Ok, so I am not a Cutty Sark fan. In fact, it could be argued that I’m not much of a friend to the category of blended scotch in general. (This would a false argument, as I have repeatedly championed gems such as Bank Note 5 year and Great King Street: Artist’s Blend.) Still, I’m a sucker for a bottle that I’ve never tasted before, and so I snagged a 30ml sample of the well-publicized Cutty Sark Prohibition Edition in my last (and likely final) Master of Malt samples order.
Prohibition Edition sounds like what it is: a transparent attempt to cast a pallor of history over an unabashedly modern product. It was first released in 2013 to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the repeal of the prohibition of alcohol in the United States. The cynics among you will wonder why a Scottish whisky is celebrating an American historical event, or why the 80th year is more worthy of celebration than, say, the 75th. Or the 90th. I have no answer, except the tenuous link between the brand (named after the Cutty Sark, a British tea clipper) and the famous captain Bill McCoy (as in “The Real”) who smuggled illicit Cutty Sark whiskey into the States during the years of Prohibition. I guess.
At any rate, Cutty Prohibition is bottled at the robust (and unusual, for a blend) strength of 50% ABV, and supposedly has a different blend of grains and malts than the typical Cutty Sark bottle. Some of the components were aged in “American Sherry” barrels, otherwise known as ex-bourbon casks that temporarily held sherry, a practice known as “seasoning”. That’s all we know, because large scotch companies are even less forthcoming about their blends than they are about their single malts.
Nose: Smells like Cutty. Wet cardboard, mild oaky sugars, slightly earthy. Good nose tickle, not too hot for 50% ABV. A rest in the glass does nothing to improve the reticent aroma.
Palate: Thin body. Very sweet upfront, with dense toffee, soft caramel, and vanilla saltwater taffy. A moderate tongue burn, not as hot as 50% would imply. Not much evolution on the tongue, although some of the sugar notes evolve into woody/oaky ones, which gives a nice balance and prevents it from becoming cloying.
Finish: Medium length. Warming, with a reprise of the caramelized sugar notes from the palate. After these fade, there is a suggestion of mint, and very little charcoal and almost no bitterness.
With Water: A few drops of water don’t help the aroma… if anything, it’s even more inert now. The water thins the body, and muddies the sweet notes. Water is optional here. I would skip it.
Overall: Aside from the lackluster aroma, this is shockingly good for an inexpensive blended scotch. The density of sweet flavors on the palate remind me of Bank Note 5 year, and they come together without much in the way of off flavors. The finish is even less bitter than Bank Note, and quite successful for a blend.
I like Bank Note just a little bit more (it has a better aroma and an age statement), and I like this far more than the Cutty Sark 12-year, but don’t let the Cutty name put you off – this is some pretty damn tasty blended scotch for only $15 – $20 a bottle. I wouldn’t pay more than that, though. Note that there seems to be a rash of retailers offering this for $30+. It is definitely not worth that. K&L Wines in Redwood City, CA has it for $15 a bottle, and has for awhile.
I gave this a (probably) controversial “Must Try” rating, not because I think you must try it, but because it’s a good specimen that proves that even inexpensive mass-market blended scotch can be good. If you think blended scotch is beneath you, then you “Must” try this (and Bank Note).