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Q+A: Brian Cox On The New Dewar’s 12-Year-Old

September 21, 2022

Dewar’s Scotch whisky, with U.S. volume of just under 900,000 cases last year, according to Impact Databank, has built a fresh record of innovation in the blended Scotch arena in recent years. The push started with the introduction of its ultra-aged 21-, 27- and 32-year-old Double Double releases back in 2019. That same year, Dewar’s began rolling out its cask finished series, which now includes finishes in rum, mezcal, Port, and mizunara oak barrels, as well as the recently announced calvados cask finished release.

The latest innovation from Dewar’s is a newly remastered version of its flagship Dewar’s 12-year-old. The new 12-year-old uses first-fill Bourbon casks in the finishing process, which have amped up the brand’s vanilla and toffee notes to create a fresh taste profile. It’s designed to reignite Dewar’s presence in 12-year-old Scotch—a space where blended Scotch marketers see opportunity to deliver significant value in the coming years. Whisky Advocate contributing editor Jonny McCormick recently spoke with Brian Cox, vice president, Dewar’s (North America), about the new Dewar’s 12-year-old.

SND: What’s the key takeaway on this change involving Dewar’s 12-year-old?

Cox: American oak creates a definitive style for Scotch whisky that appeals to global consumers, and to American consumers in particular. The new Dewar’s 12-year-old owes much to Dewar’s 19-year-old, our ultra-premium annual Champions Edition release for the U.S. Open, which focused on first-fill Bourbon casks for the 2021 edition and a combination of first-fill Bourbon, new virgin American oak and ex-rye casks for the 2022 edition. Our master blender Stephanie Macleod has now introduced the use of first-fill Bourbon casks to double age the Dewar’s 12-year-old.

SND: The price for Dewar’s 12-year-old remains unchanged. What’s the strategy in that regard?

Cox: At $30, the reimagined Dewar’s 12-year-old is at the entry level of the $30-$50 segment on the premiumization ladder. Increasingly, 12-year-old is for the premium drinker—it’s the new normal. We then see you up to Dewar’s 15-year-old as a special occasion and gifting option, and onward to the 18-year-old as a celebration whisky. We see an opportunity to deliver significant value here compared to single malts, and thus greater sales. Long term, Scotch whisky must not solely compete in the $50-and-above segments—otherwise, it will become a high-end niche product and be challenged by premiumization from other categories. It’s important to have a position in every segment where consumers are. That’s what we’re trying to accomplish with this strategy.

SND: Changing the fundamentals of a flagship whisky will be seen by some as a daring move, given the competitiveness of the 12-year-old segment.

Cox: More than 50% of all Scotch depletions are at the 12-year-old level. Whether you’re in France, Taiwan, the U.S., or Latin America, super-premium starts at 12, and standard/premium is below that. We have a leading base in standard/premium Scotch with our White Label brand and a good, but not leading, position in the 12-year-old segment. Last year, Dewar’s household penetration—the amount of new households and new consumers—grew by 15%, according to Nielsen. That was driven by our Dewar’s 12- and 15-year-olds, and there’s more headroom for growth on our 12-year-old. We see an opportunity for a great position. Whisky Advocate has more on the new Dewar’s 12-year-old.

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