Cutty Sark 12 Years (1980's) Review

“Cutty Sark Special”

A Bit of History.

On January 1, 2012, I reviewed the Cutty Sark Original bottled in the same year. Here are the Tasting Notes I wrote back then:

Colour: Pale Gold 

Nose: As always give your whisky sufficient time to open up before nosing. I recommend at least 20 minutes. The Cutty Sark certainly does not present an impressive nose with Malt, Sweet Grain (Breakfast Cereals), Citrus and Oak. There is Alcohol but not as much of it when compared to various other blends in the same price range. At some point I thought I nosed Apple Pie with Raisins and Cream but it’s not consistently there. There’s also something nasty that I can only describe as morning sickness after a stiff night on the town if you know what I mean. Quite a mixed bag that we have here!

Taste: Delivery is a bit thin. Sweet, Simple but Drinkable with some Light Spices, Honeyed Grains, Extra Sweet Toffee and Apple.

Finish: The honey/sugar sticks to the palate for a while followed by Oak and the unpleasant Nutty Bitterness that is so common in Standard Blends and for which I have deducted a full point.

I would not recommend adding water to the Cutty Sark although you get a little bit more fruit (Melon) on the nose. But you completely destroy the  taste.

Rating: 76 

Nose: 19,5 – Taste: 19,5–  Finish: 18 – Overall: 19

Conclusion: Cutty Sark is not an expensive whisky and as such it holds its ground when compared to direct competitors such as Dewar’s White Label, Grant’s Family Reserve, Ballantine’s Finest, Chivas Regal 12 Years, White Horse, the Famous Grouse and Johnnie Walker Red Label. Still it’s depressing when you realise that 90% of all whiskies sold worldwide are blends, many of them of comparable quality, quite a few of them better but lots of them worse as the subject of this review. Anyway, Cutty Sark is an acceptable blend given its competitive pricing. It has some Speyside-like sweetness on the palate and some citrus on the nose. There are some off-notes as well, respectively on the nose (Morning Sickness) and in the Finish (Nutty Bitterness). If you go for cheap and reasonable, Cutty Sark could be your blended whisky of choice. Or you could save a bit longer and buy yourself a Deluxe blend or a Single Malt. Guess what I would do!!!


On February 2, 2017, I reviewed the Cutty Sark Storm bottled in the same year. Here are the Tasting Notes I wrote back then:

Colour: Light Golden (Artificially Coloured)

Nose: Mainly Sweet with some Sour and Salty accents. The Grain Alcohol is very present. A tiny bit of Smoke and Sherry in the background. I also find Toasted Cereals, Toast and Margarine, Earth and Grass, Brown Sugar, Treacle, Caramel, Butterscotch, some Nuts and Dried Fruits (Sultanas and Hazelnut), a little Fruit (Pineapple or perhaps Mango and overripe Bananas), light Citrus, Refill Wood, light Spices (Cinnamon and Nutmeg) and a hint of Tobacco. I can't get excited about this. It's still quite similar to the standard Cutty Sark I reviewed earlier. A bit more Fruit perhaps.     

Palate: Slightly Thin delivery. Light, Bitter Sweet and mildly Spicy. On the Palate and in the Finish, the Single Malt component is more noticeable. I find Toasted Cereals, light Honey, Brown Sugar, Corn Syrup, Caramel, Dried Fruit (Apricot and Sultanas), Pear, slightly Bitter Orange, Vanilla, Pepper, Ginger, Nutmeg, Mint, light Licorice, Charred Oak and a hint of Tobacco. The faintest puff of Smoke from a very distant fire.  

Finish: Middle-Long, Bitter-Sweet and mildly Spicy. Dry towards the end. I find Sugared Cereals, Vanilla, Charred Oak, slightly Bitter Orange Juice, Menthol, light Licorice, Caramel, Corn Syrup, Sultanas, Pepper, light Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Ginger and a hint of Tobacco. On the Palate and in the Finish the Storm clearly beats the standard Cutty Sark.

Due to the fact that I merely had a small sample at my disposal, I only tasted this Blend neat.

Rating: 79.5

Nose: 20 - Taste: 20 - Finish: 19.5 - Overall: 20

Conclusion: The Storm is indeed an improvement over the regular Cutty Sark. Not so much on the Nose but certainly on the Palate and in the Finish where the higher Malt content is noticeable. I also didn't find any off notes in the Storm. At an average 25 US Dollars, the Storm has an excellent Price/Quality ratio and it easily beats most of the Bottom Shelf Blends. It's one of the few cheaper blends that you can actually enjoy neat although it's a bit Thin on the Palate. Don't expect Whisky Heaven when you buy the Storm because that's impossible at this price level. But it's an acceptable Blend with an excellent P/Q ratio. Enjoy it while it lasts!

Very recently I received a 5 CL miniature bottle of the Cutty Sark 12 Years from my parents in law. They already had it in their possession for quite some time and their educated guess is that they most likely bought it in the early 1980's. Although the miniature was unopened, I observed that around 15% of the Whisky/Water combination had evaporated over time. I'm really curious to find out if the Blend is still drinkable and, if so, how it compares to the Original and Storm. Let's go!


Whisky Review # 662 

Country: Scotland
Brand: Cutty Sark 
Type: Blended Whisky
Bottled: 1980's (Emerald Series)
Age: 12 Years
Alcohol By Volume (ABV): 43%
Maturation: Mostly American Oak. Probably a few Refill Sherry Casks as well. 
Chill Filtration: Yes
Price Range: US$ 60-180 on the Internet (November 2017)
Buying Advice: 😕 Negative. Too Expensive. Go for the Storm!

Colour: Golden (Artificially Coloured)

Nose: Very Light. The Grain Alcohol is quite noticeable. And so are the Refill casks. There's not a whole lot going on here I'm afraid. I find Toasted Cereals,  Salted Caramel, Buttered Toast, Brown Sugar, Hay, Heather-Honey, Nutshells, Toffee, Dried Fruit (Sultanas, Banana), Apple, Orange, Lemon, Peach Jam, Dusty Attic, light Spices (Cinnamon, Nutmeg), Tobacco and Floral Soap. Most of these Aromas are just hints. There are no off-notes. I get a hint of Cooked Vegetables as well as some extremely faint notes of Smoke and Sherry. I had expected a bit more to be honest.    

Palate: Light Delivery. Mostly Bitter-Sweet. I find Toasted Sugared Cereals, Salted Caramel, Brown Sugar, Toffee, Heather-Honey, Vanilla, Orange, Lemon, Apple, Pear, Dried Fruit like Raisins and Sultanas, Pepper, Ginger, Nutmeg, Cinnamon, Menthol, Licorice, Tobacco, Charred Oak and the faintest hint of Smoke.   

Finish: Middle-Long and mostly Bitter-Sweet. A few Sour notes towards the dry end. I find Toasted Sugared Cereals, Heather-Honey, Salted Caramel, Grain Alcohol, Vanilla, Orange, Pepper, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Ginger, Licorice, Menthol, Tobacco, Nuts and Charred Refill Oak.  

Drinking Advice:
Due to the small size of the sample, I only tasted this Cutty Sark 12 Years neat.

Rating: 78.5  

Nose: 19.5 - Taste: 20 - Finish: 19.5 - Overall: 19.5

General Remarks:

Cutty Sark was launched in 1923 by Berry Bros & Rudd, only three years after the introduction of Prohibition in the USA. Coincidence or not, the Cutty Sark Blend became the best selling Scotch in the States in 1961. On April 1st 2010, the Brand was bought by the Edrington Group. I don't know exactly when the 12 Years was launched but it most likely was in the 1980's. The 12 Years I'm reviewing today was a special release named "Out By The Cape, Home By The Horn". The unique multi-sided Emerald-like bottle has a special label that marks the historical destinations of the ship that gave this Whisky its name. The Heart of Cutty Sark is the Speyside Glenrothes distillery. It usually also contains small quantities of Glengoyne, Macallan, Highland Park and Bunnahabhain.

Drinking Experience Neat: Okay. I had expected a bit more.

Conclusion: "In the old days the Whiskies were better". I've heard that a lot since I started writing about Whisky. Unfortunately I haven't been able to taste a lot of older whiskies so I can't give you my opinion. In any case I was slightly disappointed by today's Cutty Sark back from the 1980's. Or maybe I was just expecting too much! It's quite similar to the Cutty Sark Original and Storm of today and that's good in a way as well. Apparently the producers did not change the formula a whole lot during all those years. My favourite remains the Storm as it has the better Price/Quality ratio coupled to a better Wood management.

Jan van den Ende                                                             November 25, 2017


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