Reviews of affordable whiskies with some entertaining tales along the way…
Cutty Sark Blended Scotch Whisky was created in March 1923 by London-based wine and spirits merchants, Berry Bros & Rudd. The blend was named after the British clipper ship built on the River Clyde in 1869. The ship returned to British ownership in 1922, after a stint in Portuguese waters and was much in the news at the time, making it an attractive focal point for a new whisky brand.
Murder on the High Seas
The Cutty Sark was originally intended to serve the tea trade with China. On her first voyage she left port laden with large amounts of wine, spirits and beer and returned from China with 1.3 million pounds of Tea. The Cutty’s time in the tea trade was cut short, however. The advancement of steamships, coupled with the opening of the Suez Canal, saw the famous clipper redeployed to Australia where she would serve the wool trade, transporting more than 45,000 bales throughout her long career. The ship was later sold to the Portuguese and renamed but would return to British waters and serve as a training vessel whilst anchored in Cornwall. Today, the Cutty Sark lies on display in a dry dock in Greenwich.
The Cutty Sark was famed as one of the fastest ships of the day. Built with an expected lifespan of around 30 years she miraculously remains in one piece more than 150 years later. There have been many stories told of her adventures throughout the decades but perhaps the most dramatic is that of Chief Mate Sidney Smith and the murder of Seaman John Francis…
The events in question took place between 1880 and 1882. The Cutty Sark was under the command of Captain Wallace, a well-liked man who prized the loyalty of his crew. Serving as Chief Mate was Sidney Smith, an unpopular figure viewed by many as a tyrant and a slave driver. Throughout the course of the ship’s voyage, Smith had several run-ins with three African American crewmen. One of the men, John Francis, came to blows with Smith on at least one occasion. After one particularly violent clash, Smith was heard to threaten to kill the men but the situation was diffused and the matter seemed resolved.
Francis was a likable chap but was not, by all accounts, a particularly skilled seaman. One night, in stormy seas off Japan, he failed to let go one of the sails, dropping it overboard and provoking the ire of Smith. The men argued and Smith took up a broken capstan bar and charged. Francis was knocked to the floor and never regained consciousness. He died three days later from a significant head wound. To the shock of the crew, Captain Wallace seemed to defend the actions of his Chief Mate. He tried to pressure several men into signing a statement that claimed Smith acted in self-defence. When the men refused, the Captain threw the murder weapon overboard.
Some days later, the clipper arrived in Anjer, Indonesia. Several of the crew went to report the murder but unbeknownst to them, Captain Wallace had already arranged for Smith’s escape. The killer had changed his name to John Anderson and fled on the American ship, Colorado. The crew were enraged by the Captain’s support of the murderer and the journey to the next port was plagued with trouble as some attempted mutiny and clashed repeatedly with those who remained loyal to the Captain.
As for Wallace himself, the Captain become increasingly withdrawn, seemingly wracked with guilt and fearful of the consequences of his actions. The incident could easily have led to his own conviction or at the very least, an end to his career and social disgrace. As the Cutty Sark drew near to port in Yokohama in Japan, Captain Wallace leapt overboard. The dumbfounded crew lowered a boat to search for him but found nothing other than the triangular fins that occasionally broke the waves… (*I suspect that last bit may have been added for dramatic effect).
Sidney Smith, or John Anderson as he had become known, remained at large for two years before eventually being identified at West London Docks. He was tried for murder but served just 7 years on the reduced charge of manslaughter. 7 years doesn’t really seem too long a sentence for a rage-filled act that killed an innocent man. What became of him in later years is unknown.
Cutty Sark Blended Scotch Whisky is produced by La Martiniquaise. It’s bottled at 40% abv and retails around £20.
*This 50ml miniature bottle was given to me by a friend who had it for some time. I’m not sure exactly how long – it doesn’t look that old – but I felt it was worth noting that it might not be completely representative of current batches.
Smell: The nose was a little closed to begin with. Given time to relax, however, it started to give some lovely fresh fruits. Green fruits especially. Apples and pears. Then some lemon. There’s also some cereals, a bit of butterscotch and vanilla fudge. There’s some oak and a wee bit of pepper. Feels like there could be a tiny wee hint of smoke in the background.
Taste: The arrival is quite bold after the fairly delicate nose. Lots of soft fruits progressing to honey and malt with a nice bit of oak towards the back. Wee touch of pepper again. Again, I could swear there’s a wee bit of peat smoke right at the tail end, it’s very subtle though.
Thoughts: It took a while for my dram to open up but that isn’t necessarily surprising for a miniature that’s been sitting in storage for who knows how long. In any case, it eventually loosened off and revealed a light, delicate nose. It isn’t massively complex but there’s a few different elements and it sits together very well. It’s nicely balanced, in other words. I’m sure it would seem gentle to the point of bland if you were to taste it after a big powerful single malt but sampling it on its own merits, with a little breathing space, there’s a surprising amount of flavour – particularly in the arrival – and the fruity, oaky finish is simple but lasts well. A good quality, entry-level blended Scotch.
Price: Generally available for around £22. It’s not the cheapest blend on the market but I think the quality would stand up pretty well against others in the same bracket.
For more on Cutty Sark Whisky visit https://cutty-sark.com/
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