Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Review: Dewar’s 12 years old “Special Reserve” Blended Scotch Whisky

Lately, all I seem to purchase are single malt scotch whiskies. What about a good blended scotch whisky? I like Johnnie Walker Black Label. Green Label is very good.  Chivas Regal 12 years works too. What about Dewar's 12 years? Me thinks I need to try it. So, a bottle was procured from my local liquor store by yours truly, and so here we are.

Nose (undiluted)
Muted dandelions and malt notes. No strong aromas here. Very gentle scents.

Palate (undiluted)
Very sweet entry onto the palate followed by some feeble attempt to dry or evaporate, but this is mostly a failed attempt. Instead of drying there is a warm graininess. As for flavors, you will be greeted by sugary, cloyingly so, honey, followed by some malty notes and dark chocolate. There is a slight barnyard funkiness, something spoiled going on here. Not easy to put my finger on it. Think of the taste of rinds of tangerines left in the fruit bowl too long by the kitchen window, as the sun beams down day after day.

Finish (undiluted)
Artificially sweetened cereal. Think Captain Crunch and Lucky Charms in a bowl of chocolate milk with saccharine liberally sprinkled on top. That’s the very brief lingering taste. The saccharine really is a distinct and unfortunate (like a car accident) flavor on the finish. Yuck!

Nose (diluted)
Add a teaspoon of water and the pleasing undiluted nose disappears. In its place is the scent of damp leaves.

Palate (diluted)
The disappointment continues. The addition of water just punches up the NutraSweet levels to near diabetic coma conditions. Flavors? I dunno. I guess you could call it honey, Dollar Store honey, way past expiry date that was safe for human consumption.

Finish (diluted)
Graphite, cheap and short like Madonna's mini skirts from early '80's music videos.  This is junk scotch.

General Impressions
Please avoid at all costs. Drinking Dewar’s 12 years evokes childhood memories of bouts of car sickness on the long drive to Grandma’s house.

If I were to sum it up in a few words, I would say: grainy sweet with some malt notes on the finish. The taste is cheap. Reminds me of something rummies would drink. I am surprised it is a 12 year old blend. Also reminds me of J&B, which is not a good thing. I am still emotionally scarred from the last J&B tasting. Both are ridiculously sweet with simple, unadulterated flavors of artificial sweetener, honey and some malty cereal. Probably the best feature of this blended scotch whisky was the undiluted nose. It was subtle and pleasing and consequently provided no warning of the huge pedestrian crosswalk disappointment that awaits the unsuspecting and trusting fool.

Value for Money?
Me thinks not.  The price is within $1 of Johnnie Walker Black Label, another 12 yr old blended scotch, and it is the same price as Chivas Regal 12 years.  Dewar's tastes more like an economy blended scotch and they (ie. Johnnie Walker Red Label, Ballantines) are better.  Dewar's 12 years old is too expensive for what you get.  It is similar to J & B Rare, another terribly sweet blended scotch that is better consumed as part of a mixed drink.  Dewar's may work as mix, but the trouble is one should not have to spend that much for mix!

I still have about half a bottle. I am not going to finish it. I will give it to someone, but the questions is: Who do I dislike that much?

Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2010. All rights reserved.


  1. Jason -- Just discovered your blog a few days ago. You deserve an award for public service! And you just saved me a wad of cash.

    I was standing in front of the Scotch section in a local grocery store earlier today, staring at a bottle of Dewar's 12. Now, this may be heresy, but I have been known to drink regular ole Dewar's on the rocks, thus the fixation on the 12.

    Decided to take a pass for whatever reason. Reading your review on the same day was serendipitous. I'll spend those bucks on my first bottle of JW Green.

  2. Dryheat, the JW Green will not disappoint. Cheers!

  3. I'm relatively new to scotch (and whiskey for that matter) and tonight I stood in the liquor isle of my local grocery store trying to decide between the Chivas Regal 12 year old and the Dewars 12 year. I liked the free glasses that came with the Chivas Regal 12 year old, even thought it was a bit more expensive. I'm enjoying the taste as I type this and based on this review, it appears I made the right decision. Thanks for the reviews. I'll be sure and visit this site regularly! Cheers!

  4. Yes, you dodged a bullet when you chose Chivas over Dewars. I'm watching "True Grit" so forgive the western gunslinger reference.

    I look forward to your observations on whisky. Welcome to the site.



  5. Dewars 12 is not that bad. I compare it favorably to JW Black but with sl. less smoke aroma and less sweet on the palette. I've offered it to JWB drinkers and they like it. And, the price where I buy it is 20% less than JWB. I think it's a good Scotch meself.

  6. Hi Anonymous! I think we will have to agree to disagree. Dewar's for me, is like Grant's Family Reserve. Sweet, grainy and wholly disappointing. Teacher's Highland Cream is better than both.

    In any case, judging by sales, you are not alone in your opinion!

    Cheers and have a Happy New Year!


  7. Upon further review, your comment about artificially sweetened finish in your review - I can't get it out of my mind now when drinking it. It's definitely there. Yuk. I wish I'd never met you Jason Debly!!! :)

    Signed - Anonymous poster of December 30.

  8. Hello again Anonymous poster of Dec 30th! That sweet finish is in my opinion indicative of too much grain whiskies and not enough aging. Cheap to make, cheap to buy, and cheap taste. Spend a couple dollars more for Johnnie Walker Black or a few less for Teacher's Highland Cream for more satisfaction!

  9. I have just been given a bottle of this by some of my colleagues for my birthday. When I return in a few days, how am I ever going to find something nice to say about it? Or are they trying to tell me something?

    I read this review after attempting my first glass. I just can't believe there's a market for anything this bad, I had to check to make sure I wasn't imagining it. It tastes sour and acidic, like sucking a leaky battery. The only redeeming feature I can think of is that there's a bottle of Stone's downstairs. I've never been a fan of whisky mac, but I think I'm going to be. Either that, or I'm going to possess the cleanest lavatory in the county. Unless, of course, this stuff dissolves porcelain as well.

    It's easy to find (for example) Aberlour 10 for under £20 in the UK and while that probably isn't the best whisky ever made, it is extremely good value for money. Faced with that, I cannot understand why anyone could buy this muck.

  10. Ian, your colleagues probably thought they got you a nice gift. They bought a 12 year old blend, so they certainly did not buy the cheapest in the market. Unfortunately, they did give you one of the worst blended scotch whiskies available today.

    Pretty dreadful stuff!

    Aberlour on the other hand for the price is pretty good. Right you are.

    What I did with Dewars is I gave it away to someone who uses scotch as the base of mixed drinks. But, now that you mention it, it probably would make for a good bathroom cleaner!

  11. I have had the 50s dewars standard. Is custard cream for sure and thats it. No problem. Ballintines was creme lemon with wood smoke with this nice grainyness in 50 or 60s bottle. Unfortunaly ballintines is not the same from last purchase. I will past on sny dewars. A 2006 whisky book describe dewars as good just the blends I'm getting of shelf are just shit. Including teachers cream is just crap last time. My current ballintines was not grainy not wood smoke and more like nutrisweet. CRAP.

  12. Jason,

    I know, been bombing your older commets more lately! Never had this expression of Dewar's, and you are not the first to warn of it's poor value that I have heard. I have sampled the entry White Label on a couple occasions, and found it enjoyable, if very one dimensional. Sweet, but I didn't find it to a cloying level, and there was a bit of an ever so slightly peated honey/heather dynamic I found amusing. Would you say the entry is a better value for money?

  13. Yochanan, I think the entry level Dewar's, for the price, is much better. I have been meaning to review it, but there is always something else in the pecking order!

    Anyway, back to your question, I would say that the entry level White Label is decent value for money, unlike it's 12 yr old sibling, which I would not buy at any price.

  14. I'm oddly curious about this blend. I greatly enjoy Dewar's White Label (some honey, some lemon, some peat, all fairly creamy), and I've seen fairly positive reviews from this from trustworthy folks so I'd like to compare them (that said, they might have been for the 12 yo double-aged, which could be a different composition). Alas, a full bottle is too much of a gamble, but I can't get it in a 50ml mini. I have a theory that perhaps the rough youth of the White Label holds the sweetness in check, but the greater age smooths out the zest of youth, leaving only the sweet. I'd need to try it to be sure, but buying it just doesn't make sense at this time.


    "I still have about half a bottle. I am not going to finish it. I will give it to someone, but the questions is: Who do I dislike that much?"

    While this particular bottle is no doubt long gone, I've often enjoyed making liqueurs (such as they are) from whiskies I haven't liked, or alternately just cooked with them.

    Good clean jar (the thin neck of the bottles can be problematic), toss in some fruit of some kind, let it sit for two weeks, strain, let it sit for another two before drinking. Raisins and other dried fruits work great, I've had good results combining peaches and Canadian whiskies, and cherries are definitely good. Spices work great as well. Cinnamon sticks, orange peel, and cloves are all solid. Using cardamon or black pepper are probably viable, and some Eastern European Peperivka recipes are just with whisky and dried cayenne soaked in there.

    The other great thing: depending on what you use to flavor the whisky, you can make good use of it once you strain it out from the spirit. Drunken peach cobbler, classic fruitcake (really good when made with well-macerated quality dried fruit), and so forth. Another winner was making a stovetop vanilla pudding and stirring in a bunch of whisky-soaked raisins and a spoonful or two of the whisky liqueur. Bourbon Brownie Bites went well too, replacing the water on a simple box mix with whisky and adding in a bunch of nuts and chopped cherries.

    None of that is any more noble than just mixing bad whisky, but it can be fun.

  15. I think I will take Ralfy's (ralfy.com) advice and go ahead and purchase this malt. He recommends this blend for single malt drinkers as well. This product has too much mixed reviews so I'm just going to try it for myself, although I will not get to it for a while since there are a few other bottles waiting to be opened at my bar at home.

  16. When you do try it, let me know what you think.

  17. So you wanted to know what I thought of Dewar's 12 once I've tried it. I decided to go out and purchase a bottle yesterday. Before I give you my opinion pour yourself a glass, give it a gentle swirl and let it sit for 30-45 minutes. Do not add any water. Let me know if you see an improvement in it after trying this one again that way. I think oxygenation is might be the answer here.


  18. If you have not yet tried to let this whisky settle in your glass for a bit then you are not allowing it to open up. Dewar's 12 is a very shy blend and thats okay. There are times when you pour yourself a glass of whisky and you put your nose in it and wouldn't you know it... you smell nothing. Dewar's 12 is also a delicate whisky when it comes to adding water. I personally recommend no water because I think that it ruins the structure of the blend. A rule of thumb, only add water to a blend if it has a high malt percentage (such as Teachers 45% malt and any Johnnie Walker).

    Ginger, pepper, citrus, oak, hint of smoke, honey and fruit (grape, pomegranate, apple and pear).

    Would I buy Dewar's 12 again?
    I think so. I think it's a good quality blend and it really isn't expensive. It also gives you a comforting feeling and a pleasant dry affect that reminds me of what you get when you bite into vineyard grapes with seeds (not the crappy store grapes in the US) or when you eat pomegranate seeds. Don't let the mixed reviews scare you off.


  19. Hi Marius,

    The only thing I can think of is that I got a flawed bottle and you have a good one, because our taste experience is very different.

    I no longer have that bottle. I gave it away, so I cannot do the experiment of letting it breathe as you suggest.

    I suggest readers, if interested, sample this in a bar before going out and buying a bottle.


  20. Marius,

    I have also noticed that Dewars have dropped the "Special Reserve" reference in the new label. Maybe they have also tinkered with the mash bill, aging, and wood treatment to improve the taste over what I experienced. Who knows? I will try and give it a go sometime in a bar, and if the results are more positive I will review this again.

    Generally, variance from year to year in blended scotch is very slight if at all noticeable, unlike single malt scotch, but who knows?

    Thanks for taking the time to post your comments.

  21. Those factors are definitely possible. I have recently purchased two defective blends. Isle of Skye 8 and Black Bottle, which are both exceptional whiskies.
    I purchased the Dewar's 12 that came in the gold box (bottle number: B14784) and it has "Special Reserve" printed on the bottle and box. I have never tried the older bottle. Maybe I can get a hold of the older bottling from someone to compare...


  22. If you are referring to the blue color label Dewar's 12 as the new bottling I did not purchase this version because I don't like the look. My bottle looks like the one you have pictured, but in a gold box instead of black. I don't think there is a difference in taste, but I'll research it to make sure. You may have just bought a defect...


  23. Jason, I always buy miniatures of whisky I haven't tried, and recently found one of Dewar's 12. You're right on! I don't think it's quite as sweet as you think, but otherwise totally agree. The sherry is kindof funky and off, and there's way too much "graininess" which just seems like too much alcohol presence. I don't think it's so bad that I couldn't finish a bottle, but I'd say it's right alongside The Famous Grouse. I don't think that's the competition they were shooting for, though. There's no chance I'd buy over JW Black or Chivas. It's actually more expensive than Chivas here, about the same as JWB.

  24. Ryan, Dewar's 12 was one of the most grainy blends I ever had. So bad it was that I almost think the bottle may have been flawed. Sometime I may buy another and do an updated version of this blend.

  25. I like it. But what the hell do I know.

    1. Chris, a lot of people do like it, so I think you are with the majority.

      I am not a fan, but part of that is because for the money I think there are better options, and well the other part is, I just dont like the taste.

      But, if you like it, maybe the next step is to try some others.

      Thanks for commenting.

  26. Finally found a mini of this. Don't have too much to say, but I kinda liked it. A bit earthy, and not cloying. Maybe it's just an inconsistent blend. Mine did have the same look as Jason's picture, but just 50ml.

    Anyhow, I wouldn't really call it high-value, even though I liked it. There wasn't really anything to it which I thought was substantially better than the Dewar's White Label. I love the lemony-custard brightness of it, where this older version is pretty decent, but not so vibrant.

  27. I am guessing but perhaps there is a difference between the 'Special Reserve' version vs the 'Double Aged' version. Both are 12 years old and I seem to notice more favorable reviews of the 'Double Aged' version. It's the only one I can find in BC. I find it very pleasant, super smooth and enjoyable. It's pretty laid back and easy to drink type. I have never seen the 'Special Reserve' version and perhaps it's the older version.

    1. At the time of the review, the "Special Reserve" was what was sold where I lived. I think they still sell it under that label.

      The bottle I had, as you can discern from the review, was bad stuff. I do not mean the scotch was flawed, but just bad. I can't believe this is for sale. So, I might pick up another bottle in fairness to see if it has improved.

      I hear the 18yr is pretty good. As for the "Double Aged", haven't tried it but in light of your comments I am intrigued.

    2. Hi Jason, I'm enjoying the "Double Aged" 12yo, and it's really good stuff. Very cheap in my neck of woods too ($20). Nothing artificial about the finish, it is on the slightly sweet side, but also malty and warming, to balance the orange notes due most likely to the Aberfeldy component. Excellent summer whisky, and I'd pick it over the JWB12 any time - they have very different profiles though.

  28. I just bought my first bottle of scotch. A 1.75 liter of blended scotch in the form of J&B. I see you were horrified and scarred by it. I have only had 3 different brands: Glenlivet 12, Lagavulin ($80 bottle in the states)and J&B. My favorite was Glenlivet, but I could only afford one glass. J&B is second best, but it's only.bearable and I prefer to mix with ginger ale or cola with ice. Lagavulin on the other hand was pure smoke in my opinion and set my insides glowing from heat. I would really like to know your opinions, especially on Lagavulin, if you've tried it. Thanks! (I'm a broke 24 year old btw, in case you wonder)

    1. Hi! I was once a poor student too, so I know where you are at. Nevertheless, you can enjoy plenty of whisky at very reasonable prices.

      Lagavulin 16 yrs is one of the finest single malts on the market period. One of the best! Problem for you and I concerns the very high price it commands. But, there are alternatives:

      "White Horse" - Is a low priced blended scotch whisky that has some Lagavulin in it, and it is an excellent blended scotch with plenty of that smoke that you enjoy!

      "Black Bottle" is another excellent peated and smokey blended scotch at a ridiculously low price.

      "Cutty Sark" is a honeyed blended scotch that I would not describe as excellent but for the person on a budget who likes a honeyed profile, it is worth trying.

      "Johnnie Walker Black 12yrs" is another classic, getting a little pricey but very good with smoke and peat balanced against lots of caramel. Highly recommended!

      "Teacher's Highland Cream" is smokey, bacon and malty notes galore. You might find it a little rough, so dont hesitate to add some water (teaspoon) or even some ice if you wish. Later you can reduce the ice as you get more accustomed to it.

      . . .

      And then there is bourbon!

      Plenty of affordable options abound like:

      Old Grand-Dad

      Jim Beam Black (make sure black aged 8yrs, not the white label).

      Good luck and feel free to comment any time with more questions!

  29. I look at Dewars as the king of the cheap blend. Their White Label , if you're going to drink the everyday wallet friendly blend , is the best amongst it's peers imho. If I'm going to spend money the last place I'm spending it is on Dewars product. I like JW Black but it's a little pricey for what it is. Glenfiddich has won it's share of awards. If you taste it you'll understand why .

    1. I have been meaning to revisit the White Label and so I think I will review it soon.

      thanks for taking the time to comment.

  30. It's a 12 year blend, every bit as enjoyable as a single malt.
    To all you new scotch drinkers, by NO attention to all the scotch single malt snobs, their tasting notes and all the other hog wash they toss about.
    Remember this - One scotch is not "better" than another, it has nothing to do with being better, one could cost $25 and be a blend, another could be a $100 single malt, NEITHER is BETTER than the other - they just taste different - simple as that, if you don't like over-peated scotch, if it cost $10 or $100 it doesn't matter - how much better it is, if you don't like it - It's all a matter of taste.
    The day, I stopped listening to these blow-hards, and forgot about if it was single malt, blend or whatever and wasn't prejudging based on price - was the day I really started enjoying scotch, and you know what, it has NOTHING to do with price, the snobs will say that to but they don't mean, look at their revies the expensive stuff always get rated higher - but it's not about better or expensive it's about what you like....eveidently they only like over-priced stuff.

    1. I gotta disagree.

      There are some blends and single malts that are terrible. Examples you ask?

      Okay. A terrible single malt is Drumguish.

      A terrible blend is Ballantine's Finest (horribly sweet), and another travesty is Lauder's Blended Scotch Whisky.

      Anyhow, thanks for commenting. I like a diversity of opinion to be expressed on this blog.

  31. I guess you could add Caol Ila to the terrible list seeing as how I don't like it.
    But as far as those cheap blends like Lauders, well they're just cheap blends for mixing. "Terrible" - well millions of people who buy them and use them in mixed drinks i'm sure would disagree.
    Just because you or someone else don't like them doesn't make them terrible. It's all a matter or 'taste' what you like and what you don't like. Personly I think all bourbon is terrible, cheap or otherwise - but that's just me.

  32. Hi Jason. I chose to comment on this page simply because my comments are general.
    First of all, thank you for giving some considered support to my own prejudices; I agree with you more than I disagree. In NZ I can buy a litre of Teachers for around NZD35 and 700mls of JWB for around NZD60. Like yourself, I prefer JWB...but...yet...I'm not sure I'd want to give up Teachers. I like it, and as value it's hard to beat.
    I seriously disagree with an earlier comment that claimed there is no objective difference between one whisky and the next, and your explanation (I forget which page) of levels of complexity was as good an intro. to the subject as I can recall. I have drunk some truly appalling gutrot over the years, different kinds of appalling but invariably one dimensionally bad.
    I have read reviews that rate Clynelish 14 as poor to average; I consider it a gift from the gods. I'm happy to see that you also consider it drinkable, and that the complexity is part of your opinion. In a similar vein, I found Balvenie Double Wood wasn't bad. But that's damning with faint praise, and drinking it felt the same..."this isn't too bad". Actually I'd rather drink twice as much JWB for the price.It is without pretension and pretty damned good.
    I recently tried Highland Queen 16 year old and the lack of depth and complexity failed to overcome the price advantage. I've had ice-cream topping that wasn't as sweet...yet it gets good reviews.
    Perhaps that's why I like your blog so much. Firstly, I agree with you so often (it's not confirmation bias at all, it's support, honestly).But secondly it's the sense of a quest without an end. Is Laphroaig 10 better than Cragganmore 12? It's a silly question in many ways, they are both great in their category...but the category is different. What does it matter? On the other hand in Knockando worth the effort? For me...only once. I can drink it and it tastes OK...but where is the adventure?
    I admire your search along the bottom shelf too. In NZ many of the supermarket blends are unavailable or overpriced. Still, I suspect I will persevere rather than give up :-)

    1. Hello! Thank you for sharing your insights into whisky.

      I think yours and my tastes are very similar. I think Clynelish 14 is a very fine single malt. I wasn't aware about negative reviews, but then again, I purposely do not read other reviews, so that I am not tainted by their opinions.

      I really try to write a review as if the reader is in the room with me when I do it. I want the review to read like good conversation, a fireside chat if you will.

      I like economy blends for two reasons: (1) great price; and (2) they can be really good and deliver lots of satisfaction. Discovering a great blended Scotch at a reasonable price is like finding a gem or getting that super hot lady to say yes to a date. Ahh, I digress.

      Finally, I think all Scotch fans should try to seek out critics whose opinions accord with his or hers. It makes the search for great whisky a lot easier and avoids to a greater degree costly mistakes.

      For me, I constantly disagree with Jim Murray's (Whisky Bible author) opinions. I still shake my head at his pronouncement a few years ago that Ballantine's 17 (a blended Scotch) was the best whisky in the entire world, even when compared to other single malts and great Japanese whiskies.

      On the other hand, I really like Michael Jackson's books and his reviews. He has been dead now for quite a while, but his old tasting notes were invaluable to me when I was first exploring whisky. He hardly ever steered me the wrong way.

      Finding great whisky is always fun and a tough job at times, but we seem to be up to the challenge.


  33. I totally agree with your review. Spot on! I spent $25 US on a bottle and am choking it down now. Wish I had read your review first.

    1. Mark, maybe look at some recipes for whisky based cocktails online and see if you can get rid of it that way. I am thinking a Manhattan or a side car.

      Thanks for commenting!

  34. Hey, Jason! It's been some time since I've commented or we've spoken. I recently picked up a bottle of Dewar's 12 because I found some dirt cheap.

    I want back the few dollars I did spend!

    Years have passed since your review and my tasting of this (last night). Bottling is different and all...perhaps the recipe has changed (and if it has, it's probably even worse than your last bottle!)

    Nose- I don't have the best nose, but I can't get anything past grain and malt.

    Palate- Sweet honey and subtle chocolate notes begin the taste. Not particularly good honey or chocolate, however. Just kind of..."cheap" tasting...

    Finish- a little puff of wood smoke and a bit more honey. Graininess envelopes soon afterward, taking away that precious milisecond of actually kind of pleasing wood smoke.

    Gross. Just glad I didn't spend over $20 on this.


    1. I have tried this new Dewars too and it is a continuing disappointment.

  35. Hi Jason,

    In absence of large choice of whisky in my city (500 000 inhabitants with 30% muslim minority which does not drink alcohol), one must buy what's on offer. There are just three liquor stores offering the same dozen of scotch whiskies and four (yes 4) bourbons, one has to try what ever is on their shelves. So, even though i read your review on Dewars 12 before, i still bought it in desperation. It costed me 35 USD for 0.7 L bottle. So, here are my thoughts on this:
    Nose: Very fruity, scents of fresh grapes, red fruits, flowers. Not bad, my wife passed by while i drank and she said that she could smell the whisky from couple of meters away from the glass.
    Palate: Very easy drinking. I can't define the taste, but there's nothing off-putting with this one. It has a "detergent like" taste somewhere in the middle to ruin the impression, but not that much disappointing.
    Finish: Medium finish starting with bitter notes, probably from any peated whisky in the blend. I don't know the content of single malts here, i only know they use Knockando, which is in the fragrant and floral flavor camp.
    Conclusion: No two persons are the same, so we all nose and taste differently. I find this whisky "Not bad at all". I managed to drink three glasses tonight in no-time, which didn't happen to me since this summer with Woodford Reserve distillers select bourbon.