If you grew up with a Scotch-drinking aunt or uncle, you probably know the name John Dewar & Sons. The brand’s bottlings, especially the Dewar's White Label, are old-school staples for loyal drinkers who value consistency—blended whisky's calling card. Though blended Scotches contain various single-malt whiskys that might vary from year to year, the better makers are brilliant at maintaining a consistent house style (much the way Champagne producers make non-vintage bottlings). But now, John Dewar & Sons is pulling back the curtain with a line of excellent single malts that typically go into its blends: Aberfeldy, Aultmore, Craigellachie, The Devron and Royal Brackla. Their personalities vary—from light and fruity to briny and smoky—but the line's quality level is impressively high. Here, the best bottles to seek out from the Last Great Malts collection.
This Highland distillery is known to produce the “golden dram” because its water source, the Pitillie Burn, contains (or at least once contained) gold deposits. The 12-year-old ($45) is extremely light and smooth, with a honeyed pear flavor. It’s crazy-easy to drink and beautifully delicate. The 21-year-old ($195), on the other hand, packs a smoky punch with heavier honey notes and silky, full body.
First established in 1960, MacDuff (where The Devron whiskeys are made) is one of Scotland’s newer, more modern distilleries. The Speyside malts are packaged in foggy, sea glass–esque bottles to represent the distillery’s location at the spot where the river meets the ocean. The 18-year-old ($110) packs delicious green apple flavors and finishes clean.
Located in the foggy heart of Speyside, which once hid illicit distillers’ shelters, Aultmore’s malts are prized by blenders for their oily, weighty texture. The 12-year-old ($55) is nutty and warming with an apple nose, while the 21-year-old ($115) delivers a briny wave of cooked apricots and caramel.
One of the first whiskys ever to be blended (by pioneering distiller Andrew Usher), Royal Brackla gets extra-complex flavors from a slow fermentation process that takes 80 hours. The 12-year-old ($65), finished in first-fill Oloroso sherry casks, tastes like salted fruit and rich coffee with a dry, tannic finish.
This idiosyncratic distillery sits on a rocky bluff (the name means craggy rock), uses worm tubs (an old-fashioned system of long, coiled copper tubes fitted into vats of cold water) and ages its whiskeys to prime-numbered years. The 13-year-old ($55) smells like a just-struck match with a malty flavor. The 23-year-old ($280) is almost savory, with notes of burnt pumpernickel and charred pineapple.