by Malcolm Jolley

Cutty Sark is the one of the world’s better known blended Scotch Whiskies*, and this year they’re celebrating their 75th year in the Canadian Market. But the drink was actually invented in a London parlour in 1923 by none other than Francis Berry and Hugh Rudd, partners in the famous wine merchants Berry Brothers & Rudd. The partners, in collusion with a visiting artist friend from Scotland, James McBey, conspired to create a whisky light and smooth enough for their wine loving clientele. Then, like now, the vogue was for darker, oily, peaty, smoky single malts, and the BB&R lunch crowd thought, rightly, that a cleaner, less aggressive, Scotch might attract a large audience, especially in America, where notwithstanding Prohibition whisky was more often drunk “on the rocks”. The rest is more or less history, but how does Cutty Sark stack up today?

In the press pack I got, celebrating Cutty Sark’s anniversary in Canada, came a guide to making a dozen or so whisky-based cocktails. While it’s true that I would consider selling one of my children for one of Jen Agg’s Manhattans, I am generally not a big a fan of whisky cocktails or any other conspicuous doctoring of what’s aptly called in Gaelic as “the water of life”. So, I have no notes t report on the recipes for the ‘Debonair’, the ‘Modernista’ or the ‘Highland Cream’.

For all I know, cocktails made from blended (or even single malt) whiskies will become all the rage. I have nothing against this other than the obvious questions of aesthetics and taste, but I’ve learned to discount these instincts long ago. I do, nevertheless, hope the great North American tradition of ‘Scotch on the rocks’ is not in any way imperiled, and I wonder if men and women of my generation might be missing out on one of life’s great pleasures when we reach for our Friday night unoaked Chardonnays and craft brews.

There is an elemental end of day satisfaction in filling a wide brimmed tumbler with ice cubes and pouring oneself what American’s call a big ‘ole drink. The music of ice cubes clinking on crystal is worth the price of admission itself. With a dash of cold water to round out he alcoholic edges, a Scotch on the rocks is both refreshing and warming. Whisky is, after all, basically vodka that’s been put in a barrel, so the cold mouthfeel from the rocks balances the warmth of the charred oak. Of all the blends, I think Cutty Sark lives up to Berry and Rudds’s conviction the best – it’s lighter and smoother and makes no pretentions to the snifter, so it’s best consumed in this way. Save the Islay singles for the fireside after dinner, but begin the evening by bending an ice tray.

Highland Cream
2 shot(s) Cutty Sark Scotch Whisky
½ shot(s) Crème de cacao Liqueur
½ shot(s) coffee liqueur
1 shot(s) heavy cream

Stir all ingredients with cubed ice for 20 seconds, strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon zest.

*This article uses the Scots-Anglo-Canadian spelling, even when referring to Irish and American whiskey.