Luisa embarks on a voyage of whisky discovery tasting the new range of Cutty Sark Whiskies

Cutty Sark, the blended Scotch whisky produced in Scotland, was created in 1923 by the wine merchants Berry Bros & Rudd (the famous winemakers and official suppliers to the Royal Family).

Launched at the heart of the Prohibition era, it was deliberately created as an easy drinking whisky, smooth and mellow, with a unique maritime and historical heritage.

This year, 2023, Cutty Sark celebrates its 100 anniversary and toasts the famous tea clipper it is named after, with some special celebration ‘tea and whisky’ cocktails. But first, a little history to discover what’s behind this time-honoured label.

The brand is named after the eponymous ship, the Cutty Sark, a tea clipper which spent its life sailing around the world and was a key player in the Great Tea Races of the late 1800’s.

It was the fastest ship of its time and broke all sea records. When the first ship with the new tea crop would arrive in London from China, the tea would get a much higher price and the Cutty Sark would usually win, making the journey in ‘just’ 109 days.

The ship was then retired to England for naval training in 1922. So when in 1923 Berry Brothers & Rudd wanted to created a name for their whisky, they chose a famous name, Cutty Sark.

The label itself has its own story as it was created by a famous Scottish artist and enthusiastic sailor, James MacBey. He made the ship an integral part of the design, but the colour was never meant to be the trademark yellow label which has made the whisky famous. It was originally pale cream, but a printing error turned the paper bright yellow instead of cream and it stayed that way throughout the years.

Prohibition was a complete ban on the production, importation and sale of alcohol in the US that lasted almost 14 years and the liquor business was kept alive in secret. Captain Bill McCoy started dealing with smugglers in Rum Row (the name given to Atlantic waters just outside the US maritime border) and because he dealt only in the finest liquor, like this whisky, it resulted in the Cutty Sark being referred to as ‘The Real McCoy’’.

Cutty Sark captured the hearts (and the taste buds) of whisky fans across the many speakeasies in the
US, with its refined and elegant taste.

Today that taste is more alive than ever, in each of the four main styles of Cutty Sark, which has at its core whisky from Glenrothes along with whisky from all over Scotland, to give that rounded blend with that little smoke it is famous for.

When tasting the whiskies at the Racketeer, a friendly, independent pub in London’s WC1, I was welcomed with the signature Highball Classic – whisky and soda over ice. The drink became a classic by necessity, as originally thr aristocracy drank brandy and soda. But brandy ran out, being a grape distillate, as vineyards were wiped out by the phylloxera bug, which destroyed all the vineyards in Europe.

So in the late 1800’s, whisky started to arrive on the scene to replace it. From 1870 to 1970 Scotch whisky highball was the popular drink in theUK – then itself supplanted by vodka. Now it’s making a comeback

This Whisky Highball was made with Cutty Sark Original – the very first smooth and mellow whisky in the range. It is light in colour, light in taste and a refreshing character, despite being distilled and blended from the finest single malts and top quality grains. Most enjoyable on its own, it is versatile enough to created great tasting mixed drinks, like the Highball. It’s a typical 40% alcohol by volume (abv) and retails at around £20.

Cutty Sark Prohibition got my full attention. It is a salute to the famous Captain WilliamMcCoy, the liquor smuggler mentioned earlier. With its warm, golden colour and a complex and powerful nose with notes of citrus, honey and vanilla, this was terrific and just fabulous.

Hints of coffee and peppery notes and a very smooth, warm finish. No wonder it won theSIP award 2021. At 50% abv, it retails at around £25 from Whisky Exchange, Amathus andMasters of Malt.

Cutty Sark 12 Years Old was alluring, golden and bright. Dried fruit and caramel notes onthe nose, malt and tropical fruit, even a touch of ginger on the palate, and a most pleasant spicy wood finish with a touch of sea salt. With a 40% abv, it’s the most recent addition to the range and worth its £30 price tag.

Cutty Sark 33 is however the flagship. The oldest blend every released by Cutty Sark, this bottling, which will be out in May, celebrates a particular time when the brand found its way into America, flourished within the emerging cocktail culture and changed the face of Scotch Whisky forever. Exquisite and seductive, this is whisky for connoisseurs and enthusiasts alike. With an abv of 42% , only 3,436 bottles have been produced, selling at
around £550.

Golden copper, rich and opulent, elegant and citrussy and a distinct note of coconut and warm coffee, this is a real treat. Even the bottle is a feast for the eyes. This limited edition bottling is inspired by the Art Deco period of the 1920’s.

This year, to celebrate the centenary, Cutty Sark have partnered with the Tea Leaf Co. to create three delicious cocktail recipes to bring together whisky and tea and pay homage to the brand. These are the CutTea Clipper, made with The Tea Leaf Co. Chinese Oolong tea and Cutty Sark Original topped up with soda; Orange Old Fashioned, which uses the Blood Orange Infusion with Cutty Sark Original, orange and Angostura bitters; and the Smugglers’ Spice, blending Chai Syrup with a teaspoon of honey, ginger beer and Cutty Sark Original.

Give them a go and get sipping!