One only ever seems to hear the phrase “the real McCoy” at car boot sales or scrolling on auction sites, looking at suspiciously cheap trainers with four stripes instead of three. (Every sneakerhead, basketball player or Run DMC fan will know it is three stripes on the Superstars.) Either way, I have now seen this phrase etched onto a bottle of blended Scotch.
Now, you may know about the real Cutty Sark, the fastest tea clipper ship during its day, which is currently tucked away safely in Royal Museum Greenwich. Built-in 1869 up in Dumbarton, Scotland, the goal was to transport tea from China as fast as possible.
The ship was named after the famous Robert Burns poem “Tam O’Shanter.” The tale describes Nannie the Witch wearing a Cutty Sark (archaic Scottish term for a nightdress) while chasing her horse-riding victim. The figurehead on the boat depicts Nannie in her revealing nightdress, arm stretched out grabbing the horse by the tail.
Fast forward 51 years to the United States, where a nationwide ban on the production, importation and sale of all alcohol came into force. While brought about by multiple factors that ranged from religious organizations claiming alcohol use leads to crime to petrol companies that wanted to stamp out dreams of an ethanol-based engine, nothing kept people from wanting to get their hands on booze. Moonshine was produced and distributed far and wide, bottles of whiskey smuggled in via Rum Row.
By 1923, one of those bottles being smuggled in was a newly-developed Berry Bros. & Rudd whisky, Cutty Sark. With this foot in the door via their “high quality” blended Scotch, they were already a well-established brand in the States by the end of Prohibition. Despite Glenfiddich’s future planning to dive straight into the new market, Cutty Sark was the first Scotch whisky to sell over a million cases in the US.
This all ties in with the real McCoy himself, the notorious bootlegger Captain William Frederick McCoy. While this edition was released 80 years too late for Prohibition, it has been crafted as a salute to the man who smuggled in Cutty Sark to America. With his reputation of only dealing with the finest and genuine liquor, it brings us neatly full circle to this designation as “The Real McCoy.”
Moving away from the bright yellow label of the standard Cutty Sark, this is much more restrained. Printed on kraft paper, it would fit in with most products sold at classy local craft fairs. The black glass is a reflection of most bottles during the Prohibition era; while it may have helped hide the liquor inside, the opaqueness now yields an anxiety-filled pour, as you can never tell how much is left. All the other little details, such as “The Real McCoy” etched into the bottle alongside its slightly raised wording, help it stand out above its class. This even has a cork! While this seems so trivial by single malt standards, for budget blends, it distinguishes it from a multitude of screw tops.
Now, I have mentioned the dreaded phrase of a budget blend. This may be a bit pricier than your standard Bells or Teachers, but it falls well below the likes of Monkey Shoulder and Johnnie Walker. I have seen this sit between £20 to £25, which is great value for a 70cl bottle at 50% ABV. Yes, you read that right: this blend is not only non-chill filtered, but also stands at 100 proof. This is available via The Whisky Exchange for £23.25, Master of Malt £23.14, or even Amazon at £23.14, but shop around locally.
Sold by Edrington Group to Glen Moray owners La Martiniquaise-Bardinet in 2018, it was agreed that Edrington would still be in charge of blending and bottling Cutty Sark throughout the transition period. This makes it nearly impossible to pin down what malts and grains are used; however, it would be interesting to compare this 2020 bottle to a 2018 version.
In my view, it has the mixture right. While other blends lean far too heavily on the grain side, leaving them with a lack of personality and uniqueness, I can state with certainty that Cutty Sark Prohibition-era not only has personality but also a full life story, gripping you from the pop of the cork.
Cutty Sark Prohibition Edition – review
Colour: faint amber.
On the nose: salted caramel fudge matched with some light shiny grain notes. A hearty mix combined with the aroma of cardboard recycling out in the rain. A couple of drops of water seems to increase the ethanol notes, giving a pleasant pepper spice.
In the mouth: the taste is a near-direct match to the nose. The salted caramel has turned more into sea-salted milk chocolate and crushed biscuits. An artificial citrus note forms like the tang of an orange wine gum that has been left in the packet too long. This warms the cheeks, as you would expect with such a high ABV; even so, the ethanol burn is more friendly than painful. It fades away and leaves the slightly drying taste of an over-brewed green tea.
A completely different ball game to the standard Cutty Sark, this is a well-put-together blend that packs a pretty punch in the bottle, but not in the wallet. For me, it is tough to beat at this price range.
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