I would argue you're most likely to see that green bottle of Cutty Sark in one of two places: first, on the bottom shelf of a supermarket liquor aisle, or second, covered in a layer of dust at the back of a dead relative's kitchen cabinet.

I had always thought of Cutty as a “grandpa scotch.” No young person I know tends to drink the stuff. Most people getting into brown liquor tend to gravitate first to more readily-available and better-marketed bourbons for the cool factor, or they geek out and branch into things like single-malt scotch or Japanese whisky. Even the Cutty bottle is pretty musty and not doing itself any favors: precious few Millenials / Generation Y drinkers I know are thrilled by clipper ships.

So Cutty might well be a product of a different generation, but the question is this: is it bad? The answer to this is no: it's better than a lot of blends at the same price. However, it still isn't particularly great.

I would say that the dominant flavor profile of Cutty Sark to my palate is lemon. It opens with fairly noticeable aromas of lemon that have a distinct grassiness about them. Adding water released a bit of pineapple and ginseng, which was interesting, but it was still a lemon party. Cutty doesn't positively reek of grain whisky, which was a nice and unexpected plus at the price point.

Having a very clear flavor profile isn’t a bad thing, but the catch is you have to like that particular flavor.

On the palate, the lemon once again comes out swinging. I found that I had to push past a lot of sourness and mouth-puckering to get to any of the secondary flavors. I tasted a bit of apple, tobacco, and leather that hinted at some decent complexity for the price, but by the end of my glass I realized I didn't want to wade through all of the sour to get there. You can add a splash of water, but I found it upped the volume of the lemon even more.

For being a grandpa whisky, the Cutty sees its way out without much fanfare. I found the finish to be almost all honey with some pepper tingle on the tip of the tongue. It's inoffensive, warming, and actually of moderate length.

In the end, Cutty Sark isn't bilgewater. However, it's a little thin at 40% ABV and it doesn't exactly taste balanced to me. Lemon isn't one of my favorite flavors—in whisky or in many other drinks—so I'm really not the biggest fan of the flavors Cutty puts in the glass. I've argued that having a very clear flavor profile isn't a bad thing, but the catch is you have to like that particular flavor.

On the whole, I'd say that unless you have a big thing for lemon, it's not worth waking Cutty up from its present dirt nap. However, note that the Cutty Sark Prohibition Edition is an entirely different beast with a totally different taste profile, and the extra $10 per bottle is very well spent.  

Nose: Grassy lemon with some tropical fruit.
Taste: Perhaps more tart lemon than you want to deal with.
Finish: Unexpectedly honeyed and gentle!
Misc: 40% ABV, naturally colored.
Price: $17
Overall Rating