Where better to start this collection than with one of the most recognizable names in whisky. Dewar is an iconic name in bottled spirits. It is still, in the 21st century, a very successful whisky brand, and has been for the entirety of its existence since it began in the 1870s. The Dewar story is a contemporary tale of commercial success for a new age. John Dewar was born in 1806 to humble crofters in Perthshire. This was a time when young farmer boys would hope to be taken on as apprentice by one of the local tradesman. That trade would then become the boy’s living for the remainder of his days. John Dewar’s good fortune was to accept a job with John MacDonald, a wine merchant in Perth. He eventually became partners in the concern and after less than 10 years, ventured out to set up a wine and spirit shop on his own. Dewar was a keen businessman and was an early adopter of the new ways of blending whisky and the first to take the leap putting proprietary whisky in branded bottles. He brought his brother Thomas, his sons, and other relatives on board. By the mid-1880s, John Dewar had a successful and thriving business—but it was limited to Scotland. So John sent his brother Thomas to London in 1885 to crack into the English market. And there, as a means of “getting the word out,” he set up a booth at the local Agricultural show where he proudly displayed a kilted Scotsman blasting on a set of Highland bagpipes. Needles to say, all of London knew who he was after that. So began the worldwide expansion of Dewar’s whisky. By the end of the nineteenth century John Dewar & Sons was pumping out 1,000,000 gallons of spirit a year and exporting bottles all over the world.
The Dewars were relentless and shameless marketers and keenly took advantage of the new industrial, capitalist age in which they found themselves. Their gigantic electric neon sign featuring a kilted Highlander holding a bottle of White Label, lit up the Shot Tower near the Waterloo bridge, and became a feature of the Thames landscape for much of the early twentieth century. Their commercial rise is ensconced in US culture as well. Several attempts by Tommy Dewar to break into the Prohibition-era North American market was finally cracked when he met with Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., the Irish-American industrialist and patriarch of the Kennedy political dynasty in the United States. Joseph Kennedy built a large part of his fortune and political clout on exclusive distribution licenses for Dewar’s whisky in the US after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. In less than 25 years, John and Tommy Dewar, two sons of a Perthshire crofter, had received British peerages, held respected stations in British public life, amassed huge fortunes, and built a global whisky empire that continues to this day.
View the score for “Dewar’s Fancy.”