I’m going to hold my hand up now and say that prior to an email from Dewar’s landing in my inbox, I don’t think I’d ever heard of them.
Which is, quite frankly, astonishing.
Their white label was created in 1899 – so it’s not a new brand. In fact their founder, John Dewar, began blending scotch long before this date, his company doing as many do, buying in whiskies and blending them to create a perfect balance. Following his death in 1879 his two sons, John Alexander and Tommy took over the brand and built the distillery that would continue to the present day to distill their blends, with Tommy becoming the driving force behind it, spreading the word through his clever marketing tactics across London, and eventually the world.
And it seems the clever marketing tactics continue through to today. For my invitation to visit Hotel Gotham, ahem, I mean Dewar’s Hotel, and learn more, was a large holdall, with a travel label attached. Even had I not been curious to know more about the whisky, just learning how the bag fitted in was enough to see me heading across town to discover the brand.
Upstairs we were greeted by a suitably refreshing cocktail and by Tommy Dewar himself, who while all invitees arrived began to talk to us about his life, his history, and his escapades – getting Dewars in front of the US President and ensuring it’s popularity in America, and his trick of getting people to walk into London bars to ask for Dewar’s consistently, before heading in to sell it to a grateful bar owner who sought to fill a need.
Aiding and abetting him were Jamie Mac(Donald), brand ambassador, and Kyle Jamieson, bartender – both with a delicious burr to their accents, both sporting the almost prerequisite facial hair, and both skillfully adept with ice, spirits and flavour.
But first. We had a challenge.
Tommy took us down corridors and stairs to a darkened room and introduced us to a pair of boxes. It was a blind tasting. Given I had never experienced Dewar’s before, the odds were a little unfairly stacked. In truth, it wasn’t that difficult to figure out. Dewar’s is a well balanced, honeyed, heather whisky. It’s light and very easy to drink, making it decipherable from the heavier, more intense whisky in our second glass.
A second challenge awaited us.
Keen to pit our own skills against those of a master blender, we were invited to blend our own whisky.
This is honestly, not easy. Not that I expected it would be, but even so, the tiniest imbalance throws out your whole blend, and given that we’d had a couple of whiskies by this point, and had to try the different styles of whisky we were blending with didn’t help. Alcohol can help you get creative, but creativity eventually gets thrown out the window and things go awry.
In truth, at one point I had a pretty decent blend, but I couldn’t help but faff with it and in the end simply had a heavy, rich peaty blend that was, well, alright. If I could have rewound to three or four additions earlier, I’d have had something I’d have been proud to share later.
Returning to the bar, Jamie and Kyle were keen to showcase more of the serves that perfectly showcase Dewar’s. Whisky and ginger using East Imperial Thai Dry Ginger Ale, that adds a great fragrant twist to a standard whisky ginger.
A Penicillin – perfect for whatever ails you, aided by a peaty whisky and garnished with a chunk of crystallised ginger.
And The Lady or The Earl, by both Jamie and Kyle, gave us a softer highball with a tea infusion, drawing on the Christmas cake, vanilla and ginger of the whisky.
In truth, it’s been a bit of an eye opener. I steered clear of blends for a long time due to a poor experience or two, but after Compass Box and Wemyss have both changed my mind, I’m embracing Dewar’s too. It’s a great ‘breakfast’ whisky, soft and easy to drink – perfect for those new to whisky as it’s so approachable.
As for my blend. Well, I’m putting that on a shelf for a while.
With thanks to Dewar’s and Hotel Gotham for my visit.