I must admit to having a great deliberation about what to start with for the series. A comparative tasting across one distillery, to go simply for whisky or begin with a ‘curveball’, to finish a bottle or open a new one? So many choices!
In the end I decided to go with a comparative tasting of three whiskies from my ‘former life’ – a trio of Cutty Sark expressions.
The brand was created in the delightful surroundings of a room called ‘The Parlour’ at the head offices of Berry Brothers & Rudd Ltd. in 1923. Francis Berry & Hugh Rudd decided to create a whisky to suit the palates of their growing international customer base – a lighter easy to drink style. The brand steadily grew, becoming the best selling Scotch in the USA in the 1960s. However, by the end of the noughties, despite still being very popular in hotter climates, notably Greece and Spain, these markets were close to becoming saturated and sales were stagnating. Berry Brothers and Rudd, still in the same family ownership (as they have been since 1698) made the difficult decision to sell the Cutty Sark brand entirely to the Edrington Group in 2010 and obtain the brand The Glenrothes, both of which previously were shared partnerships (the latter’s malt being a vital component of the former). This allowed Edrington, who are by far the bigger company, to concentrate on the more ‘mass market’ brand, and Berry’s on The Glenrothes, a premium single malt that fits in with their business model and current customer base.
The three expressions I will be tasting are all miniatures bottled with the Berry Brothers & Rudd name and so probably date from the second half of the noughties.
- Cutty Sark Blended Scotch 40%
This is the ‘classic’ Cutty Sark – this is a relative of the original blend created in 1923.
Colour: Very light in colour – light gold centre but rim is close to water-white. The brand is naturally coloured, as it has been since its 1923 inception.
Nose: Liquorice, notes of caramel and toffee, more notes of malt than I would have expected.
Palate: Honey hints, grassy, coriander, green apple and a hint of smoke on the mid palate.
Finish: Light in intensity with a slight spiciness that lingers.
Overall: As it was meant to be, this is a light, fresh blend that is easy to drink. It’s not hard to see why the brand sells well in hotter climes where this style of whisky is desirable.
- Cutty Sark Blended Malt 40%
A now-defunct (I believe) expression, of which this particular mini was bottled for the Italian market. The blend largely used Glenrothes as a base, with Tamdhu reported to be present in a large quantity too.
Colour: Medium gold, much darker than the original blended version.
Nose: Whiff of smoke at first, turning into notes of spice, vanilla, caramel and toffee.
Palate: Vanilla, coconut, pears. Left for a few minutes, notes of fresh green apple start to come to the fore.
Finish: Apple and pears start to fade, with the vanilla and coconut ‘woody’ notes that last to go and the finish then ends up as being quite bitter and tart.
Overall: Again, a lighter style, not something I’ve really experienced before for a Blended Malt. Keeps true to the house style and does what it is meant to, but I can’t help thinking how much better this would have been at 43% or even 46%.
- Cutty Sark ‘Emerald’ 12 Years Old 43%
A 12 year old blend. The bottle carries the phrase “Out by the Cape, home by the Horn” to reflect the route clipper ships, such as Cutty Sark used from England to Australia, making the journey from Plymouth to Sydney in 72 days, returning in 84.
Colour: Medium gold, a little cloudy.
Nose: Not getting a great deal, hints of vanilla and coconut
Palate: Oh dear! Very watery, hardly anything is distinguishable – alcohol not noticeable at all, seems to have all evaporated.
Finish: Hmm.. as per the palate.
Overall: Fantastic bottle design, just a shame about the contents. Whilst ‘spoilt’ bottles are thankfully pretty rare, the chance of them being so is more with miniatures, due to both the higher volume to surface area ratio and the lesser quality bottle stoppers (screwcaps rater than cork used for full bottles just doesn’t seem to prevent oxidation as effectively).
So the mission has begun and will be continued this coming weekend – I just hope there aren’t too many more out of condition bottles along the way.