By Richard Thomas
John Dewar created his whiskey brand in 1849, but the current version of its main and mass market label has a pedigree stretching back to 1899. That is when the company’s first Master Blender, A.J. Cameron, concocted what would become Dewar’s White Label Scotch. When you consider that Johnnie Walker Red’s immediate precursor, Special Old Highland, dates back to 1906, Dewar’s White Label stands as arguably the oldest active blend in scotch today. The specific components of the blend may have changed, but the flavor profile remains substantially the same as it was more than 100 years ago.
An oddity about Dewar’s White Label is that it is more popular in the United States, where it is the #1 blended scotch in terms of sheer sales, than it is at home or in Europe, where it seen far less often.
The core of Dewar’s White Label is still malt whiskey from Aberfeldy, a Highlands distillery near Perthshire. The scotch is bottled at 40% abv.
In the glass, Dewar’s has a light gold coloring, suggesting both youth on the one hand and some body on the other. The nose bears that out, with a mix of peach sweetness and leathery oak, girded by the smell of freshly cut dried grass. There is also a waft of neutral spirits in there, which while lending the scent some crispness, also gives it a marginally unpleasant after-smell.
The flavor retains the oaky aspect of the nose, but with a plum and cinnamon sweetness, and concluding with a peppery bite. Overall, the scotch has a light character on the palate, even with the pepper. The finish is short and slightly peppery.
The problem with so many many mass market blended scotches is their watery and undistinguished character. Some, such as Famous Grouse, manage to escape that mold by going bold. Others, like Dewar’s White Label, reach the top of the mass market heap by managing to be just a little complex, if unsubtle. The surprise with Dewar’s is not that it’s #1 in the United States, but that it isn’t better thought of elsewhere.
Dewar’s typically goes for $21 in the U.S., or €20 in Europe.