Blends have had something of a resurgence lately, gaining huge support from bloggers, writers and drinkers. They gained a less than positive reputation in the mid 90s as single malts increased in popularity and exclusivity; the latter highlighted their status as a sign of class and refinement whilst blends became the representation of the lowest common denominator, often priced as the cheapest brands on the whisky shelves in the supermarket. However, with long established brands such as Famous Grouse and Johnny Walker either starting to develop new whiskies or simply advertise existing products more effectively, higher priced, higher quality blends are now visibly supplementing these brand’s ranges and are being taken more seriously again.
Other, newer brands, such as Compass Box, have approached the blend market with a fresh take, promoting clear concepts for every product and denoting a time or place when it is ideal to consume each whisky. Some distilleries, such as Springbank and Arran have also now started producing blends alongside their own single malts to cut out the middle men of the large blending houses. While the idea was originally used for an advert for Bell’s, starring Jules Holland, my favourite analogy for blends is the idea that if you bring the right solo artists together, you can create a band which is greater than the sum of the components (although I’m not sure The Travelling Wilburys have ever convinced me of the truth of that…).
Cutty Sark whisky, started by Berry Brothers and Rudd in 1923, is one of these blended brands that has long produced different versions of their blends to appeal to different markets. Recently, there have been a few new additions to the range, developed by Kirsteen Campbell, the Master Blender at the brand, which include the very high end “Tam O’Shanter” and the new variation on their standard blend, “Storm”, with a greater quantity of older malts to supplement the original blend.
The blend takes its name from the ship at Greenwich, which had just been returned to England from Portugal in 1922, where it had spent its time after being retired as a trading ship for Jock Willis (known for his motto, “Where there’s a Willis away”); the blend was created at No.3 St James Street. The Cutty Sark was the world’s last clipper, still operating in 1922 (albeit under the name Ferriera) and, at one point, was the fastest clipper on the seas (although there is some dispute between her and Thermopylae. They had very few directly comparable voyages, but the general consensus seems to be Cutty Sark as she was also better suited to a heavier wind). The ship at Greenwich takes her name from the witch in the poem ‘Tam O’Shanter’ who, in turn, takes her name from her clothing – a cutty (short) sark (shirt).
So, on a cold, winter’s, snowy day, such as today, a warming dram is exactly what’s needed. Where this twelve year old blend excels is in bringing together a variety of flavours, most notably the classic Speyside flavours, together without being too sweet; allegedly Cutty Sark was the blend that prompted BBR to release The Glenrothes as its own branded single malt. My bottling is the slightly older variant, the BBR release, although I am still yet to see the newer, more svelte and contemporary bottling by the Edrington Group (following the deeply complex trade of brands, distribution rights and supply requirements in 2010) anywhere on the shelves yet.
On the nose, the Seville marmalade appears once things have warmed up (perhaps a capful or two in a jar of homemade marmalade might work a treat) along with a slightly savoury nutty note. On the palate, this is smooth and warming, with some further rich fruit notes to compliment the marmalade. It finishes long and smooth with a slightly surprising sweetness, given some of the more savoury notes going in.