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Dewar's Signature

Jack Bettridge
From the Print Edition:
Tyson vs. King, Jan/Feb 04

Long the best-selling Scotch whisky blend in the United States, Dewar's can now count itself among the costliest. With the introduction of Signature at $200, Dewar's joins Chivas Regal Royal Salute and Johnny Walker Blue Label among the hyperpremium blends that easily hold their own amongst single malts.

Since the nineteenth century, Dewar's has sold itself with masterful marketing, which included the philosophical quips of cofounder Tommy Dewar, the first film advertisement, the legendary "Dewar's man" campaign and a general attempt to pitch its whisky as an upper-crust pursuit. Until recently the company hadn't tried extra age as a marketing tool. That changed with the introduction of the 12-year-old two years ago and Signature represents an even larger step in the same direction.

The 12-year-old Dewar's Special Reserve entered as a markedly richer product than entry-level White Label, a light, bright whisky that isn't as challenging. Signature moves the bar up even more. Its color is a deeper amber than even the 12 and the nose bursts forth with a big balance of maple, honey, anise and smoke. The step up to the Signature also adds a finesse and a hint of almond that the midlevel Dewar's does not enjoy. On the palate, it becomes even richer with cream, vanilla, rock candy and a pronounced heightening of the licorice quotient. The finish goes on and on and turns slightly floral before drying up. Unlike the progression with Chivas and Johnny Walker, which become more elegant but remain very traceable versions of their lower end whiskies, the Dewar's takes on a taste profile that has little connection to the White Label as the price goes up.

While no age statement is given for the newest Dewar's, master blender Thomas Aitken has said that 27-year-old malt made at the company's distillery, Aberfeldy, is at the heart of Signature. By law, the youngest whisky in a blend defines its age and stating it can draw attention from older whiskies that make up a blend. Johnny Walker Blue Label ($200) also specifies no age, even while it sells for about three times the price of Gold Label, which is dated at 18 years. Chivas Regal's Royal Salute ($150) is a 21-year-old.

Signature will be shipped to the United States in dribs and drabs in the coming months. Until your dram arrives, take heart that another industry giant is taking a strong stand for blends.

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