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Cutty Sark - The Big Book

11th November 2011

A recent unexpected parcel arrived containing a new whisky book “Cutty Sark – The Making of a Whisky Brand”. Edited by our own Ian Buxton who commissions articles for this site (not a blog piece like this) from whisky writers such as me, the book contains chapters each written by a different whisky writer, some more well-known than others. It’s in a large format, lovely to look at and to touch having a hard cover and gorgeous thick smooth paper on the inside (a Kindle type device is never going to cut it for me).CS Cover1.jpg

It’s a smart idea to have different writers as it makes it more interesting and attractive as well as keeping the book fresh. A wonderful coffee table publication, it runs through the life of Cutty Sark, starting with an overview of it now and then branching out into history and other elements of the brand.

First chapter is a quick flight round the world to see who drinks Cutty Sark –and where and how – in a range of markets from new to mature. Interesting to see how others use it. Chapter two is in the reliable hands of Gavin Smith, well known whisky writer, who tells us the history of other Cutty Sarks, notably the tea clipper which bore the name and how it came to be used here.

Third up is Marcin Miller, writing a very readable history of Berry Bros. & Rudd the London wine and spirit merchants for whom Cutty Sark was created in 1923. Yes – 1923. I bet many of you thought it might be older than that. A concise and nicely written piece. On to chapter four and Helen Arthur telling us about James McBey who designed the label and came up with Cutty Sark as the name for the brand. After all, it may seem a bit odd for it to be named after a ship and not a glen or some other Scottish person or feature.

Cutty Sark book 1.jpgThe Blend is the chapter from Dave Broom, a writer known to many round the world and my favourite chapter in the whole book. It’s the best account of blending I’ve ever read. Poetry and elegance, matched by the blend itself and the diplomacy and clarity in the comments from Kirsteen Campbell, Cutty Sark’s Master Blender. By the way, Dave’s biog. at the beginning of the book is also the best of the lot.

Chapter six from the pen (or fingers on keyboard) of Charles MacLean. It’s always a pleasure to read his writings and this one on the year 1923 includes fascinating bits of political and social history I did not know or had long forgotten. The birth of Cutty Sark is put into context extremely well and aided by some glamorous illustrations and fine old photographs.

The sole US writer is F. Paul Pacult and the chapter is one of the longest – fitting, as the US is such an important market for the brand. For me, as a non-American this chapter is a lovely insight into Prohibition, smuggling and how the alcohol market worked during this time. Tales of derring do and shoot outs featuring Captain Bill McCoy!

Martine Nouet, a French scribe and massive fan of Scotch Whisky waxes lyrical and charmingly about the malts in the Cutty Sark blend, covering their history and the flavour profiles of each. Penultimate chapter is from Gary Regan, raised in England but who moved to the US in the 1970’s. This chapter was a joy and covers one of my favourite subjects – whisky cocktails. I do CS cocktail pic.jpgmy best to encourage people to use whisky with mixers and in cocktails as it is much more versatile than many perceive. It’s made so much easier here with a vibrant chapter on cocktail history, how to use Scotch and the inclusion of same great recipes, classics and new. I’ll be trying a few over the festive season.

Last chapter goes to the book’s editor, Ian Buxton. A former marketing director in the Scotch industry, now a consultant and writer, Ian looks at the brand and how it has developed in terms of, inter alia, brand image, global sales, packaging and advertising. Sometimes critical of Cutty’s past activity, Ian shows an interesting slice of social history, too, in the form of advertising development.  

I whiled away a very pleasant afternoon reading this, enjoying the 1920's glamour, US Prohibition grittiness, history, adventure and excitement engendered by the tales herein. All aided by the fine illustrations and photography chosen so well to capture each subject. Much as it pains me to mention Amazon, the book is available through them in the UK for £17.50 at the moment (the recommended price is £25) and from their US site from US$31.59. It will doubtless be available in good bookshops which sell beautifully produced volumes like this. A good book to get lost in over the holiday period.

© Caroline Dewar 2011





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