The latest offering from the legendary distiller. (photo courtesy of the brand)

*Editor’s Note: If this whiskey intrigues you, you might also find their cooking class intriguing. It’s called “Scotland Meets Portugal,” pairing Michelin starred chef George Mendes with master blender Stephanie Macleod for an evening of mixology and cuisine. Details here.

Dewar’s, aka John Dewar and Sons, may not be the oldest Scotch brand, but it’s unquestionably a pioneer in the industry and a consistent favorite among old-school Scotch-lovers. So—though it must be quickly noted that the brand is no stranger to new ideas—when a foundational leader does something new and unusual, it’s a big deal.

In 1846, Dewar’s began distilling and distributing their lighter-styled blended Scotch, opening new markets worldwide. They were pioneers of cask blending, mixing varying ages of whiskey to balance age-smoothness and cost-efficiency. The next 150 years or so is a story of the scotch’s integration into the very cultural fabric.

In 2019, Dewar’s released its first forays into the modern-day expression explosion with a line of Cask finishes, including Caribbean Smooth (Rum casks) and Ilegal Smooth (Mezcal cask). These offerings met with varying degrees of success, each maintaining a small but loyal fan base. Last month arrived an even bolder exploration, Dewar’s “Portuguese Smooth,” an 8-year-old blend that spends its final six months in ex-fill Ruby Port casks. Its quasi-hipster name, much like the mezcal cask’s, underscores parent company Bacardi’s attempt at a “cool-factor” and reflects their push to reach a younger target market.

“Portuguese Smooth” is ultimately another brave experiment for such a stalwart brand. Beneath the intense overlay of Port flavors, the whisky is noticeably smooth and approachable, exhibiting typical Dewar’s attributes: soft caramel, floral notes, and hints of oak and distant smoke. Ultimately, though, it’s the Port that rules; its initial blast of robustly sweet red wine aromas overshadow subtler notes of dried stone-fruits, heather, figs, and candied cherries. Wine-soaked oak flavors lead to a forward grapiness, followed by softer hints of honey and mild vanilla. Sugary sweetness ensues, leading to background hints of egg-custard, toffee, and band-aids. The finish is drying but short.

This Scotch is not a half-measure: “Portuguese Smooth” will test your preferences in ways that other, more traditional Scotch doesn’t. On the one hand, there a soft, slinky whisky lurking just below the surface, awaiting discovery by discerning palates. But the gorilla in the bottle is the Port. Fans of sherry-cask aging will likely appreciate the Dewar’s marriage. The whisky’s definite point of view, like other cool experiments, will likely result in a love-it-or-hate-it response.