British brought a ton of things to India, not all we fell for. The one that we’ve maintained a love-at-first-sight affair with are the golden nectars from the Scottish lands. Being the world’s biggest consumers, we’ve embraced all what the whisky world has offered – blending styles, new malts, age and non-age statements, cask strengths, tropical ageing, plethora of cask finishes, and what not. We’ve accepted any play presented and now Dewar’s is setting us up for a new phenomenon, one that the world has already lauded as amongst the best ever created – the Double Double
Much like many of its counterparts of the time, in 1846, John Dewar & Sons started as a tiny spirits shop that specialised in crafting its own proprietary blends. After an era of complete ban, whisky had just been legalised again and John Walker had already established the idea of putting aged distillates together. Within a decade, Glenlivet introduced the first real prototype of blended Scotch in a bottle, many followed suit, and the world’s eyes turned to the Scots all over again. John Dewar’s sons took over what their father had started and made it a global phenomenon by the turn of the century, wining the house its first medal at the Edinburg Exhibition in 1886.
Knowing they were on the right path, Dewar’s kept toying with their spirits and processes. This is where AJ Cameron came in and changed the game altogether. Having made his way up from an office clerk to Dewar’s first master blender, he gifted the brand its distinct identity. Cameron would blend single grain whiskies and age them, replicating the same for single malts, before blending them together for further ageing, calling his unique process ‘Double Ageing’. Now surely it sounds like a time consuming, expensive, and technical a process, especially for the time, however, the family believes it delivered unprecedented smoothness and rich depth of flavour to its spirits. It’s thanks to this endeavour that laid the blueprint for Dewar’s winning over 1000 medals in international competitions and being celebrated as the most awarded blended Scotch.
More than a century on, the whisky world has seen wars, politics, pandemics, prohibitions, bans, influences from various cultures, and changing palates with generations. What has kept it alive is the spirit of innovation. And we expect the same from the Dewar’s house, don’t we? Their White Label has become a synonym for consistency, but we want more. So it seem only natural a progression that the three-step Double Ageing process adds another layer to itself, another step, a fourth wheel to the drive.
THE HEAD AND THE HEART BEHIND DOUBLE DOUBLE
Stephanie MacLeod, now the 7th master distiller at Dewar’s, released the first three whiskies from their Double Double series in 2019 – a 21 YO, a 27 YO, and a 32 YO. An inspiration from AJ’s process, Stephanie finishes these already celebrated blends in select Sherry casks for approximately a year. They’re all bottled at 46% ABV, sans chill filtration and any colour adjustment, in uniquely shaped 500ml bottles. Upto 40 of the finest grain and single malt whiskies come together to form the blend, with the Aberfeldy single malt remaining at the heart of it, a formation that has remained since 1898.
Both, Stephanie and the three whiskies, have caught the world’s attention from their release, instantly winning them the highest accolades and adding many firsts to their names. In 2019, Stephanie made history becoming the first woman to win the coveted Master Blender Of The Year, and has since kept at it. Similarly, the Dewar’s Double Double 32 Year Old has been collecting the Blended Scotch of the Year every year since its introduction in 2019 at the International Whisky Competition. The 27 Year Old too has maintained its spot in the top three. But the big news came in 2020. Above all the whiskies of the world, including American, Japanese, Irish, and Scotch single malts, a blended Scotch was crowned the Whisky of the Year, and yes, it was the 32 Year Old again!!
India, finally received its first taste of these whiskies. Over an intimate, well curated, gathering, Stephanie herself led the 40 odd audiences through the three gems. They make excellent sipping whiskies owing to their exceptionally smooth, delicate, and nuanced palate that features a spectrum of flavours, depth of intensity, and layers of complexity. What remains common in their DNA is the elegance, charm, and personality that the different Sherry casks add.
WHAT MAKES DOUBLE DOUBLE SPECIAL
The Double Double showcases an array of aspects of blending. One of course is the complexity of the process itself, that calls only for the finest of whiskies and casks. There’s a risk in embarking on such experiments. Rarest whiskies and most sort after casks coming together for decades of play of time and patience doesn’t necessarily guarantee a fine result. Even if they do, there’s a looming questions that of their acceptance in the market upon release. It’s not common to find 27 and 32 year old expressions on the shelves, let alone with such cask finishes. Yes, rarity and age plays a role, but then there’s also their price-worthiness. So, it’s not just the sum of its parts, but how it has been put together. You need to be more of an artist than a scientist to do that, respecting their provenance, accentuating the wisdom of ages, celebrating the delicate nuances that oak adds to them, and putting the puzzle together in a way that challenges your palate and appreciation of such rare drams. They must evoking an inexpressible emotion than a thought at can be put in to words. It’ll be foolish to even doubt what Stephanie has achieved here. All what one can question is easily be answered by uncorking the bottles.
Guided by the master herself we systematically tasted the whiskies:
Dewar’s Double Double 21 YO – INR12000 in Gurgaon
Aged in Oloroso Sherry casks, the tipple is super concentrated yet playful.
Oloroso is a Sherry that ages oxidatively in oak casks, picking up a ton of concentration, dried nuttiness, tobacco, balsamic, and oxidative notes.
Sweet hints of toffee, caramel, tropical fruits, and soft wood emerge at first. Wine’s character is well mingled in the layers, not obviously boasting upfront. Hints of seaside humid mulch, savoury and earthy characters, add to the husky chewy palate before it finishes on playful sweet and warm spiciness, and almond like nuttiness. Acidity and warmth are both soft and balanced, making it an absolutely fun yet sincere a dram.
Dewar’s Double Double 27 YO – INR22000 in Gurgaon
Aged in Palo Cortado Sherry casks, this is where you need to spend time.
Palo Cortado is an unusual form of Sherry that undergoes an initial ageing under the veil of a naturally occurring yeast called ‘flor’, but eventually loses it and then ages oxidatively like an Oloroso. Resulting wine has a weighty, dense, complex palate, that retains its crispness and dryness.
The whisky shows signs of aged seaside shells, dark chocolate, aged meat, dried and old savouriness. There’s an obvious creaminess, much like a cashew paste. Tertiary notes of forrest floor, earth, mushroom, saddle leather, tobacco dominate while the all this seriousness is cut through by the underripe white grape citrus that brings youth and freshness to the rather big, bold, imposing personality of this complex whisky.
This is just pure elegance. I called it an introverted extrovert, that’s expressive, yet holds back a lot in its layers that can only be deciphered if enough time is spent talking to it.
Dewar’s Double Double 32 YO – INR35000 in Gurgaon
Aged in Pedro Ximenez Sherry casks, if it were a wine, I would’ve decanted it for hours before sipping on it
Pedro Ximenez is a dark, sticky, syrupy sweet wine that’s made from raisinated white grapes. Think of sultanas, dried peaches, figs, honey, caramel, wax, and baked apples.
The whisky is tightly bound, a few swirls won’t do, you’ll need to sit with it and listen to it as it opens up. Uber concentrated, it’s unlike anything I’ve tasted. Dense, deep, complex it does show the influence of PX cask with the golden raisins touch. Hint of varnish and oxidative hues take over with a husky palate where tannins make an appearance as well. There’s ample spice, neither sweet nor warm, just aromatic. It’s chewy, the sweetness and maturity of well aged meat shows, peppery zing is alluring, sweet cigar leaf dominates on the longest finish alongside an amalgamation of several other tertiary notes and smoke. Overall, this is a gastronomic delight!!
Only a small allocation will reach India. So if you spot it, pick it up!!
First published in Man’s World India, June 2022