December 2010

Rock Star of Scotch

By: Anthony Dias Blue

The Dewar’s portfolio shines in its new packaging.
Brands have personalities. Some are has-beens, some are wannabes, some are pretenders . . . and some are stars. In the scotch category, Dewar’s has become to whisky lovers what Clapton or Paige is to music fans—a real rock star. 

Dewar’s White Label is already the number one- selling-scotch in the United States, but that’s not quite enough for Fannie Young, VP of Marketing for Dewar’s at parent company Bacardi U.S.A., Inc..
Young predicts the recent across-the-board revamp of the brand’s packaging will help Dewar’s become the number-one-selling scotch portfolio in the United States. The new look is the eighth change the brand has undergone in its history, which dates back to the mid-19th century. 

“We wanted to created a family look for Dewar’s,” Young says of the recent revision, which features stylish, sophisticated labels with a contemporary vibe for all four products in the line: Dewar’s White Label, Dewar’s 12 Year Old, Dewar’s 18 Year Old and Dewar’s Signature. The brand’s newly-minted wave motif, strikingly visible on the bottle and offering a window to the liquid inside, is representative of the well-rounded flavor of these whiskies, which rolls over the palate.

Master Blender Stephanie Macleod—the seventh in the company’s history and the first woman to hold the position—creates a house style denoted by its lovely honey notes. Although the Aberfeldy single malt, from the distillery built by the Dewar family in 1898, is the heart of every Dewar’s expression, each bottle includes up to 40 of Scotland’s finest malt and grain whiskies.

Clinching the Dewar’s Man

To document the updated look, Dewar’s hired rock photographer Danny Clinch—who had shot music icons such as Johnny Cash and Bruce Springsteen but had never done product photography—to capture the brand’s new image in 800+ shots (including the one on this month’s cover). Not stopping at still photography, Clinch also produced a Dewar’s commercial in China, which is now the brand’s fastest-growing market.

“Clinch embodies the Dewar’s Man,” says Young; “he lives life on his own terms, shoots it how he sees it and loves music.” The bottles were shot entirely in early morning natural light, with props including amps, guitars and collectible cameras—ideal accoutrements for the Dewar’s Man.

The new campaign follows the lead originally set by Tommy Dewar, the charismatic son of the founder, who put Dewar’s on the world map through advertising. “The scotch consumer is very image-conscious,” remarks Julious Grant, Senior VP for National Sales at Bacardi U.S.A., Inc., “but the consumer is changing, so it’s no longer purely about traditional advertising; it’s about how to get to that consumer in more experiential and more viral ways.”

The Dewar’s Demographic

Target markets for Dewar’s fall into two camps. “The 45+ crowd is the ‘high affinity’ market,” says Young, “while the 28+ market is strong for White Label.” The brand invests heavily in experiential marketing to reach the Dewar’s dream demographic, with several initiatives being deployed simultaneously, aimed at consumer engagement in different segments of the market.

Reaching the sports and gaming crowd, “Dewar’s Rocks” relies on tasting kits and games, as well as a partnership with golf manufacturer Callaway. “Dewar’s Decision” is a comparison tasting of three 12-year-old scotches, with results logged to a program on the Apple iTouch platform. Findings of the program show Dewar’s 12 is preferred to competitors, while the software captures names and contact information used for future interactions between the brand and consumers.  

“Dewar’s Discovery” is a program of upscale private events in which a group of approximately 100 Dewar’s fans first engaged through Dewar’s Decision” get an in-depth brand experience including a history of the brand and instructed tasting. After nosing test tubes of various aromatic notes, examples of single malts with those profiles are presented. Then participants are asked to blend their own whisky, tasting it against a just-blended Dewar’s.

“The goal is to re-introduce men to Scotch whisky,” states Young. “In the hippie days of the ’60s and ’70s, men refused to ‘drink what their father drank’—they never got educated in the grandness of scotch.”

Young knows that scotch takes education. “The scotch lover will almost always admit that ‘Somebody taught me how to drink it,’” she says. “Dewar’s wants to be that mentor.”

Rock Star Retailers

Rock star brands deserve rock star retailers. Here are three off-premise stars to watch.

Peter Yi
PJ Wine, New York, NY

At first glance, PJ Wine is a veritable liquor supermarket. Located in Inwood, an area of New York so far uptown it is often referred to as Manhattan’s nosebleed section, one almost has to squint to see the back of the 20,000 square-foot store amid the clink and clank of shopping carts full of liquor bottles being pushed by customers down its aisles.

Owner Peter Yi strolls the long length of the sales floor and opens a door leading to an upstairs space that turns out to be a reception lobby flanked by an unimaginably swank conference room. Hip chandeliers glisten from the ceiling as Yi’s voice echoes within the glass conference room doors.“The high-end trade is done upstairs,” he says matter-of-factly.

High-end trade? Fourteen-year-old PJ Wine—named for the first initial of Yi and his wife Jennifer—serves double duty as a low-price liquor emporium as well as a far-flung destination for savvy New York wine connoisseurs. The store’s location, which may seem like a hike for anyone living below 96th Street, was chosen purposely, since most of Yi’s clientele hails from Westchester, New Jersey and Connecticut.

“Our clientele is diverse,” Yi explains. “Local clients drink a lot of cognac and blended scotch such as Dewar’s, but we also get a lot of people who aren’t from the city looking to buy interesting wines. We stock a good representation of boutique wineries.”

While the huge retail space allows Yi to store an endless supply of stock, much of it at very favorable prices, it also provides an excellent opportunity for showcasing a wide range of wines and spirits. With all that room to call his own, Yi is something of a rock star among retailers and decidedly master of his domain. Boasts Yi: “There are few stores able to create displays quite like ours in New York City.” —Adriana DiGennaro

Alberto Roca
Top Hat Liquors, Miami, FL

Miami has become one of America’s most vibrant cross-cultural hubs, and the city pulses with a Latin beat that extends to the wine and spirits retail world. No place better exemplifies that rhythm than Top Hat Wines & Spirits. Founded in 2003 by the Cuban-American Rodriguez family, Top Hat has, in just over seven short years, become one of the area’s tip-top retailers.

Cuban-born Alberto Roca immigrated to the States in 2005 and immediately began working at Top Hat. The knowledgeable Roca now finds himself the General Manager of the 3,000-square-foot store, which serves an upscale clientele in fashionable Coral Gables and surrounding areas and prides itself on “going the extra mile” for its customers.

“Our clientele drinks a lot of wine,” reports Roca, “but that also means we sell lots of spirits.” With sales topping $4 million per year, Top Hat is definitely rockin’, and the 36-year-old GM is a qualified rocker in the industry. (Could it be more than coincidence that his last name is Roca? We wonder.)

“Dewar’s is our biggest-selling scotch,” reports the star retailer, with White Label, which Top Hat carries in all six bottle formats, leading the other expressions of the brand. Surely part of the brand’s success at Top Hat is due to Roca’s hands-on approach to his job, but the impressive Dewar’s display on the floor can’t hurt either. —David Gadd

Vic Mankerian
Mission Liquor, Pasadena, CA

From singing in the shower to blowing up the basement, all rock stars have to start somewhere. For Vic Mankerian, Owner of Mission Liquor in Pasadena, CA, the starting spot was a tiny storefront in a 1,000-square-foot building, mere yards away from this rock star retailer’s current state-of-the-art digs. “In 1979, we were a typical hole-in-the-wall liquor store,” explains Mankerian. “Now, it’s our parking lot.”

With 8,000 square feet of retail space and two additional locations opened since 2008, Mankerian has graduated to the sold-out arena caliber of retail rockers. Mission’s selection has even been known to woo customers from competitors. “We get a lot of referrals from competitors who say, ‘We don’t have it, but Mission will,” admits Mankerian.”We have to stay on top of the trends and new spirits through industry publications like THE TASTING PANEL, because we don’t want to wait to have a request for a product—we want to already have it.”

Mankerian, like any good rocker, knows the importance of having a few “go-to” brands that will always be in fashion and surefire crowd-pleasers. With 600 blended and single malt scotches to choose from, Mankerian is proud to report that Dewar’s is a top seller, and his passion for the brand is palpable. Like a famous rocker looking back on the gigs of yesteryear, he recalls his introduction to the brand: “I can still remember the first time I tasted Dewar’s 12 Year Old. Ever since, I’ve been in love.”

Having achieved gold-record status, Mankerian’s got his eye on the future, and on continued success. ”It feels good to be living my dream,” he says, with the confidence of a star whose flame burns enduringly bright. “But the sky’s the limit. I’m still young!” —Rachel Burkons   


Here are my notes on the four Dewar’s expressions. Prices are for 750 ml. format.

Dewar’s White Label
(SRP: $21.99) Toasty nose with nice, smooth notes of oak and bread; smooth, mellow and showing toasted barley, wood, honey and soft dried fruit; charming, lovely—one of the best basic blended scotches on the market. 90

Dewar’s 12 Year Old (SRP: $28.99) Smooth and rich with toasty notes plus burnt orange, caramel and sweet vanilla oak; long, silky and ripe with long, gorgeous creamy flavors. 92

Dewar’s 18 Year Old (SRP: $79.99) Smooth and mellow with lovely toast, honey and light smokiness; rich, luscious and fruity with long, creamy notes; flavorful and expansive with all the finesse required of a top-notch blend.93

Dewar’s Signature (SRP $199.99) Smooth toasty nose; subtle on entry and then it explodes on the palate with orange zest, creamy caramel and mellow wood; long, dense, complex and, above all, elegant and luscious; clean, crisp and bright with focused flavors: a pinnacle of blended scotch.95

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