Toast to Dewar’s Scotch
Dewar’s Scotch whisky boasts a rich history and tradition.
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.
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 –
Stephanie MacLeod, Dewar’s seventh – and first female – master blender.
John Dewar, founder of the company.