The Aberfeldy Distillery and the Storied History of John Dewar & Sons

The Aberfeldy Distillery and the Storied History of John Dewar & Sons

Dewar's Whisky
Dewar’s White Label Whisky – Image courtesy Pixabay

John Dewar & Sons, a member of the Bacardi family of spirits, produces several blends of high-quality Scotch whisky at seven distilleries located throughout Scotland. In Aberfeldy, Macduff, Aultmore, Craigellachie, and Nairn, as well as at aging, blending, and packaging facilities in Glasgow and Poniel, the Dewar’s team produces a line of spirits deeply entwined with the history of the Scottish Highlands. Recently, Dewar’s refurbished its Aberfeldy Distillery to highlight its rich heritage.

Taking great care to preserve most of the building’s original architecture, Dewar’s Aberfeldy Distillery heritage center pays homage to more than 160 years of whisky production. The center also boasts an archive wall, displaying vintage signs and advertising materials that offer a glimpse into the brand development of one of the world’s top producers of Scotch whisky.

The heritage center’s design incorporates dramatic focal points inspired by the distillery itself. To travel from the heritage center to the distillery’s hosting area, visitors pass through a stave tunnel lined with oak casks, and in one room, an artisan light fixture sparkles with hand-blown glass droplets designed to resemble drops of whisky. Visitor attractions at Dewar’s Aberfeldy Distillery also include an on-site café, as well as a dramming bar complete with a fireplace and hand-crafted furniture that creates a cozy yet elegant ambience.

Where It All Began

Each year, thousands of guests tour the Aberfeldy Distillery to learn about the Dewar’s family and their world-renowned Scotch whiskies. In many ways, Aberfeldy serves as the spiritual home of the company, as it lies just three miles from the childhood home of John Dewar & Son’s eponymous patriarch.

Born in 1805 to a crofting family, John Dewar was the seventh of nine siblings. He grew up on a farm near Aberfeldy, Scotland in the village of Dull, where he completed an apprenticeship as a joiner. At 23, John moved to the Scottish city of Perth to work at a wine and spirits company owned by his uncle, Alex MacDonald. Nine years of hard work earned him a partnership in the newly renamed MacDonald & Dewar, and he remained with the firm until 1846.

Following the dissolution of the partnership, Dewar launched his own wine and spirit venture. At the time, Cognac and Irish whiskeys were most popular drinks, but John Dewar strived to make Scotch the preferred beverage of the Scots. He soon began purchasing stocks from other companies to blend into a product with a unique, mellow flavor. An industry pioneer, John Dewar was one of the first spirits producers to package his product in glass bottles instead of pottery.

Building a Family Business

John’s wife, Jane Gow, became pregnant shortly after marrying John Dewar in 1845, and the couple went on to have 10 children. Their second-oldest son, John Alexander Dewar, joined his father’s business in 1871 and rose to the position of partner in 1879. One year later, his father passed away.

John Alexander honored his father’s memory by taking charge of the young family business, which would have been valued at over 2 million GBP in today’s currency. His 17-year-old brother Tommy joined him at the helm in 1881, becoming a partner himself in 1885. Often considered the more sensible of the two brothers, John Alexander was a skilled blender who served as the mastermind behind company’s business operations.

But while John’s steady hand would help grow the brand into a globally prominent spirits producer, Tommy’s creative genius also played significant role in spurring the company to widespread success. Tommy Dewar was well-known for developing brilliant marketing strategies that engaged people around the world with the Dewar’s brand. One effective strategy involved Tommy requesting Dewar’s whisky at local clubs—establishments that he knew did not yet serve his brand—and then sending one of his salesmen to the bar a few days later.

The Dewar brothers initially leased the Tullymet Distillery to produce their whisky. However, as proprietors of a rapidly expanding firm, they soon decided that it was time to build their own production facility. In 1898, John Dewar & Sons took on the title of both blender and distiller with the completion of its Aberfeldy Distillery.

Honoring a Sustainable History

Sustainable development has always been an important part of the company culture at John Dewar & Sons, and the Aberfeldy Distillery reflects this value. The on-site café offers guests a selection of hot and cold dishes, including fresh soups and baked goods, made each day from local ingredients. By sourcing locally, the café can ensure the quality of its products while removing the environmental impact posed by shipping goods.

The Aberfeldy Distillery also follows an extensive recycling program and uses fuel-efficient transportation throughout its grounds. Even its tour buses are capable of carrying bicycles, thus allowing visitors to take in the sites while minimizing their carbon footprints.

Over the past few years, Dewar’s has reached a number of sustainability milestones across all of its malt distilleries. The company has achieved a 34 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions since 2006, cut water use by 46 percent since 2009, and since 2010, it has cut its volume of landfill waste by 30 percent.

These efforts fall in line with Good Spirited: Building a Sustainable Future, Bacardi’s global sustainability initiative. Launched in 2006, the environmental strategy spans Bacardi’s entire portfolio of more than 200 companies, and seeks to meet specific sustainability goals in the areas of product sourcing, packaging, and operational efficiency.