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When John Dewar opened his wine and spirits merchant in Perth in 1846, it would have seemed a preposterous notion that his name would be immortalised in the world of Scotch whisky forever more. Nevertheless, that is exactly what happened. John dabbled in the creation of unique whiskies, curated to the tastes of his many customers but it was when the business passed to his sons John Alexander and Thomas in 1880 that things really began to grow.
The brothers were a fine pair. John took it upon himself to ensure the quality of the whisky, streamlining the production process at home. Tommy on the other hand was a maverick in every sense of the word and set out to change the way whisky was marketed by travelling the world. He visited a remarkable twenty-six countries in two years, appointing thirty sales representatives along the way. In 1898 he cheekily sent a cask of Scotch whisky to President Benjamin Harrison, provoking anger from American distillers who disliked the idea of the President drinking “foreign” whisky.
Though born in Perth, Tommy became the darling of the London social scene. He sat as a Conservative MP from 1900 to 1906, spent time as a Sheriff of London and sat on the London County Council for West Marylebone. He was a keen sportsman who tried his hand at Rowing, Yachting, Football, Swimming, Hockey, Curling, Motor Racing, Shooting, Golf and Polo though was most at home with his Homing Pigeons, or at the Racing track, watching one of his many horses win. He was renowned as the wittiest after-dinner speaker of his day and his epigrams became almost as famous as his whisky. Indeed, the term “Dewar-ism” was popularly used for such a remark for some time after his death.
The following is an excerpt from Lady Lauder’s “Looking Backwards” column, as published in the Sunday Post of January 2nd 1927: “Lord Dewar is one of the most genial and most human of men. His conversation is so racy that one never wearies listening to him. He can illuminate the most abstruse themes with such witty anecdotes and illustrations that the listener cannot fail to be interested. Whatever else Lord Dewar may be, no one can ever accuse him of being a bore.”
Tommy Dewar died at his country residence in Sussex on April 11th 1930 but the abiding success of the Dewar’s name is a testament to the sheer charisma of the man.
Today, John Dewar & Sons is the whisky arm of Bacardi, incorporating Aberfeldy, Craigellachie, Aultmore, Brackla and Macduff distilleries. The Dewar’s blended Scotch brand lays claim to being “the most awarded” in the world, an impressive statistic, regardless of my own somewhat dismissive opinions towards such affairs.
The most recent product to be unveiled under the Dewar’s banner is the Portuguese Smooth. Third release in a series of bottlings showcasing the Dewar’s blend in an array of interesting cask finishes, this one spent time in Port casks from the Duoro Valley in Portugal. Bottled at 40% it retails at £25.
Smell: Raspberry and strawberry at first. Then walnut and spice – cinnamon and ginger in particular. Touch of oak. Pepper. Almond and coconut. Apple and orange.
Taste: The Port influence comes right at the front. There’s strawberry and cranberry with orange and plum. Dry woody spice with cinnamon and nutmeg. Touch of citrus orange. Wee bit of honey. Pepper and oak. Weirdly, there’s something here that reminds me of drinking orange juice after brushing my teeth which I realise is an unpleasant experience. There’s nothing unpleasant about the whisky, but it conjures up that memory for some reason. The human brain is a complicated thing.
Value for money: There can’t really be any complaints about the price. Sure it’s bottled at 40% but it’s natural colour and fully flavoured. A good quality blended Scotch at an approachable price.
I confess I wasn’t expecting much from this sample but I’ve come away pleasantly surprised. The port influence is pleasingly bold without ever overshadowing the grain and malt components and the whole affair is well balanced and quite frankly, delicious. Fair play to Dewar’s, this is a winner.
For more on Dewar’s visit here