Cutty Sark: Class Never Goes Out of Fashion

The year was 1923. The place was Scotland. The journey in question was that of Cutty Sark, not the famous clipper ship, but the whisky that is now considered by many as a great value-for-money option, especially if you like to judge a whisky by its aroma and finish. If we were to draw a parallel with boxing, Cutty Sark will stand out as a good pound-for-pound combatant.

The Interesting Beginning

A lot of great ideas are born in smoky saloons. Cutty Sark is a great example. Scottish artist, James McBey was in a conversation with Francis Berry and Hugh Rudd, partners at Berry Bros. & Rudd, one of the world’s most renowned liquor merchants. So, while the first concepts of Cutty Sark germinated that day, it came with a hint of scepticism. Catering primarily to a wine-loving clientele, the partners needed to be sure whether to produce a brand of whisky that would be far from suave and subtle like most of the wines they have till then made a name for. One other issue that played on their minds was the timing of the launch. World War I had ended, but the US was in the clutches of Prohibition. But, with better times on the horizon, here was a business promising an international opportunity. Berry Bros. & Rudd decided on creating a blended scotch, lighter in style and blended from the very finest whiskies of the time. This, they felt, would enhance the international appeal and would suit their essentially wine-drinking patrons. As the timeline of the brand would show, this was a masterstroke. While whisky became more global, the risks taken were calculated to perfection. What also helped Berry & Rudd create and leverage the niche appeal was the fact that other blenders kept producing heavier, darker blends, giving early blends of Cutty Sark a very distinctive taste and place. The name, ironically, was chosen to only enhance the blend’s uniqueness. Cutty Sark, then the world’s faster clipper ship, had returned after years of trading and was in the news.  McBey, an avid sailor himself, floated the idea and even drew the preliminary design. Thus came into being a blend that chose to take a path nobody had taken before, and the journey is still on almost a century after.

The Legacy is Alive and Well

To this day, the blend is carefully maintained. The single-malts that go into making Cutty Sark are meticulously selected from the Speyside region of Scotland, which is considered the cradle of the single-malt whisky distillation). American casks are then used to mature the blended single-malts and best grain whiskies. One thing that sets Cutty Sark apart though is its diligence in harmonising of colour and flavour in the final blend.

The colour that Cutty Sark emits is bright golden, while the aroma is rich in vanilla and citrus fruits. It is clean and light on the palate with vanilla and caramel being the distinctive components. The finish is smooth; its sweetness has an uplifting effect.

Cutty Sark makes a variety of sexy cocktails as well. Beer is a loyal friend of the whisky, and can be used along with sweet vermouth. For a drinker not risking a misadventure, a wholesome dash of Amaretto liqueur with Cutty on ice could be a great option. But, if you are someone wanting to experiment a tad bit more, add some fresh lime, ginger beer and bitters to your Cutty in order to have a combination of tastes that can all stand out independently. But, a personal favourite, which also comes highly-recommended, would be the Hot Toddy. Apart from the fact that this is a warm beverage, what also makes it a special one are the ingredients and process involved. Two whole cloves, a cinnamon stick, a lemon peel and a dollop of heavy cream must all go into boiling water and Cutty. The contrasting elements joining force in a toddy glass, stirred and gently cooled speaks volumes about a soothing cocktail worth relishing, especially on a snowy afternoon.

The Verdict

While Cutty Sark has a dedicated patronage, it has salvaged rather modest reviews. A bronze and a silver medal at San Francisco World Spirits Competition has enhanced the blend’s reputation, but it is predominantly seen as light scotch-lover’s choice. Heavier, more traditional scotch options have consistently done better at global fests for staying true to the Scottish traditions instead of mastering a blend for a slightly different segment. But, that is what gives Cutty Sark its identity. Staying honest to the philosophy that Berry & Rudd had set out with almost a hundred years ago has kept this alcohol a little gem among the drinkers who prefer lighter, more quintessential whisky options to the traditionally heavy liquors. Cutty Sark has its takers, and the takers are richer for it.