossy finish though. I do appreciate the nod to the copper pot stills that are used to create this spirit (even if Dewar’s themselves doesn’t actually do any distillation).
Once you pour a bit out of the bottle and take a look at it, the whiskey has a beautiful amber color just like you’d expect from any scotch. Taking a whiff, it smells sweet, delicious, and inviting — I’m getting an assortment of fruit aromas (melon and strawberries, a bit of banana, some crisp apple), along with a hint of honey, some orange citrus, and a little bit of vanilla as well.
As soon as you take a sip, the flavor profile is a little bit different than the aroma. This is a little darker, with toasted caramel (like you’d find on top of a creme brulee) taking the lead. Supporting that flavor is some fresh baked bread and butter, a bit of vanilla, and just a hint of citrus. The flavors do fine for the most part, but that caramel goes from toasted to charred on the finish and leaves behind a slightly bitter aftertaste. There’s really none of the fruity lightness that we saw in the aroma.
Usually, I’d expect that the addition of some ice would eliminate any trace of the lighter and fruitier notes from a spirit. In this case, though, the aromas seem to have persisted — all of those same deliciously fruity components are still present as far as I can tell — but the ice had a huge difference on the flavor.
It’s mostly for the better, though. There’s significantly less of that toasted or burned caramel flavor, and whatever bitterness and unpleasantness was on the finish is completely disappeared. It’s much closer to a standard scotch whisky at this point, with the buttered bread, the vanilla and caramel, and even a hint of melon in the background that just peeks through.
If you ever have to do a blind tasting for spirits and you’re trying to figure out if something is a single malt or a blended scotch, there’s a little trick: the blended spirits typically have an amazing aroma, but fail to deliver on the actual flavor.
And that’s exactly what you have here. This is a spirit that smells great at first blush but then is unable to back it up with actual flavor. And the flavors that are present are, in some ways, unpleasant. That burnt caramel is something that just doesn’t sit well with me, and adding ice is really the only option to save it.
This might be something interesting for cocktails, but I wouldn’t recommend this on its own. Heck, I even think the “white label” version might be the better choice.
|Dewar's 12 Year Old Blended Whisky|
Classification: Blended Scotch Whiskey
Aging: 12 Years
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $22.49 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 2/5
A fruity aroma… but with an unfortunately bitter flavor.