Aberfeldy and the famous White Label
On a recent trip home to Scotland I took the opportunity to discover an icon of Scottish Whisky - Dewar's White Label.
I have to admit that when I was planning my trip to Perthshire, the Aberfeldy distillery wasn't top of my list.
From traditional small independents like Eradour and Tullibardine, to iconic brands like Glenturret, (Scotland's oldest distillery and spiritual home of the Famous Grouse, Scotland's best selling whisky), and Blair Athol (one of oldest working distilleries in Scotland), as well as the exciting new micro-distillery at Strathearn, which also brews its own gin, not to mention Dalwhinnie in the north, which draws its water from the famous River Spey, and Deanston in the south, whose water source, the River Teith, also powers the distillery, in Perthshire whisky enthusiasts really are spoiled for choice.
As we were based in Aberfeldy for a couple of days, Dewar's, conveniently located just beyond the town centre, turned out to be a good choice.
Aberfeldy is a small market town located in highland Perthshire, about 70 miles north of Edinburgh. Having flown in from Verona that morning, it was a convenient destination, offering a hint of the more dramatic highland region that lies just beyond.
On this occasion, it was as far north as we were planning to go, but for those who wish to explore the more remote highland region, Aberfeldy is a worthy staging post. Points of interest include the memorial to the famous Black Watch regiment, an 18-hole golf course, a children's park and a thriving town centre, which includes a vibrant cinema, boutique shops, such as Haggart's, a tweed outfitter with a hipster twist, and The Three Lemons, a cafe, bar, grill that wouldn't be out of place in Glasgow's trendy Merchant City. For a town the size of Aberfeldy (population barely 2,000) , the presence of such enterprise is a positive sign of a vibrant town. A hint perhaps of the entrepreneurial spirit that you wouldn't necessarily expect to find in the heart of rural Perthshire.
In 1846, John Dewar, Sr, the son of a local farmer, opened a wine and spirits shop in Perth. In the 1860s he begun blending his own whiskies. When he died in 1880, the popular and thriving spirits company that he had created passed on to his two sons, John Alexander and Tommy.
Aged just 24 and 16 when they inherited the small family business, what the brothers achieved was truly remarkable.
Over the next 50 years, Dewar's would become a truly global brand and the brothers high-profile public figures.
Whisky was little known, let alone drunk outside Scotland at this time. In order to make it more palatable to the global market, the Dewar brothers pioneered the magical world of blending.
They also showed extraordinary skills in marketing and self-promotion, travelling the world to sell their product, boldly exploiting romantic images of Scotland. With his charismatic personality, Tommy set off on a world tour. In 2 years he visited 26 different countries. He kept a journal of his travels which were consolidated and published in a book titled "Ramble Round the Globe", which was published in 1894.
The tour was a remarkable success and Dewar's brand became known as one of the premier Scotch whiskies on the market.
In 1893 the company was granted a Royal Warrant from Queen Victoria. The small Tullymet distillery leased by the family could no longer meet demand so in 1898 the brothers built the Aberfeldy Distillery. The following year they released the flagship White Label expression. With Aberfeldy at its heart, Dewar's White Label is in fact a blend of 40 different whiskies expertly blended by Dewar’s first Master Blender, A.J. Cameron.
Despite difficult times, including war and prohibition, Dewar's of Aberfeldy continued to thrive as the brothers' interests expanded beyond the world of whisky.
From 1900 to 1917 John Alexander represented Inverness-shire in the House of Commons. He became a Baronet in 1907 and in 1917 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Forteviot of Dupplin in the Count of Perth.
In 1900 Tommy Dewar, who subsequently became 1st Baron Dewar, was elected as the MP for Tower Hamlets in London. Amongst other things he was involved in the controversial campaign to introduce immigration controls for the first time in the UK (the Aliens Act 1905).
Dewar’s White Label remains one of the most enduring, most highly-awarded whisky brands in the world. For generations, it has been among the top five best-selling brands globally and the number one brand in America.
Pale amber in colour, with a rich honey sweetness that is the hallmark of the Aberfeldy distillery, it also offers hints of heather and a touch of peaty smokiness. It's no limited edition single malt, but after a couple of drams it's easy to see why it has become one of the best selling whiskies ever produced.
While purists tend to favour single malt, it should be remembered that blends like Jonny Walker, Dewar's White Label and Chivas Regal are the foundations upon which the whisky industry is built. Without ambitious pioneers like the Dewar brothers and Jonny Walker, whose vision, enterprise and determination ensured that Scotch Whisky is a drink sold and revered all over the world, the whisky industry would not be the global success story it is today.
Richard Hough writes about history, football, wine, whisky, culture + travel and is currently working on a trilogy about wartime Verona.