Sunday, January 10, 2016

Whisky Review: Dewar's 12 years Blended Scotch

Under the Christmas tree, were two presents from the Wife.  I tore the wrapping paper off with gusto equal to my kids and discovered I had been gifted Bowmore 12 yrs and Dewar's 12.

"Do you like those ones?"

"Yup!" and turned away so she could not read my ashen face.

My mind was already trying to scheme what of equal value I could exchange the Dewar's for.  Bowmore was a keeper, but Dewar's was one I intended to exchange.  And I mean exchange!  My last experience with that blend had not been pleasant.  A couple of years ago I bought a bottle and found it to be terrible.

Over the phone, on boxing day evening, I was lamenting to a friend the high cost of Scotch whisky.  Where I live (Canada) blends and single malt prices have gone through the roof in recent years.  Let me give you a few examples:

Chivas Regal 12yrs - $49
Johnnie Walker Black Label 12 yrs - $53
Chivas Regal 18 yrs - $99
Balvenie Double Wood 12 yrs - $75
Cardhu 12 yrs - $75
Cragganmore 12 yrs - $75
Highland Park 12yrs - $80
Glenmorangie Nectar D'OR 12yrs - $80
Laphroaig 10yrs - $80
Talisker 10yrs - $80
Dalmore 12 yrs - $95

I mean $53 for Johnnie Walker Black?*&^%!!!!  What is the world coming to?  It seems that $75 is now the new threshold for a good 12 year old single malt.  Don't even thing about anything older.  For the really good stuff you are looking north of $100 in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and many other high tax states.

There are two reasons for higher prices lately: (1)  Greedy government imposed sin taxes; (2) increased demand overseas causes drinks companies to raise their prices here.  But, now for the good news!  Global Scotch whisky exports fell by 7% last year and demand fell particularly hard in its biggest markets USA (-9%).  According to the BBC (click here) some other markets shrunk also: Singapore (-39%), and Germany (-18%).

Part of the reason we have seen a trend as of late away from age statements (ie. Macallan) was that past demand was so strong (Taiwan +36%, India +29%) that drinks companies thought sales would continue to grow no matter what they did.  I can hear the suits in the C-Suite now: "Just keep that single malt tasting close to what it already tasted like.  They will never notice a few less years in the barrel or less 1st fill casks.  Hell, nearly all of them mix with ice and soda anyway."

Guess what?  I think guys like you and I have noticed, and we are doing what consumers in other areas of the economy have always done, we migrate to products offering better value for the dollar.

Canadian and American whiskies are enjoying a bit of a boom in sales as of late.  Quality is the best it has ever been and prices are very reasonable when compared to Scotch whisky.  And then there is rum!  Ever try some sipping rums?  Goslings?  Eldorado 12 years?  You can spend a lot less on those spirits and guys are catching on.

So, when I got off the phone, bearing all of the above in mind, I though "oh, what the hell, let's give the Dewar's 12yrs a go."  My New Year's Resolution will be to only review whiskies under the $100 price point and really try to find and review those bargains that deliver good quality.  Maybe Dewar's is a better blend than it was four or five years ago.  Blends can change in taste.  Sometimes it is an intentional decision by the suits in head office to task a master blender with changing the flavor profile to what they deem is 'mainstream' which is code word for stronger sales.  I really think this is what happened to Black Grouse.  When it burst on the market around 2003 it was a peat and iodine bomb with plenty of tar and smoke of Islay.  Try it today and it is not even recognizable to what it had once been.  It's sherried and grainier than it ever was.

So, back to Dewar's, I decided to have a couple pulls with the most minimal of expectations.

A lot cheaper than Johnnie Walker Black and Chivas 12 where I live.


Nose (undiluted)
Mellon, fruitcake, raspberries.

Palate (undiluted)
Spiced honey up front, followed by easy sherry notes, golden barley, pancakes, spiced strawberries.

Finish (undiluted)
Malty, black pepper, fennel, anise, arak, black licorice, blackened toast.

General Impressions
This is really good in the blend category.  Definitely displays some sherry notes on the palate and then there is a very pleasant finish of malt, black licorice and dark toast.  Well balanced.  Not grainy either.  I was so shocked by my initial impressions that I revisited this bottle several times over the holidays and the flavors remained consistent.

The abv is 40% and I just have a gut feeling that this bottle might not taste so great if it was half empty and placed on a shelf for six months.  Dewar's 12 upon opening is a delight and remains for a while, but I have a sneaky suspicion that it does not respond well to oxidation.  I would finish this bottle within two months once the bottle falls below 50% full.

I would add Dewar's 12 to my list of 'comfort blends' that deliver good value for money.  I put this on par with Chivas 12 (another blend that seems to go flat in the bottle too soon after opening), but Johnnie Walker Black is still more interesting.  Black doesn't go flat.  It just remains really good.

So, I guess I should thank the Wife and also refrain from referring to her as the Wife (fortunately she never reads the blog - living with me is enough of a treat).

Happy New Year 2016!


Jason Debly

P.S.  Now that you have read this post, below is my video review.


  1. Hey Jason,

    What's so great about scotch is the variety of opinions. It's interesting to me how you're praising this new Dewar's 12 whereas the older bottling was not to your taste. Ralfy recently tried the "new" Dewar's 12 and found it a step down from the older bottling. It just goes to show that you really need to trust your own palate on these things, as experiences may (and often will) vary.

    Regarding Dewar's and their rebranding (perhaps to coincide with their new master-blender Stephanie Macleod), you can tell that they're going for a single-malt vibe with their new Dewar's blends - the packaging smacks of "high-end single malt," and I guess they're trying to shake the reputation of Dewar's as a mixer.

    I was wondering if you plan on trying any of the new re-branded "Last Great Malts of Scotland" whiskies, which are essentially the component single malts of the Dewar's blends. I tried a Craigellachie and found it very unusual, with a kind of dirty-smoke flavor - I can conceptualize the role it plays in the Dewar's blend but I'm not sure if works as a straight sipper.

    As always, great review... keep 'em coming.

  2. Agree.
    I can't get over how similar the prices are to down here. Jw black is cheaper here... Woo hoo! Prices are sneaking up though.... So frustrating.
    AL (from OZ)

  3. Hi Jason,

    Avid reader of your whiskey blog over the years, but first time commenter.

    You missed the opportunity to discuss one of the main economic reasons that whiskey prices are rising in Canada; the Canadian dollar has been falling relative to other world currencies for about two years. Some financial economists believe for Canada its related to the fall in commodity prices, particularly the price of oil (petroleum) that provides an underlying support for your currency.

    I am hosting a whiskey tasting event among friends in Minnesota this evening, so I am sure we will get to the bottom of a world'reserve currency discussion by the end of it.

    Keep up the good work on the blog. Perhaps your government will eventually declare whiskey a right and subsidize it?

    1. Whisky should be subsidized! Maybe if Bernie Sanders gets in it will be for you!

  4. Jason, I feel for you as a malt drinker, man. Blends like Chivas12 and JWB12 still hover well under $30 US around here in SoCal; I could yack those down. Balvenie DblW and Laphroaig10 are $40. I just can't fathom drinking dog water blends like Dewars12 neat. I'd prefer Cutty standard Cutty Sark over it and I don't sip that either. Maybe it's time to shift attention to Sherry and Porto; are prices any better in your market there ? Cheers! JK

  5. A couple caveats regarding rums:

    1) age statements are meaningless, a 12 yr old rum just means it has some 12 yr in the blend. The very popular Ron Zacapa 23 yr solera blend has an actual average age of 6-8 years. Some distillers, such as R.L. Seales, label them the same way as Scotch.

    2) Purity - this has become a real issue in recent years, as so many "premium" aged rums have been found to contain copious amounts of added sugar, and in some cases flavoring such as prunes or vanilla. There is no regulation concerning this. You mention El Dorado 12 yr, which at one time was my favorite - until I found out it has 40-45 grams/ltr of added sugar.

    Here is a database with sugar contents of hundreds of rums.

    1. Thank you Scott for the pointing us to the rum project database. We need MUCH more awareness of the adulteration going on in the alcoholic beverage industry. It has always bothered me that US law exempts alcohol from the usual food labeling requirements. I don't know how it is in Canada but I am guessing it's the same story. Cheers, Tom

  6. Where did you get that Scotch? They do not sell it at the NB Liquor Store nor in PEI.

    1. I bought this at NB Liquor. A visit to their website indicates plenty in stock. Here is a link:

      I checked the PEI liquor commission website and you are correct. They do not carry it. You will have to stop in pick some up in Moncton on your way.

      Bon voyage!

  7. Good info there Jason , thanks!

    BTW I really have to support your plan of only covering whiskies under $100.00 That's pretty much my spending limit and would certainly appreciate any helpful suggestions in buying quality whisky at an affordable price.

    Always on the lookout for good value for money!

  8. Hi Jason,
    I'd like to know your opinion on how the Dewar's 12 compares to Chivas 12. What are the similarities and differences between the two blends?