By Richard Thomas
On April 25, 2012, the Cutty Sark was reopened to the public. This refers not to the whiskey or its distillery, but to the clipper ship museum located in Greenwich for which the whiskey is named. Built in 1869, Cutty Sark is a historic example of the height of clipper ship design, and worked in first the tea and then the wool trade for decades before becoming a training ship. Ending her days in the 1950s, Cutty Sark became a museum, but was badly damaged by a fire in 2007. The ship was already undergoing renovation at the time, and the British government eventually spent over £30 million fixing her up.
Cutty Sark the whiskey came into being when the vessel was finally retired. As the story goes, a pair of wine and spirits merchants were discussing their plans to market an international whiskey after prohibition was repealed in the United States with their friend, a Scottish artist named James McBey. It was McBey that suggested naming it after the clipper ship that was in the headlines. Cutty Sark was supposed the first light colored blended scotch, and its launch didn’t wait for the repeal of prohibition. Instead of waiting for prohibition to end, however, Cutty Sark got going in 1923, and was bootlegged into the country via the Caribbean and Florida.
Bottled at 40% alcohol, Cutty Sark comes with a faux-metal plastic cap that straddles the horns rather than the fence. Plastic screw caps are cheap, but if a distiller wants to save some bucks and go that route, eh, what the hey. Some nice whiskeys have plastic caps. However, don’t try to disguise the cheapness with something styled like metal. That just lacks confidence, to say nothing of class.
Cutty Sark carries no aging statement, and is aged in American oak barrels. The core of this blend is Speyside single malt, married to grain whiskey.
That said, Cutty Sark achieved its object of light color, having a pale gold look in the glass. The scent of the whiskey is a pleasant sea spray with undertones of woodiness. The flavor is a muted vanilla sweetness with strong undertones of oak. The finish is dry, clear, of middling length and somewhat warm.
Overall, I found Cutty Sark pleasant enough for what it is. If you find its qualities attractive and have a few more bucks, however, I recommend The Famous Grouse instead.
In the States, a fifth of Cutty Sark will typically run you less than $20. In Europe, I often see the whiskey priced for 10 or 11 euros. It’s cheap stuff, and not bad for the price.