By Richard Thomas
For most blended scotch lines, the 12 Year Old is the first step up the ladder, and Cutty Sark is no exception to that pattern. Emphasizing that the 12 Year Old’s elevation, it is the youngest of Cutty Sark’s whiskeys to come in their squat, broad-bottomed bottle, as opposed to the tall bottle used for basic Cutty Sark and Cutty Sark’s vatted malt.
Cutty Sark 12 Year Old uses a high proportion of malt whiskey in the blend, and like 12 Year Olds everywhere, the aging statement reflects the minimum age of the whiskey in the blend. After selection, the individual grain and malt whiskeys are blended, or “married”, and then put back into barrels for further aging. The master distiller takes regular sniffs from each married cask, and pulls them for bottling only once this secondary aging has done its job. At Cutty Sark, that may take up to nine months.
This whiskey used to come in a stubby, green glass bottle that looked like something a Old Spice might use for a family-sized product, but it has taken the aforementioned step up in recent years. The bottle is now clear glass, showing off the scotch’s attractive, honey-like mid-golden color. Cutty Sark 12 Year Old is bottled at 40% alcohol.
The whiskey has a light, but reasonably complex nose. The scent is buttery, with a touch of sea spray and undertones of honeyed and fruity sweetness, and a slight dash of wood. The flavor is smooth and honeyed, with a little oaky vanilla and a certain earthy, cocoa-like quality to it. The finish is of mid-length and middlingly-warm, with more oak and a slightly spicy bite to it.
The jump in quality between Cutty Sark’s 12 Year Old and it’s core, entry-level scotch is bigger than any other blended scotch line I’ve yet had the privilege to compare. Even if you don’t like Cutty Sark’s basic whiskey, you might very well want to give this stuff a try.
You might have a problem finding Cutty Sark’s 12 Year Old outside of Europe. I’ve noticed that while the scotch is readily available wherever I go on the Continent, retailers in the UK and the US seem to report it as out of stock. In the UK, about £25 is a good price; in Europe, roughly €38 euros is the norm. However, I have seen Cutty Sark 12 YO on sale for as little as €22, so don’t think bargains aren’t out there. That should translate into a price tag in the upper forties in the United States, but I couldn’t find any Cutty Sark 12 YO figures in the U.S. to quote, and Cutty Sark would not comment on distribution and pricing questions. This pricing makes it substantially more expensive than comparable whiskeys, such as Grant’s 12 Year Old.