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Named after the iconic tea clipper, Cutty Sark whisky is enjoying renewed popularity in the city of its birth
When Cutty Sark Original first burst onto the roaring cocktail scene of the 1920s, it marked a bold break from traditional styles of Scotch. Created by historic wine and spirit merchants Berry Bros and Rudd on London’s St James’s Street in 1923, Cutty Sark was refreshingly different – the first light-coloured whisky in the world, deliberately blended to be more palatable and delicate in flavour. This light style made it perfect for mixing in cocktails and it soon became a hit in New York, capital of the vibrant cocktail culture during Prohibition.
Quality was also at the core of this new brand. Presented with a striking yellow label that featured its namesake, the fastest and most famous of all Scottish-built clipper ships, Cutty Sark reflected the adventurous spirit, quality and beauty of the famous tea clipper. In fact, it was the quality of Cutty Sark whisky that gave rise to the expression ‘the real McCoy’ during this Prohibition era. It was bootlegged into the US by the legendary Captain Bill McCoy, becoming a synonym for integrity and authenticity.
Following the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, Cutty Sark’s reputation for quality led to a surge in sales, making it the best-selling Scotch in the US. Since its inception, Cutty Sark has remained largely unchanged, made from a selection of over 20 single malt whiskies, mostly from Speyside (the cradle of single malt whisky distillation), which are expertly blended with top-quality grain whiskies. The spirit is matured in American oak casks, which impart less colour but give subtle and complex flavours. Once matured, the malts are blended together, as are the grain whiskies, before being married for a period of six months. This marrying process is a particular feature of Cutty Sark and ensures the final blend is harmonised and, therefore, consistent in colour and flavour.
Today, the current revival of the classic cocktail culture that first made Cutty so popular makes it an appropriate time to reintroduce the brand in the UK. With its versatility and light style, Cutty is now being poured and shaken in some of London’s top bars, helping to make Scotch mixable once again.
Cutty Sark initially relaunched online at The Drink Shop (www.thedrinkshop.com) earlier this year to mark its 85th birthday celebrations, with a cocktail competition for bartenders that attracted 300 entries. It has since been going down a storm on the London drinks scene, at venues such as Albannach on Trafalgar Square (right), which has combined Cutty Sark with peach and ginger ale to create the Cutty Quencher cocktail. Meanwhile, Just Oriental’s Albert Dule has devised The Tea Clipper using pear and green tea syrup. His recipe taps into the trend for drinking whisky with green tea seen in the Far East, where Scotch is thriving as the premium spirit of choice.
Alongside this international success, Cutty Sark also has local appeal as a product with London roots. The iconic ship it was named after is currently docked for restoration in the capital. Keen to highlight this London connection, Roast restaurant is serving the blend in one of its signature cocktails.
You can also visit Cutty’s place of birth – Berry Bros & Rudd merchants – to further explore the whisky’s colourful past and see a picture of Captain Bill McCoy hanging on the wall. This historic setting is the perfect place to explore the entire Cutty Sark portfolio.
Alongside the Original, there are four premium aged blends – 12, 15, 18 and 25 Year Old – in Cutty’s Deluxe range, which is proving popular at top restaurants, such as Nobu Berkeley, and members’ clubs such as Home House. The flagship of the range is the Cutty Sark 25 Year Old, which was the highest-scoring whisky in Whisky Magazine’s ‘Best of the Best’ international tasting.
So 85 years after Cutty Sark first wowed the cocktail crowd, this Scotch retains the enduring quality and appeal of its namesake and remains an ideal whisky for today’s sophisticated drinker.
Nose: Light; fragrant vanilla and oak.
Palate: Sweet and creamy.
Finish: Crisp and clean.
Expect to pay: £15.99
Method: Shake and strain the first four ingredients over crushed ice in a highball glass.
Top with ginger ale and garnish with an orange twist.
Created by: Glynn O’Shea and available at Albannach
Method: Shake and strain into rocks glass and garnish with slice of pear.
Created by: Albert Dule of Just Oriental at Just St James