There’s a little excitement today at Dramble Towers as we’ve reached the dizzyingly heights of our 1000th review. You’ve likely noticed already that we’re not going to be celebrating this milestone in quite the same way that most whisky sites would approach it. No legendary bottlings, no unobtainium liquid – not even an expensive snow globe that we’ll dare to open up, contrary to its secondary market ‘value’. Nope. For our 1000th review I’ve decided to go back to where it all began for me – not the first whisky I ever tried (that moment is lost to the annuls of time), but certainly the first whisky that I remember trying. And thinking about. The whisky which started me on my path to wider malt appreciation and exploration. A significant moment and with a salutary lesson attached – it’s important to always remember our whisky roots.
It was somewhere around the turn of the millennium and at the time I was travelling for my one of my very first jobs (organising mechanical engineering conferences and exhibitions – thank you for asking). Aeroplanes and Matt are not the easiest of bed-fellows. I’ve never understood the allure of being cooped up in a steel tube for hours on end – to my mind it’s sheer tedium. And back then the in-flight entertainment was frankly primordial compared to current times. Drinking and travelling for work was tantamount to the same thing for me at that time. But I had grown bored with in-flight Gordon’s and tonic….finding it quite drying (at least in the quantities I was consuming it), so asked my air host for a suggested alternative. Down came a Dewar's with ginger.
Now granted a few years earlier I’d found myself dabbling with bottles of Chivas with my buddies as a student (we thought we were being quite sophisticated compared to the masses drinking snakebite black), but these early forays were without contemplation. Merely a somewhat expensive method for getting drunk – sophisticated or not. But, over the next couple of years I found myself regularly turning to my beloved Scotch and ginger (and still do) until one day I decided to try the whisky neat, without the mixer.
It was not the most successful of experiences – the whisky alone seemed raw and less palatable being (of course) less sweet and less bubbly without the ginger. But, at that moment something clicked inside of me. I’d seen my Dad occasionally drinking whisky neat – perhaps this was just not the right Scotch for consuming in that manner?
Thus began a (to date) 20 year exploration of what whisky, in all its great diversity has to offer. Slow, baby steps at first, but then gradually – and as I got older and frankly could afford more – increasing in depth and breadth. And here I am, 1000 reviews into The Dramble and both grateful for all the support you’ve given us, but equally grateful for those early whisky gingers which started to slowly introduce me to what would become an all-encompassing passion and at times near-obsession.
So, cobbled together story told, why would I pick something as innocuous as Dewar’s White Label for our 1000th review?
Because to my mind, as we progress on whisky journeys, it’s all too easy to forget where we came from. Our palates change with increasing exposure to whisky diversity – often for the better – greater appreciation, understanding and nuance – but at the same time, often leaving behind the stepping stones which helped us along the way. I see this time and time again at festivals where punters visit a stand and simply ask for the oldest or most expensive bottlings to try. They’ve forgotten their roots – they’ve forgotten the significance of the journey.
The journey is not just about you – it’s about the liquid itself. Being able to understand how a spirit matures and develops from new make over the years – 10, 12, 18, 25 years of age etc – all of this adds to the rich tapestry of our whisky knowledge. And frankly not all whiskies shine at the oldest possible age.
But, cast your mind back to your early whisky forays – I’d posit that unless you were/are an oligarch (and I’ve no reason to think that this is particularly the demographic of The Dramble) you likely started your malt journey similarly to me – at the lower end, blends or commonly available supermarket single malts. And frankly to my mind that’s perfect. You’ve started at the right place – giving yourself the maximum enjoyment of the category by allowing you and the liquid to go on that journey together. 12, 18, 25 years – in a sensible and progressive order.
At the same time, it’s all too easy to lose ourselves. To almost blank out of memory those immature times when we were drinking bulk 12 year old Scotch and thinking to ourselves “hmmm this is pretty good”. We should resist this temptation. Whilst we’ve moved on our whisky journeys these stepping stones were vital.
It’s all very well being snobbish about bulk blends – but they still, and likely always will, drive the wheels of the industry. Without that huge-selling blended whisky, that glorious single malt which you’re now coveting would simply not exist. Similarly, whilst your palate and outlook on whisky has developed, there’s still the generation yet to come. And they too need accessible, easy-going entry points.
To my mind, the most refined of whisky palates is the palate that can appreciate everything on its merits. Don’t be ‘that person’ who shouts down the rudimental (fundamental!) because over-priced, over-packaged, over-marketed 25 year old single malt is obviously better. Remember your roots.
So, Dewar’s White Label itself. Quite amusingly named because depending on where you buy it and what size bottle you’ve got – the label isn’t actually perfectly white. Anyhow, the blend is composed of around 40 different whiskies – whilst Aberfeldy is always listed at the ‘heart’ of the liquid, I suspect that it’s overall % is pretty minuscule. Indeed, there’s a lot of young grain and casks which have been used many more times than you would for single malt (maybe even eight fills from a single cask designed for mass market blending). The whisky is super available - £20.25 from The Whisky Exchange – and likely stocked in your local store – particularly if you live in the US where Dewar’s is certainly one of the bigger players in terms of the blended market.
Nose: Light but not uncommunicative – a heart of green apple and gooseberry alongside vanilla and honey. The grain constituent runs throughout, but is not as prominent as in some blends – it’s well integrated and articulated in the form of straw and popcorn dusted with icing sugar. Entirely inoffensive.
Taste: Apple peels with heathery honey, vanilla and butterscotch. Pepperiness arrives early with a hint of charred cask and plenty of bitter oakiness (re-re-re-re-re fill casks here) alongside teak oil and a combination of ginger essence of graininess which I find synonymous with mass-market blends.
Finish: Quite short with orchard fruit juices, overt sugars and an undefinable grassy herbalness
Dewar’s White Label is possible best described as a serviceable blend. There’s little to cause affront here – but at the same time, there’s nothing to get excited about either. The palate is not nearly as effective as the pleasant enough nose – perhaps suggesting that this whisky, at its heart, is designed to be either mixed or consumed with plenty of ice. Which is how I was introduced to it and indeed how I still view it. And you know what? That’s a totally fine and indeed important thing.