Dewar’s White Label + Some Fooling Around

Dewar's White LabelThis is the third, and probably last for a while, of my reviews of easily found mass market blends (see here for the Black Label, which I liked a lot, and here for the Famous Grouse, which I did not like a lot). Unlike the Black Label and the Famous Grouse, I have never previously tasted the Dewar’s White Label (unless I have and have suppressed the memory). Owned by Bacardi, this White Label is claimed by them to be the top-selling blended Scotch whisky in the US. Then again, the Famous Grouse is claimed to be the top-selling blend in Scotland.

The group’s premier distillery is Aberfeldy and their malt is said to be the cornerstone of all their blends. I’ve not had much Aberfeldy before either so that doesn’t really create any particular expectations for me. I’ve also never tried the age stated Dewar’s blends—I believe there’s a 12 yo, a 15 yo and an 18 yo. If you do know those and would recommend them please write in below.

Dewar’s White Label (40%; from a purchased mini)

Nose: Sour and unpromising: an old-school uncoated tablet, plastic and industrial white vinegar. Rather nasty. Do I want to take a sip or quit while I’m ahead? With more time hints of fruit (lemon, tart apple) and honey do emerge but none of it adds up to goodness.

Palate: No one’s ever going to call me a quitter! Not much happening here but it’s not actively nasty. Simple sweetness and some grassy, lightly citrussy notes. No texture to speak of. On the second sip it’s really grainy and pretty metallic and verging on actively nasty. On the third sip here’s some of the fruit that came out on the nose, but the nasty stuff smothers it quickly.

Finish: Medium. No new development but all the stuff from the palate hangs around quite a bit longer than anyone would want it to.

Comments: Not good at all as a sipper; but to be fair, this is not really meant to be sipped slowly.

Rating: 65 points.

It didn’t seem like time was going to do anything for it and so I didn’t really take more than four small sips. I decided to play around with it instead. First I added a splash of Ardbog to it and it almost immediately became a pretty decent facsimile of an entry-level peated malt or a malt-heavy peated blend. The peat masked all the nasty notes and the fruity notes got a little more emphasis. Never being one to leave well enough alone I then added a splash of Tyrconnell NAS, hoping to up the fruit. And that indeed is what happened—the peat got tamped down on the nose and rather nice notes of melon and mandarin oranges emerged; the palate was less inspiring, however—somewhat jumbled with a nondescript charred quality dominating. And so naturally I added some Cointreau to this. This, of course, killed all the interest on the nose but turned the rest of the pour into a pleasant digestif that went really well with some 80% chocolate.

And this, my friends, is why you don’t just pour a bad whisky out. It’s quite easy to turn it into a base for entertaining experiments.

9 thoughts on “Dewar’s White Label + Some Fooling Around

  1. Talk to Michael K for some of his “bearded lady” – you like Japanese whisky, don’t you. I’d love to see how you blend that thing out!

    Incidentally, I liked Dewar’s 12yo and had no problem finishing a bottle during a Summer month last year. Here were my notes:
    Very good blend, warm, integrated,with candied oranges. Short finish, betraying a high grain component. 3*

    If you listen to Ian Buxton, he swears by Dewar’s Signature (well, he also consulted for them), but I didn’t dare shell out $150 for the pleasure.

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  2. I’ll keep an eye out for the 12 yo.

    I have to say that my mini-blending experiment with this made one thing very clear: a little peat goes a loooong way in masking the flaws of young grain-heavy blends. It’s no wonder peated whisky is in such demand for blends.

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  3. I’ll 2nd the 12yr as a decent blend which for me was honeyed with some oak and a quick, but slightly funky finish. Not nearly as interesting as JW Black or as clean and fresh as the Ballantines 12yr. FYI, I had the “Double Aged” 12yr, which is still on shelves here, but I believe it has been replaced or at least repackaged.

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  4. To follow on my own slightly-off-topic comment: the Master of Malt description of the newer Dewars 12yr says it has undergone the same process as the old 12yr Double Aged, inferring it is simply a repackaging. The Dewars site provides this: “After we blend the whiskies, we marry the blend in vintage oak casks and let it harmonize to perfection.” So there you go!

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  5. Thanks for the detailed notes on how your blending experiment evolved.

    I’ll also chime-in on the Dewar’s 12yr being OK but not as good as JW Black. The Dewar’s 12yr should really be where their range ends at the bottom end… If I’m at a corporate event and they don’t have JW Black, Dewar’s 12yr on ice is perfectly fine.

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  6. Yes, the peat trick always works. “A little” is key. I remember same Michael K being impressed with my bottle of 5yo Banknote, only to find out I spiked it with some Islay or another.

    To my mind you cannot compare Dewar’s 12yo with Johnnie Walker 12yo, they are very different styles (Speyside/ex-bourbon vs. ex-sherry+peat). It’s like comparing Clynelish 14yo with Bowmore 12yo – or saying that burger is better than salad, or that cake is better than soup. (Ok, I got it: or that saag paneer is better than soon dubu chigae .)

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