Cutty Sark has faded in popularity from it's heights, but still has some staying power as a workmanlike blended Scotch, and a relatively elegant one at that. It’s fragrant, lightly peaty – more floral, even, lightly spicy and quite soft. It’s worth re-visiting if you haven’t tried it lately. In fact, it’s a good-quality, more delicate alternative to a comparably-priced bourbon or Irish whisky, with forward-placed notes of peat smoke over apple, cinnamon, white flowers, citrus and subtle oak.
Cutty’s new Prohibition release from master blender Kirsteen Campbell ($30/750ml) comes in an attractive black bottle and purportedly aims at an iteration of the spirit that’s more akin to what you might have gotten during the era of prohibition. At or 100 proof, it’s a tad more potent and deeper in color. The nose is nuttier, with subtle chocolate notes suggesting more heavily toasted oak barrels. On the palate, the heavier oak tannins make it a bit jarring at room temperature. Adding a couple of ice cubes helps to tame it, and watering it back a bit is recommended. Reined in, the aromas have some similarity with the original spirit, but with added pepper and chocolate notes. It retains a grainy rasp, and seems to be stretching toward a Bourbon-like generosity and sweetness without resorting to Sherry or Port barrels the way some other Scotch whiskies do. It sort of works, but arguably falls short by going only halfway. The peaty quality of Scotch is readily apparent, but I’m not convinced that it is as artfully-blended as the elegant, original Cutty Sark. It’s more bold, to be sure, but without a bit of dilution, it’s a jagged spirit, and the dark roasted notes stay very forward through the finish.