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Cutty Sark sails back to UK

By Rob Allanson
“Weel done, Cutty-sark!” roars Tam O’Shanter in the eponymous poem by Robert Burns, full of references to whisky and its emboldening effects.And the ‘cutty sark’ of the poem (the old Scots for a nightshirt) passed into the English language, christened a famous clipper ship and, in March 1923, was chosen as the name of a new blend of Scotch whisky – one that would, like its namesake, travel round the world.But perhaps we should say ‘Scots Whisky’, the form of words that for so many years graced the label (and is still embossed in the glass). This was the responsibility of artist James McBey who chose the name and designed the label (incidentally, though he died in 1959, McBey’s work is still exhibited – currently at Aberdeen Art Gallery). But, so legend goes, he never intended the bright yellow label. A printers’ error replaced his tasteful cream with a rather more forceful colour. Time was running out for the first bottling, however, and out of necessity a classic blend was born.The whisky was noted from the start by its very pale colour, something that Francis Berry, then chairman of the brand’s owners London wine merchants Berry Bros & Rudd insisted on.For many years, it has been blended and bottled by the Edrington Group, owners of Highland Distillers. Naturally, then, North British grain features in the recipe, along with Tamdhu, Glenrothes and Highland Park; it’s quite some pedigree. In fact, Highland Distillers actually purchased the Orkney distillery back in 1937 mainly to ensure supplies for Cutty Sark.All of which suggests that this has been a more than normally successful product throughout its life. From its earliest days Cutty has been a particular favourite in the USA and it’s alleged that during Prohibition the famous bootlegger Captain William McCoy delivered such quantities to his customers that it was the original source of the phrase ‘the real McCoy’.European markets have also been keen consumers of Cutty Sark, but it is some years since it has been available here in the United Kingdom. Now that’s about to change. Cutty’s brand director Yves Cosentino explained the thinking.“The brand was originally withdrawn due to stock shortages and the growth in international demand,” he said.“Now our intention is to slowly rebuild Cutty Sark in the UK in selective outlets, mainly London prestige bars and top style and cocktail outlets.” With its roots in one of London’s top wine merchants, rather than the more traditional Scottish grocers shop, this makes sense of the brand’s heritage.This is the nearest thing to a “London” whisky and Cosentino clearly hopes to attract what he describes as “a new generation of whisky drinkers”.If you haven’t tried this for a while the pale colour may come as something of a surprise. But, while relatively delicate in body, Cutty Sark does not lack flavour.The standard variety, non-aged, which will lead the charge back to the UK, has a subtle creamy vanilla note with a crisp, clean finish. It is ideal in cocktails and the perfect aperitif whisky. Older styles will also be available, though the premium blended market is a challenging one with well-entrenched competitors and it will be interesting to see what progress this highly-regarded blend can make after being absent for so long.Cosentino promises that Cutty Sark will “rekindle a sense of adventure and excitement round the brand”.Certainly Tam O’Shanter didn’t lack for excitement – as Burns says “Wi’ usquabae, we’ll face the devil!” Cutty Sark’s reappearance in the UK promises an adventure worthy of the elegant clipper ship that graces its label.