Pros: Almost always available, economical, finely blended
Cons: Not a single-malt
I have read a lot of the reviews of Dewar's White Label and I simply have to write a review that does this spirit some justice. I do not claim to be a major drinker that can point out the smells and tastes blindfolded, however, I have been to the distillery that makes the staple scotch for the White Label. I have met a lot of the people that help produce this product and they deserve some recognition.
While I was at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, I decided I wanted to tour a real distillery. Considering that Dewars was a major sponsor of the event and that they were offering me a free tour, I decided to make the trip north to Aberfeldy.
Aberfeldy is the home of the Black Watch regiment raised here in 1739. The Black Watch is more famous in the U.S. for being specifically requested to play at JFKs funeral. They played, "The Brown Haired Maiden," "The Badge of Scotland," "The 51st Highland Division," and "The Barren Rocks of Aden" as the cortege left the White House for St. Matthew's Cathedral.
Aberfeldy became a major intersection in Perthshire in 1733 when the Tay River was bridged. This being the only crossing at the time, travelers from all around the highlands had to pass through Aberfeldy to reach East/West. This was also a site of large production of Oats (haggis) and Barley (scotch). The Pitilie Burn runs nearby and gave John Dewar an excellent site to produce his Scotch Whisky.
Dewars single highland malt lies at the heart of the Dewars White Label Scotch Whisky and to meet growing demand for Dewar's White Label, Dewar's & Sons opened the Aberfeldy Distillery in 1898. It was a state-of-the-art facility designed to modernize the distilling process at that time.
First they take the Scottish barley and soak it in water. As soon as the barley shows green sprouts, Dewars heats the barley to stop the germination and then grinds it into grist. Peat (moss) is burnt to heat the barley and thats where most of the smoky taste and smell comes from.
Then thousands of gallons of water from the Pitilie Burn (starting off cooler and then to a near boiling temperature) is run through the grist. The used grist is sold to farmers in the area to use in their cattle feed. Dewars saves the heated water runoff which is very sugary and pumps it into 8 large vats made out of Oregon pine. These almost two story tall vats hold the wort. They then add yeast to the wort and let it ferment. I am not sure how long it takes for the fermentation to take place, however, our guide made it sound like they could do it in under a period of a week.
The whisky is then distilled twice. The first still (wash still) heats the fermented wort and the alcohol evaporates. The collected alcohol (normally less than 20% alcohol in volume) is run through to the second still (spirit still). The spirit still heats the whisky again and the alcohol evaporates. The head run is close to 60% alcohol and the tail run is around 20% alcohol. The distillers save the middle part of the run for the whisky they will now mature. The head and tail runs are sent back to the first still to mix with the new whisky being processed.
The saved run is now matured in oak casks right there in Aberfeldy. To be able to place Scotch on a label, the distillery must age the whisky at least three years in Scotland in oak casks. A lot of these casks are from America and all of them are used. The casks lose about 2% of the whisky a year through evaporation and distillers call this the angels share. Aberfeldy ages their whisky 12 years and then sends most of the Aberfeldy Scotch to be blended with other whiskies and grain alcohols to make the Dewars White Label blend. Dewars believes that close to 50% of the characteristics of Scotch come from the cask it is matured in. On a side note -- the most amazing Scotch Ive tasted s the 12 year Aberfeldy Single Malt Scotch that is removed from the casks and not blended at all with other distilleries. This single malt is pure heaven.
Now that we know how the heart of the White Label is produced, Ill move on to my assessment of the fine drink. When judging a Scotch you need to use more then just your taste buds. You need to use your eyes, nose, and mouth.
Eyes: The Scotch should be golden and light. It should be transparent through your glass.
Nose: The Master Blenders actually rely more on their nose than they do tasting as we can smell more aromas than we can taste flavors. The Master Blender noses for up to 10 aromas in the White Label Blend. The White Label is smoky and what I smell as spicy. Do not get too close to the glass and just stick your nose in there. You will overwhelm your senses. If the alcohol smells too strong for you (like rubbing alcohol), you probably wont like the taste. It is encouraged to add still (non-sparkling) water to your drink. This lessens the alcohol content, of course, and you will get a better aroma smell.
Taste: You need to take a large sip of the Scotch and let it touch all the different parts of your tongue to get the full effect. Use your sweet, salt, sour and bitter buds to appreciate what the Master Blender produced. Of course the Scotch will be malty, and I also tasted it as spicy and slightly sweet. Remember, everyone will react to the Scotch differently. I do not think the top of your throat should burn after a drink so consider mixing it with one of the options below.
How you drink your Scotch is also going to affect the experience.
Neat This technique is straight from the bottle at room temperature and down your throat.
Straight This is Scotch on ice, shaken and then strained into your glass chilled.
On the rocks This is my preferred method. This way the Scotch is chilled and as soon as the Scotch reaches my preferred water to alcohol content I can drink it for the best results. If the Scotch is too strong at the beginning, just let it sit and the ice will soften the alcohol.
With water Most good bars and a staple of a home bar is a ceramic water jug. This is for still, chilled water to add to Scotch if one decides to mix water into their Scotch this way.
Cocktails I will not pretend to know anything about Scotch cocktails, however, I know there are dozens, if not more of them, out there. The only mixed drink I have had with Scotch is Coke and a drink a Canadian dancer introduced to me called Whisky Mack. She was a highland dancing champion and had traveled the world competing over several decades. She said that Whisky Mack cures you of the common traveling head colds and congestions. This drink is Scotch Whisky and a splash of Ginger Wine. You can drink this on the rocks, neat, and straight.
My overall assessment of the Dewars White Label is that is one of the finest and more economical blended whiskies in the U.S. It is actually Americas number one Scotch Whisky. Andrew Carnegie, born in Scotland, actually purchased a keg of Dewars for an America President to the uproar of American whisky producers. White Label is available in most liquor stores and costs just as much, if not less, than comparable whiskies.
I would prefer to drink single malt Scotch most any day, however, to keep the monetary damage down when I go out and to still get a quality spirit I will choose Dewars White Label.
Check out the Dewar's Single Malt: Aberfeldy 12 Year
I have to say that I am not prone to drink White Label neat or straight. I will add a little water, a lot of ice, or add a little Coke. To some, adding soda is a sin, however, I think that White Label is a great spirit because it isnt too posh, too expensive, and you dont think you are ruining an expensive glass of Scotch by adding anything. There are so many Dewars cocktails, too, so simply ask the barkeep to suggest a favorite using Dewars White Label.
I have yet to feel terrible after a night of heavy Scotch drinking. I am not just speaking about Dewar's either. Scotch, in general terms, is a great drink for anyone looking for a fun night, good taste, and not feeling like a train wreck the next morning.
Finally, you cant turn down a drink that was advertised and made a world leader from a man that said,
Respectability is the state of never being caught doing anything which gives you pleasure Tommy Dewar