Toast to De­war’s Scotch

De­war’s Scotch whisky boasts a rich his­tory and tra­di­tion.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By N.D. RAJ

WHISKY wa­ter, any­one? That would be the call from a good host any­where but there’s much truth in it, too. Wa­ter is what makes the whisky. In fact, the name whisky comes from the Gaelic uisge beatha, mean­ing “wa­ter of life”. And the Scots will main­tain that the best whisky in the world comes from their coun­try, thanks to the pris­tine wa­ter of the Scot­tish High­lands – clean, sweet and laden with min­er­als. Of course, there’s much more than wa­ter in­volved – there’s a whole long process that takes years to fin­ish be­fore the sin­gle malt is ready for con­sump­tion – but the wa­ter of the High­lands re­mains a key in­gre­di­ent. The other, of course, is malt. Ac­tu­ally, it’s bar­ley. The bar­ley is soaked in hot wa­ter where it ger­mi­nates and then it is dried out, al­low­ing it to re­lease its malty taste. The malt is ground into a rough flour called grist which goes into a mash where hot wa­ter of var­i­ous tem­per­a­tures is run through it to draw out all fer­mentable sugar. The spent grain is then re­cy­cled as cat­tle food. Al­though it con­tains lit­tle nutrition, the cows love the stuff. Re­mem­ber the hot wa­ter that was run though the bar­ley? It’s now called wort. And that’s the base for the stuff to be bot­tled a decade or two later. But first, an­other process – fer­men­ta­tion. The wort is sent to gi­ant vats or wash­back where yeast is added. The yeast starts a chem­i­cal re­ac­tion in the wash­back, caus­ing it to foam. Af­ter more than a week, an al­co­holic brew, much like beer, is now ready. Then the dis­til­la­tion process be­gins. The vats, mean­while, need to be cleaned af­ter the mess caused by the yeast. Work­ers these days use high-pow­ered wa­ter jets for the task. In the past, a few good men had to climb into the vats with brushes stuck to poles and scrub the vats clean. One imag­ines they would have walked out with huge grins on their faces and a han­gover the day af­ter. The liq­uid that started out as wa­ter and be­came wort is now called wash. The wash is dis­tilled in huge stills, heated at one end and cooled at the other to get the whisky. At the Aber­feldy dis­tillery in Scot­land, only the mid-por­tion of dis­tilled wash is used; the ear­lier bit is too strong, while the later part is too weak. The brew is then stored in kegs or casks. The Scots have much to thank the Amer­i­cans for. It seems that in the United States, casks used for mak­ing sherry may not be re-used. Thus, the Amer­i­cans are stuck with all those casks which they sell cheaply to the Scots. In the casks, the brew ages for be­tween 12 and 21 years, re­act­ing with the sherry rem­nants in the wood to yield a drink that the world loves – Aber­feldy Sin­gle Malt whisky. Then in steps the mas­ter blender, and De­war’s Scotch is born.

Mas­ter blenders

Like a painter with a pal­ette of colours, the mas­ter blender works with var­i­ous sin­gle malt whiskies to make the best pos­si­ble “work of art”, as it were.

Blend­ing in­volves mix­ing sin­gle malt whiskies with grain whiskies and other malt whiskies to pro­duce a drink that’s great tast­ing and has all the right at­tributes. Al­though De­war’s is more than 150 years old, it has only seven mas­ter blenders to date, which says some­thing about the per­son hold­ing the job. Founder John De­war was also a blender, but the com­pany’s first mas­ter blender was Alexan­der Cameron who joined the firm in 1890. The sixth mas­ter blender was Tom Aitken, a bril­liant chemist who was be­hind what is now the com­pany’s pride – De­war’s Sig­na­ture. The cur­rent mas­ter – the sev­enth – is Stephanie MacLeod, the first woman mas­ter blender in the com­pany. MacLeod started work­ing in De­war’s in 1998 and has done ex­ten­sive re­search on the mat­u­ra­tion se­crets of Scotch Whisky. Her legacy – the Aber­feldy 18-year-old Sin­gle Cask.

All other sin­gle malt whiskies are ac­tu­ally a mix of many casks of the same edi­tion. There were 284 bot­tles of Chris An­der­son’s whisky, and a cou­ple of hun­dred are still avail­able for sale – and only at De­war’s World of Whisky in Aber­feldy.

His­tory of De­wars

The story of De­war’s Scotch whisky is one of an en­ter­pris­ing fa­ther and two sons who each took a new prod­uct to new heights. John De­war was a car­pen­ter’s ap­pren­tice be­fore he took up a new job as whisky maker in Scot­land’s whisky coun­try of Perth. It was a tough busi­ness but he per­se­vered, and be­came quite fa­mous along with his prod­uct. Then De­war’s sons came along, and the brand found its niche. John Ju­nior con­sol­i­dated the busi­ness in Scot­land while his younger brother, Thomas, took the la­bel be­yond the coun­try’s shores. He first went to London – with introductions to two men of re­pute, only to find that one was dead and the other, bank­rupt. He was all alone. But he laboured on, mak­ing con­tacts and giv­ing out sam­ples. Within two years, he made a break­through, but Thomas was not one to sit on his lau­rels. Along came Scot­tish steel mag­nate An­drew Carnegie, who rec­om­mended the whisky to the then pres­i­dent of United States, Ben­jamin Franklin. And the rest is his­tory. De­war found fame, and the brand made in­roads into the US mar­ket. Thomas em­barked on two world tours cov­er­ing 26 coun­tries to pro­mote the brand. Pro­hi­bi­tion in the United States came and went, but the whisky busi­ness stayed, go­ing un­der­ground where it was sold as a cure-all for coughs, cholera or any other ail­ment. Tommy strongly be­lieved in the power of ad­ver­tis­ing. “Keep ad­ver­tis­ing, and ad­ver­tis­ing will keep you,” the man of many fa­mous quotes was re­puted to have said. He started out by paint­ing the en­tire side of a build­ing by the River Thames with the brand name, which up­set the city fa­thers. He then painted a man hold­ing a bot­tle of whisky. Many more ads fol­lowed, fea­tur­ing ten­nis play­ers and even Santa Claus. The one that be­came the clas­sic De­war’s ad cel­e­brated the fact that this was a brew that had been en­joyed for gen­er­a­tions. Called the Whisky of his Fore­fa­thers, the cam­paign poster showed a man drink­ing a whisky and his fore­fa­thers jump­ing out of por­traits on the wall and try­ing to make a grab for it. The com­pany’s ad­ver­tis­ing and sales have come a long way since then but the clas­sic ad re­mains the pride of the com­pany at its World of Whisky cen­tre in Aber­feldy.

Walk­ing tall: The High­lander statue out­side the De­war’s World of Whisky brew­ery in Aber­feldy, Scot­land.

Clas­sic De­war ad en­ti­tled ‘Whisky of the Fore­fa­thers’, a pic­ture of the fa­mous drink en­joyed by dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tions.

Very prom­i­nent advertisement for De­war, by the younger son, Thomas De­war – a huge ad by the side of a build­ing by the River Thames.

The top of the range –

De­war’s Sig­na­ture.

Stephanie MacLeod, De­war’s sev­enth – and first fe­male – mas­ter blender.

John De­war, founder of the com­pany.

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