As I mentioned in my Craigellachie 21 review, Dewar’s is still fairly new to South African shores, but has already cemented itself as a solid player in the competitive mid-tier.
While we don’t get the entry level White Label (yet?), we seem to have a steady supply of Dewar’s 12 and the 15-year-old floating around. And after having had both on many occasions, I decided it was high time to sit down and really dig through them, hopefully without once mentioning Johnnie Walker. Doh!
A solid first impression! Tight blending overall (with no one flavour screaming for attention) and notable for an absolute absence of smoke or peat, unlike… that other blend.
I’d describe it as richly fruity, and grainy. And not that “weaksauce new-make cornflakes” kind of grain that initiates my gag reflex, but an inviting toffee and dark chocolate. Apricots and plums are the order of the day, and throughout you get a really great musty cupboard kind of smell. Like grandma, with less perfume.
Like all great blends, Dewar’s 12 gives a little attention to all of the tastebuds. And the perfect strength for drinking neat, but not so brittle that I’d hesitate from trying it with water or ice.
Where the nose is all about fruit and grain, the taste has got a surprisingly spicy quality that’s rare to find in a middle-shelf blend. Nutmeg, chilli, cumin. A clear layer of fresh pastry that I associate with grain whisky. And I’ll be damned if there isn’t some sherry lovingly layered in there as well. It’s got a great sweet-and-sour battle going on, alternating at times between an almost marshmallow, sweet-but-subdued quality and a zingy punch of grapefruit zest.
Curry afterglow, and bitter. Like chewing into a bayleaf. Spiciness remains on the tongue, and it develops sweet before fading.
Dewar’s 12 really surprised me the first time I had it, and again now that I’m giving it closer attention. You fully expect it to have either that bottom-shelf neutrality or that (oh fine) Johnnie Black style beginner’s peat. Instead, you get something that ticks many of the same boxes as higher-end blends – like Douglas Laing with training wheels. Quite complex, but not indecipherable. Rich, but not overwhelming. Drinkable, but not chuggable.
And if I’m honest it also rattled me… by completely upsetting my Johnnie Black dogma. Sigh. As it stands, I vary between thinking Dewar’s 12 is the better blend, and clinging tenaciously to my precious Black Label. But the reality is they’re simply different liquids – smoky and brooding versus Dewar’s 12’s slightly more relaxed, anytime drink.
But the biggest challenge to the status quo came from the pricing: Dewar’s 12 is about 15% cheaper than Johnnie Black, no doubt deviously positioned in order to undercut their rival and become the most affordable 12-year-old blend on the shelf.
Looking for the best, cheapest whisky ever? That’s still a no-brainer: it’s called Three Ships 5. But if you’re looking for a more challenging yet-still-affordable mainstream blend, you officially have two options… Grab some Black Label if you feel like smoke, or Dewar’s 12 if you don’t!