Whisky Review – Cutty Sark: Then & Now

The Cutty Sark brand of Blended Scotch Whisky has been around since the early 1920’s and was named after the famous clipper style ship that is still featured on the label today. Owners of the Cutty Sark brand Berry Brothers & Rudd were one of the first blenders to eschew caramel colouring.

With its lighter style designed to appeal to two target markets (The USA and BBR’s primarily wine drinking clientele) it eventually became a favourite in the US market after developing a strong customer base during prohibition. By the time prohibition ended in 1933 Cutty Sark was a well established brand and by the 1960’s was the first Scotch brand to sell over 1 million cases in a year.

Other than BBR two companies were notable in the history of the brand. In 1930 Robertson & Baxter became sole suppliers to BBR for the components of the blend. Highland Distillers owned several distilleries and supplied much of Robertson & Baxter’s malt and grain whiskies.  Both companies had financial interests in each other and over the course of time essentially amalgamated to form what is now the Edrington Group.

BBR continued to own Cutty Sark until its 2010 sale to Edrington (along with The Glenrothes brand) and its subsequent sale in 2019 to La Martiniquaise, the parent company of Glen Moray.


Cutty Sark itself is a blend of between 30 and 40 component whiskies (depending what you read). It is made up of a majority of grain whiskies which were historically sourced from North British and Invergordon Distilleries.  The malt content comes from Highland Park, Glenrothes, Macallan and Bunnahabhain (amongst others)


Cutty Sark (2019), blended scotch whisky, 40%abv, from my collection.


The nose is fresh and grassy, very light. It feels floral at times with a herby note in among the toffee and unripened fruit notes. Full of yellow plums, green wood and a hint of cheap (and a little aggressive) white wine.

The palate is much as we would expect from the nose, no real surprises here. It’s a little malty with some youthful grain notes. There are elements of crisp green cooking apples and rhubarb which mingle with some vanilla and some faint chocolate tones.

Not much of a defined finish. Its quite drying with notes of grapes, touches of chocolate and a sprinkling of nuts.

In general quite light, zippy and fresh but feels a little young and a little aggressive at times.


Cutty Sark (1980’s era), blended scotch whisky, 40%abv, from my collection.

Much deeper and darker than its modern counterpart. Old wood, furniture polish, tropical fruits (ripened this time) peaches, apricots as well as touches of stewed fruits and a tiny wisp of wood smoke.

The palate still feels quite fresh with the addition of some vanilla essence, some toffee and a slight tannic element. Solid malty backbone and some distant red fruits.

On the finish there is a touch of ginger, a twist of pepper and a little oak aw well as a soft tobacco influence.


Colourwise both appear very similar, being light in colour as well as style. The older expression holds much more complexity than its contemporary and is slightly woodier and drying whereas the modern expression feel slightly fresher and certainly feels much, much younger.

The 1980s version isn’t as complex as a single malt, but there is definitely much more going on in the glass and the nose is much more inviting than the 2019 bottle. Both have similarly short finishes however.

An incredibly interesting comparison and a lot of fun to sit with each expression side by side.

This bottle was opened during my Blended Whiskies Then & Now Tasting event. For information on future events please click here.

You can find more tasting notes and whisky news in the Amateur Drammers Archives.

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