Mixing honey and whisk(e)y isn’t a new concept – Drambuie has been doing it with their honey and herbal liqueur since the 1800s – but this category of mixing honey and whiskey really didn’t take off until 2011, when Jack Daniels released the enormously successful Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey. The sheer volume of product that Jack Daniels moved in this space pushed many other whiskey producers to expand their offerings to include some sort of honey option. For the most part, the honey and whiskey boom has been focused in the American whiskey space, with the one notable exception being Bushmill’s Irish Honey. There’s a reason for this: American whiskey is much more impacted by its time aging in barrels than Irish or Scotch whisk(e)y, and many of those flavors, including cinnamon and oak, do a good job of balancing out the sweetness of the honey. Scotch whisky is often more focused on presenting the grain than the barrel and can often have natural honey tones from the grain.
While there are many honey and whiskey options on the market, Dewar’s Highlander Honey is the very first modern honey flavored whisky to come out of Scotland. Whisky in Scotland is highly regulated and even though there’s a historical basis for flavored Scottish whisky, it isn’t something we’ve seen on the modern market. This is one of the reasons why there was a bit of a stink around the announcement and release of Dewar’s Highlander Honey from the Scotch Whisky Association (notice that whisky isn’t in the name). The final labeling reads like a complex legal explanation: “Dewar’s Highlander Honey – Dewar’s blended scotch whisky infused with natural flavors, filtered through oak cask wood.” The whisky in the Dewar’s Highland Honey is Dewar’s White Label, a blended scotch featuring up to 40 different malt and grain whiskies, and flavored with honey from Aberfeldy, Scotland, as well as a few undisclosed “natural flavors.”
Dewar’s Highlander Honey (40% / 80 Proof, $23.99) – still smells very much like Dewar’s White Label. The nose has light lemon, orange, peach, malt grain, and honey with an undercurrent of oak. The notes in the nose aren’t very well integrated and there’s a slight artificiality to it. The entry is very flavorful, leading with the classic bright citrus that is a hallmark of Dewars, with an undercurrent of lush honey flavor balanced by a nice oak spice, orange, and peach. Things get kind of hot and spicy in the midpalate where Dewar’s shows off its youth and grain whiskey content. It’s this midpalate that’s always turned me off from Dewar’s, and the addition of the honey and flavors don’t really mitigate it much. The extra oak in the equation actually serves to enhance the spirit’s existing heat. The finish is medium and dry with the lemon and honey notes carrying on. While the finish starts in an interesting space, it ends poorly as the honey dissipates and the impact of the young whiskey really is apparent.
If Dewar’s Highlander Honey maintained the balance and flavors of the entry, it would be a no-brainer to recommend this spirit, but it doesn’t. It’s a great idea to present a honey flavored whiskey at 80 proof rather than doing it as a honey liqueur, but not when you’ve got this level of young whisky on board. Combining Scotch or Irish whiskey with honey sounds good, but the base spirits don’t have the same flavor structure as American whiskey and don’t balance out as well. This is probably why Dewar’s ran Highlander Honey through oak in an attempt to give the spirit more depth and spice to be able to balance with the honey. To be fair, Dewar’s White Label is really more of a mixing blended scotch than a sipping one, and Dewar’s Highlander Honey seems to be better in that space, too. Poured over ice or straight from the freezer does improve Highlander Honey’s drikablility slightly, although it still maintains an unpleasant amount of heat.
With such clear citrus tones, Highlander Honey did much better when mixed. Of everything we tried with it, Dewar’s Highlander Honey was best mixed with lemonade or ginger beer. Both turned Dewar’s Highlander Honey’s weaknesses into strengths. Highlander Honey also seemed to do well with apple cider or mixed as a traditional whiskey sour. While we enjoyed mixing with Highlander Honey, it never really inspired us. We suspect the bottle will probably end up sitting on our shelves collecting dust. This wasn’t the case for Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey or Barenjager Honey & Bourbon, both of which got consumed within a week of receiving them. While Scotch or Irish whiskey can be mixed with honey, it’s really never as good as when you mix American whiskey or bourbon with honey, and so while Dewar’s Highlander Honey isn’t a bad product, it just isn’t as good or inspiring as other options in the honey space.