Whisky Review: Dewar’s Illegal Smooth Mezcal Cask Finished Blended Scotch Whisky

Cask finishing is a common process in Scotland. The idea is to give their commonly lightly-flavored whisky a bit more power by letting it sit in a barrel previously used in another aging process (like port, bourbon, or wine making). A variation on this that I have never seen before is a mezcal cask finishing, but that’s something that Dewar’s has decided to give a try.

History

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 actually 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 Guiness in 1986; however, when Guiness 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.

Product

Despite the recent single malt craze, blended scotch is actually the more common and traditional expression of the spirit. And, while blended scotch existed long 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 for a minimum of three years in oak casks. Once the whiskey has matured, it is purchased by Dewar’s who then blends it together with the product from other distilleries to create the desired flavor profile. For this version, Dewar’s uses whiskey that has already been aged eight years prior to reaching their blending facility.

The unique trick that Dewar’s introduced was the idea of “marrying” the whiskey in a cask after the blending process. 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.

For this specific bottling, Dewar’s partnered with Illegal (a producer of mezcal, which is an agave based spirit) to import the barrels previously used to age their mezcal which are then re-used to further mature the Dewar’s scotch prior to bottling. There’s no details about the length of time which the spirit sits in these new barrels before being sent for bottling.

Packaging

In general, this looks like a fairly typical whiskey bottle. 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 relatively short neck and is capped off with a metal screw-on cap.

As for the labeling, this is taking a page out of the “less is more / simple is beautiful” playbook. There’s some stylizing on the edges, but overall it’s simply a white label with green lettering for the brand and some additional details included. No fancy pictures, no fake aging, no faux ripped / burned edges. Just a plain label.

What’s different from their standard label, though, is that they are using a green color scheme instead of a red one to denote the mezcal association, and there are also some additional details in the bottom band.

Neat

Scotch whisky tends to have a “fingerprint”: a common profile for smell and taste. In this case, the fingerprint is clearly identifiable. The aroma coming off the glass is spot-on for a good scotch whisky, with sweet honey and lemon citrus being the key scents. One difference between this and the standard white label version is that the vanilla I smelled in the OG version seems to be missing here. Instead, there seems to be some agave sweetness added to the edges that can only be described as “a waiter just walked by my table with a margarita” level of potency.

That flavor profile carries over into the taste for the most part, with honey and lemon citrus leading the way. But there’s some unique flavors here too: I get a bit more brown sugar and vanilla rounding out the profile, which are flavors commonly associated with oak cask maturation.

The biggest difference between the White Label version’s flavor and this adaptation is that the slight and occasional bitterness has been replaced by a sweet agave finish. It’s not really all that powerful or remarkable, but swapping between the two bottles, it’s a big enough difference to be noticeable.

On Ice

Ice can just as easily help a scotch flavor profile as it can hurt it. In this case, it’s somehow doing both.

The citrus flavor is still there, but it seems to have moved into the background. Now, taking its place seems to be a bit of crisp pear that has added itself to the mix. This adds some brightness and crispness to the spirit that may have been missing before, and definitely seems like it would work well in a cocktail.

However, that sweet agave finish disappears completely. I don’t think I even notice it at this point. It seems to have vanished completely, leaving me with pretty much a more expensive version of the White Label whisky.

Overall Rating

I’m a huge fan of cask finishing and trying new things. Mashing up two different styles of spirits from across the ocean is a cool idea and I absolutely applaud them for trying. But in this case, the mezcal is just not a powerful enough flavor to add anything distinct to the conversation. This isn’t something like port or bourbon where there’s a strong and definitive flavor that can compliment the scotch… instead there’s just hints or whispers of flavor that quickly fade.

I’d love for them to keep trying… but for me, I think this one is a swing and a miss.

Dewar's Illegal Smooth Mezcal Cask Finished Blended Scotch Whisky
Produced By: Dewar's
Owned By: Bacardi
Production Location: Scotland
Classification: Blended Scotch Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $24.49 / 750 ml
Overall Rating:

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Overall Rating: 2/5
It’s pretty much their White Label version, but you paid $6 more per bottle.

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