We’re wrapping up our exploration of mid-century whiskey with a fitting end: Cutty Sark Blended Scotch. With a storied past (created by one of the most renowned wine and spirits merchants and named for one of the most famous merchant ships in history), Cutty Sark boasts a certain pedigree many blended scotches don’t. But is it all brand and no substance? We’re diving into a bottle to find out.
Founded in 1698 by the Widow Bourne, Berry Bros. & Rudd is a family run wine and spirits merchant based in London. The company originally started as a merchant selling coffee, but quickly expanded into tea, snuff, and other spices which propelled them into being known as a premiere luxury goods merchant.
Blending scotch whisky has been a common practice for centuries among Scottish wine merchants, purchasing stock from different distilleries and creating a custom blend that they would then sell under their own brand. In 1923, Berry Bros. & Rudd decided to get in on the game and launched a brand of blended Scottish whisky they called “Cutty Sark.”
The name of the brand comes from a merchant sailing ship named Cutty Sark which was built in 1869 and operated in the tea trade (where Berry Bros. & Rudd made their fortune), as well as transporting goods from Australia back to England. In it’s day, the ship was the fastest in the world — a short lived title that quickly disappeared with the appearance of steamer ships. A drawing of the ship in full sail (created by Sweedish artist Carl Georg August Wallin) has appeared on the whiskey label since 1955.
Berry Bros. & Rudd remains internationally renowned as wine merchants, but no longer own the Cutty Sark brand. The brand was sold to the Scottish-based Edrington Group in 2010, who were themselves acquired by the French distilled spirits company La Martiniquaise-Bardinet in 2018.
There’s not a whole lot of information about the source of this whisky, which is common for blended scotch such as this.
As a scotch whisky, we know 100% of this product was distilled in Scotland and matured on-site for no less than three years. That said, which specific distilleries used is not disclosed, so we don’t know the exact provenance of the spirit. According to a 2018 article, the Edrington Group was going to continue to provide support for the actual production and blending of the product during a “transition period” but there’s no indication of whether that has passed.
Overall, the bottle is a pretty standard and old fashioned design, which makes sense considering it’s history. They’re counting on that brand recognition and long history to bring in the customers, so changing the design drastically would be detrimental to their goals. What’s interesting is that the neck of the bottle is rather short and stout, a departure from the usual slender liquor bottle necks and making it slightly less comfortable to pour.
The glass itself is a dark green color, which stands out on the shelf but is a bit unfortunate for those looking to see the whiskey inside. Also obscuring our view is the massive yellow label plastered across the front with the Cutty Sark image on it. I’m not knocking that specific aspect because I think the artwork is pretty neat, but it doesn’t help the transparency issue.
The whole thing is capped with a metal screw-on cap.
The first thing you’ll notice is that the whiskey is remarkably light in color, like a bale of freshly cut hay. It’s even lighter than other common blended scotch whiskies, which are usually light themselves.
Coming off the glass are a lot of light and fruity aromas, alongside orange and lemon zest notes with a bit of smokey peat blended in. Unfortunately, that doesn’t last very long if you leave the whiskey in the glass, and eventually all you have left is closer to just plain alcohol.
Taking a sip, it’s like a penicillin cocktail right out of the bottle. There are some sweet honey flavors and a citrus lemon zest that, combined, taste delicious. There’s also a touch of that smokey flavor that you’d expect from a scotch adding some depth, but it’s subtle enough that it doesn’t particularly stick out or detract from the other flavors.
Normally, the addition of ice causes the more delicate flavors to drop out of the race. In this case, unfortunately, it’s no different.
The honey flavor is almost completely gone, and so is the lemon zest. Really, all that’s left is a bit of smoke and alcohol, which isn’t nearly as enjoyable as drinking this neat. Recalling the outstanding flavors in this spirit from the neat version just makes this take even sadder.
The marketing on this whiskey says that it was “born to mix” and I disagree with that. Unless all you need is alcohol content and a bit of smoke, you don’t really get any flavors coming through when its diluted or with added ice. Instead, this seems to be best served neat, where it’s a delicious blend all on its own.
|Cutty Sark Blended Scotch Whisky|
Produced By: Cutty SarkOwned By: La Martiniquaise-Bardinet
Production Location: Scotland
Classification: Blended Scotch Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $16.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating: 4/5
A little ice usually isn’t a big issue, but here it’s an iceberg that sank the fifth star.