Kind of a funny story: Dewar's calls this product "The Ancestor." It's not what I'd have called it. I mean, you show me an ancestor who's only twelve years old, and I'll show you some variety of short-lived bug.
After talking recently about Ballantine's 12, it dawned on me that with Dewar's 12 we have something of a Goofus-and-Gallant style comparison between two blended scotches shooting for what I'd say is generally the same market niche. For a few reasons, where Ballantine's 12 stumbles, I think Dewar's 12 is far more successful—if only because it avoids making the same set of decisions.
Let's first consider that an age-stated blended scotch is a "step up" from the bottom shelf. Maybe that's not new or insightful data. But what I can say is that most consumers aren't generally aware of how significant a step up it usually is. By law, a NAS scotch only needs to be three years old. Buying a 12-year, age-stated blend means buying a product that is at least four times older than the legal minimum. The grain whisky used as a major component of blended scotch is often bashed—deservedly—because often results in sour flavors and raw alcohol shock. Give it twelve years, however, and that's usually enough time for it to mellow out.
In the case of Dewar's 12, you may actually be paying less than the entry-level White Label (which I think is garbage), since it seems that a whole bunch of people don't give any semblance of a shit when it comes to upmarket, age-staged blends. Consider that Dewar's White Label has name-brand recognition and is what brand-loyal Dewar's fans will reach for. Meanwhile, those willing to pay to get their hands on better whiskies are usually single-malt buyers.
As a result of the lack of interest from both bottom-shelf drinkers and aficionados, I've sourced the Dewar's 12 for as little as $12 a bottle. And at that price, nothing can touch it in terms of a value proposition. A dollar for every year of aging? Sign me up. Even at full-price, it's usually only about $23, which is still not really wince-inducing. However you slice it, the price differential between this and White Label is small, and the difference in the glass is astounding.
I'm convinced it's the solidly-aged grain whisky stock that makes the Dewar's 12 so good. On the arrival, it's vanilla-forward and slightly buttery. In the development, there are some nice bits of earthy nuts and toffee that reminded me of a good piece of peanut brittle. This isn't a very peaty dram, but you might find just the slightest bit of smoke on the exit.
Additionally, most of the single malts in the John Dewar & Sons portfolio are pretty light and fruit forward, like Aberfeldy and Craigellachie. I pick up the malt whiskey charactermore in the nose, but a generous dollop of cream and vanilla on top of fruit will always be a winning combination in my book.
If you're chasing complexity and ascendant experiences, the Dewar's 12 may leave you flat. However, I tend to have an affinity for whiskies with a distinctive and straightforward flavor profile, and the Dewar's 12 certainly knows what it's doing. If you notice people are selling it up and down the block for about $20 or less in your area, grab it.