Saturday, June 30, 2012

Review: Slummin' It With Cutty Sark

Cutty Sark (No Age Statement)
40% ABV

Blended Scotch is mostly a historical curiosity to me. Once the main form of Scottish whisky available outside the Highlands, blended Scotch surprisingly still makes up about 90% of the Scotch market, and indeed, a lot of great single malts exist mainly to support well known blends. As a young lad in the early 80's, I vividly remember seeing huge billboards for J&B along the side of I95. But who is drinking this stuff today? My experience has largely been that for the price point, you can get a far higher quality bourbon or even an "entry level" single malt, but from what I've read, this wasn't always the case. Blends used to be much higher quality; I've read of vintage bottles from the 70's being benchmarked against modern blends, and usualy, even for better quality blends like Teachers, the older bottle is by far the better one, with far more nuance of flavor. Still, I've had okay experiences with blends, so for the sake of exploration (and my wallet...distilleries don't seem to be beating down the door with free samples), I thought I'd spend some time with blends, ranging from cheap and barely legally Scotch, to some higher end stuff.  For starters, an undistinguished offering from Cutty Sark.

I'd had Cutty Sark once or twice at bars, where blends tend to rule, and never thought much of it...thin in body and flavor, pretty weak. But still, I decided to start here once I was in the liquor store and noted that Cutty Sark is the house blend of London wine merchant, Berry Bros. and Rudd, known mostly for the Speyside single malt Glenrothes. I tend to think highly of Glenrothes, so this seemed like a fun exercise...can I taste the Glenrothes amidst the other malts and high proportion of grain whisky?

Surprisingly, the toffee and citrus fruit in Cutty Sark is discernibly Glenrothes. I had pretty low expectations here, figuring I'd just find mild generic "Speyside" flavor, but it's clearly mostly Glenrothes. Sadly, it's also clearly blended with a pretty high proportion of pretty neutral grain whisky, and not exactly extensively aged. Cutty Sark isn't really rough, but it's thin, lacking body and flavor. My best description is probably if you took some mid range Glenrothes (1998ish) and mixed it half and half with some vodka. Cutty Sark does make an acceptable and smooth Old Fashioned, but I actually miss the bourbon kick.  Score:  70

Coming up, I plan to work my way through the (easily available, I will never pay for Blue) Johnny Walker expressions...Red, Black, and culminating in the Green.


  1. That sounds better than I would have expected. Do you get much sherry influence?

    I wonder if age-statement blends (e.g. Dewar's 12) are a relatively new thing, and if so if they are better comps for the old bottles instead of the entry level expression.

  2. I guess you could argue that the orange/citrus flavors comes from the interaction of bourbon and sherry wood influence, and in that respect, there's some sherry. But nothing truly sherry-ish, no. It's probably the worst blend I've had, though, pretty thin body and flavor. I hope they get better from here.

    I suspect that as you move up the scale, blends do get better and closer to what a good blend used to be. At a point, though (and not far along, I bet) I think you're paying what you would for a single malt for a whisky that is engineered to be smooth, simple, and over-balanced. Therein lies my confusion...who is still drinking this stuff?

  3. Thanks for the review. I haven't had Cutty in over a decade. Remember no liking it. Very interesting about the Glenrothes flavors. It makes plenty of sense. I wonder if I'll get it?

    I've got a couple of late 60s "antique" Cutty Sark specimens - a miniature with a 1968 provenance statement and a TWA airline cart labelled miniature with the logo that was used from the mid 1960s to the early 1970s. I've considered others, but decided to focus on antiques from White Horse, Teachers, Dewars, and Johnny Walker (red and black labels). I'll do a head to head with a current issue dram one of these days. I wonder if it has changed over the years?