Thursday, 23 February 2017



The Cutty Sark is the world’s last remaining clipper ship. It was built on the Clyde, in Glasgow, in 1869 for the China tea trade, and was one of the fastest clippers ever built. 

I’ve been on it; it is narrow and, except for the top deck and the Captain’s cabin, there is no headroom. The average height of ceilings reduce progressively as you descend four decks, from 5 feet to 3’9”. 

Edrington PLC, a company whose head office was located ten miles from where the famous ship was built, used the name for a whisky it launched on March 23, 1923. Cutty Sark was the first light coloured, blended whisky. Launched at the height of the “cocktail culture”, it was designed to be mixed and was aimed squarely at the American market. It started as a 3 Year Old whisky during Prohibition in the US (1920-33); immediately after Prohibition was repealed in 1933, the 5 YO hit the market. Current blends are 8 YO. 

During Prohibition, Cutty Sark gave rise to the term “the real McCoy.” The whisky was bootlegged by the legendary Bill McCoy, an American smuggler based in the Bahamas. McCoy, a nondrinker, guaranteed his contraband was uncut and unadulterated. The quality of his whisky gave rise to the expression, “the real McCoy”, an expression that remains a synonym for integrity and authenticity. During Prohibition, “ordering a real McCoy” became slang for ordering a Cutty Sark.

Following the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, the impeccable reputation of the whisky led to a surge in sales and Cutty Sark became one of the best-selling Scotch whisky brands in the United States. It remains one of that country’s most popular blends. Bill McCoy died a multi-millionaire in 1948. 

In 2013, Edrington released Cutty Sark, Prohibition Edition, a 50% ABV blended Scotch, to commemorate Bill McCoy and the 90th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition. A 12 Years Old version is also on the market, priced higher than JW Black Label.