Whisky has a long association with masculinity. It’s reputation as the drink of choice in private gentleman’s clubs around the world is renowned. That is until you walk in to Dewar’s Aberfeldy; the domain of Stephanie Macleod. Stephanie is the Master Blender for John Dewar & Sons; keeper of secret Dewar recipes and one of the few female blenders in her category. Stephanie Macleod was also named Master Blender of the Year 2018 by Whisky Magazine.
With this in hand Dewar’s has created an altogether refined experience of its wonderful heritage. From the company’s Scottish home of Aberfeldy the distillery has gained attention for its visitor experience as much as for its whisky. It was voted the Best Visitor Attraction at the Scottish Thistle Awards 2018. Here’s everything you need to know about how Dewar’s Whisky created an award-winning day out in the Scottish Highlands.
The company was founded in 1846 by John Dewar. At a time when your word was your honour it was a small wine and spirits merchant in Perthshire. On creating a single malt whisky it was proud of the company put its name on the bottles as a mark of quality.
Dewar & Sons flourished under the stewardship of John Dewars’ sons, Tommy and John Alexander, who fearlessly carried the company’s blended Scotch to international acclaim. John Alexander was the brain behind the vision whilst his younger brother, Tommy, was a marketing pioneer who travelled the world spreading the family’s legacy.
The village of Aberfeldy is an ethereal dream. It’s everything that anyone who’s visited the highlands waxes lyrical about; a staggeringly beautiful tranquil wilderness. Loch Tay is but five miles away and sits, surrounded by cottages and boats, against a backdrop of dewy mountains.
In 1898 John Alexander and Tommy the built the Aberfeldy distillery next to Pitilie Burn, a stream, just three miles from where their father was born. The distillery still relies on fresh water from the stream and is the only one in Scotland to use this water.
The Whisky Lounge and Cafe on site sources local food to showcase Aberfeldy’s seasonal produce. You will find paninis filled with Orkney Cheddar and ham from local supplier MacDonald’s Brothers. Afternoon tea will be served with scones from Dow’s of Aberfeldy and jam from Thyme at Errichel. With an open fireplace, cosy sofas and vintage memorabilia it’s a place to feel at home.
For a special celebration there is also a private dining experience which can be arranged in advance. On my visit I was treated to whisky cocktails and whisky pairing with a sumptuous seasonal menu. It included a starter of Ayrshire beetroot and goat’s cheese terrine followed by mains of roasted loin of Margmore venison shot on the estate. Dessert was a Scottish rum crème brûlée and summer fruits compote.
On a separate note, there’s a great deal to be said for food that doesn’t travel; not merely for the benefit of the environment. I’m an avid advocate of locally grown produce for heath and wellbeing over exotic superfoods. Our immune systems are strengthened not by eating exotic food but by eating food that grows in the environment we live in. This was a philosophy reflected at Dewars in its values and in their support of local producers; a pleasure to see and experience.
The Whisky Lounge is home to the Dewars Dramming Bar. Here you will be able to sample a dram of Aberfeldy 12, Aberfeldy 16 and Dewar’s 12 and Dewar’s 25 ranging from £2.50 to £7 per dram. The prices held deliberately low to allow as many visitors as possible to enjoy the best whisky the distillery offers.
If cocktails are more to your liking the Highball which consists of Dewar’s White Label, ginger ale and fresh lime juice was delightfully refreshing. The Golden Dram made of Aberfeldy 12 and orange bitters was wonderful with hints of vanilla and honey.
Things to Do
I highly recommend starting any experience at Dewars with a visit to the state-of-the-art cinema. With red leather seats and gorgeous interiors a brief yet informative documentary introduces the history and heritage of Dewars and its beginnings in the Highlands. It sets a great mood for understanding the journey of the brand and the passion which has always driven it forward.
The interactive heritage exhibition sits just outside the cinema and is a must. Dewars has thrown open its archives to retell the captivating story of its founder’s pursuit of the perfect whisky. The exhibition also recounts the story of the Dewars family with artefacts and audiovisuals. You can also use iPads provided to use the Dewars multimedia app which recognises visual triggers throughout the museum. Both the cinema and museum experiences are included in the price of the distillery tour.
The distillery tour is a journey to the heart of Dewar’s Scotch. It includes a visit to the warehouse and provides great insight in to the process of creating a highly acclaimed whisky. Expect to share the experience with visitors from as far as Japan and Australia who arrive in Aberfeldy for the single purpose of visiting the Dewars Distillery.
Whisky and chocolate tasting tour
For lovers of chocolate and whisky there is the tour that has it all. It includes pairings of three single origin dark chocolates, chosen by Stephanie Macleod, with three crafted whiskies. The chocolates are, of course, handmade by local chocolatier Charlotte Flower.
For me this was a particularly intriguing experience. The chocolate and whiskies made excellent partners and made for a wonderfully new concept. I found it fresh and informative.
Whisky blender’s tour
It is also possible to opt for a tutored blending session as I did. This was a lively experience. On learning the distinctive flavours found in the regions of Scotland we used our knowledge to create personalised blends of Scotch using single malt and grain whisky.
It was a chance to learn balancing flavours at the end of which you name your blend in a sentimental way. It was also an unmissable opportunity to don a white lab coat. A great experience enjoyed by all but most of all by me; my blend was chosen the winner at the end of the experience. Such happy days!
If you’re fortunate enough you may even have the opportunity to visit the notoriously secretive Scotch Egg Club hidden behind a secret door of the distillery. The club is named in honour of Tommy Dewar’s love of chickens (he raised prize-winning chickens). That however, is another story altogether.