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Cutty Sark Sails On

by Gavin D Smith, 01/07

The Cutty Sark blend of Scotch whisky with its distinctive green glass bottle and yellow label is familiar to most drinkers, but not everyone is aware of the fascinating heritage behind the brand.

Cutty Sark was created on 20th March 1923 when the partners of Britain's oldest surviving wine and spirits merchants, Berry Bros & Rudd, met to discuss developing their own blended Scotch whisky.

Remarkably, Berry Bros & Rudd can trace its origins back to 1698, when the 'Widow Bourne' established a shop opposite St James' Palace in London, where the business is still based today, remaining in the hands of members of the Berry and Rudd families.

By the early 1920s, blended whisky was taking the world by storm, and senior partner Francis Berry had the idea of developing a new, lighter style of Scotch, which would be an excellent drink in its own right, but also the perfect base for cocktails. Speyside malts were to be at the core of the new blend, which was characterised not only by subtlety and elegance on the nose and palate, but also by a distinctive pale colour.
On 20th March 1923 the partners invited James McBey, a well known Scottish artist, to discuss the launch over lunch, and it was he who suggested the name and designed the label for the new whisky.

   By this time, Prohibition was in force in the USA, and it was Cutty Sark that helped create the expression 'The Real McCoy.' The popular story goes that when supplies of spirits were carried by ship from various locations - most notably the Bahamas - for illegal sale and consumption in America, the ships would lie at anchor while small boats operated by 'bootleggers' would sail out to buy supplies of spirits, the stretch of coast between Atlantic City and Boston becoming known as 'Rum Row' because of this trade. ('Rum' was often used during Prohibition to denote any alcoholic drink.)

One man who regularly sailed between Nassau and Rum Row was Captain William McCoy, of Scots origin and living in Florida, who began running liquor in 1921 using a schooner named Arethusa. By this time suppliers and distillers were often meeting the immense consumer demand with very poor quality liquor, and McCoy decided to make his reputation by supplying high quality products, chiefly Scotch whisky. This strategy worked well, to the considerable financial benefit of McCoy, whose name entered the English language as a result of the reputation he acquired.

In particular, McCoy ran large quantities of Cutty Sark, and by the time Prohibition was repealed in 1933 the whisky had become a firm favourite with American drinkers, and it has remained so ever since. Some 22 million bottles are now consumed around the world each year.

Today, the 'standard' Cutty Sark blend, which carries no age statement, has been joined by four aged expressions, ranging from 12 to 25, along with a Cutty Sark blended malt.

the whiskies

Cutty Sark, 12-Year-Old (Scotland)
The nose is quite light and fresh, with dryish fruit, lively grains and a whisper of smoke in the background. The palate is comparatively dry, with nicely balanced Sherry and spicy toffee. The finish is medium in length, with a touch of ginger. Brittle toffee lingers. 40.0% ABV, 70cl, 24.95, Berry Bros & Rudd, specialist whisky merchants.
Cutty Sark, 15-Year-Old (Scotland)
A bigger, sweeter nose than found on the 12-year-old expression, initially with more marshmallow notes, though with exposure to air it soon dries to a more citric character. Again, Sherry and a little, well-mannered wood smoke. Medium-bodied, with fruity malt, a hint of peat, Sherry and gentle spices, plus figs and sultanas. The finish is medium to long, with developing, drying oakiness. 40.0% ABV, 70cl, 31.55, Berry Bros & Rudd, specialist whisky merchants.
Cutty Sark, 18-Year-Old (Scotland)
This is my personal favourite of the Cutty Sark range, and less than half the price of the fine, top of the range, 25-year-old. The nose is soft and elegant, with malt, medium Sherry and a hint of sweet wood smoke. With time, caramel and discreet liquorice notes emerge, while water produces the aroma of molasses and emphasises the smoke. The palate displays beautiful integration of malts and grains sweet, fruity and Sherried, with chewy toffee. The finish is long and elegant, with lingering sweetness and buttery hints of spicy oak. Deliciously drinkable! A wise and illustrious blender once said A fine, old blend can be considered in the same way as a great single malt. This whisky is the perfect illustration of that comment. 43.0% ABV, 70cl, 44.95, specialist whisky merchants.
Cutty Sark, 25-Year-Old (Scotland)
Big and profound on the nose. Sweet, old oak, honey and vanilla, with figs and malt. Exposure to air teases out drier, smoky notes. Full-bodied, profoundly malty, with rich Christmas pudding notes. Long in the finish, with restrained spices and a tang of peat smoke. Poised and confident. 40.0% ABV, 70cl, 110.00, Berry Bros & Rudd, specialist whisky merchants.
Cutty Sark, Blended Malt Whisky (Scotland)
Following the trend of blends such as The Famous Grouse, Cutty Sark Blended Malt Scotch Whisky was introduced during 2005, and has now claimed a ten per cent share of the malt whisky market in the highly competitive Greek market, and is also performing well in Taiwan, Japan and Portugal. Gently floral on the nose, with caramel and vanilla. The palate offers lively, sweet Speyside malts, probably quite youthful, but elegant and very well dovetailed together. Satisfying mouthfeel. The finish is spicy and slowly drying. 40.0% ABV, 70cl, 17.95, Berry Bros & Rudd, specialist whisky merchants.


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