With the news of the anniversary of the Cutty Sark ship this past week, I thought to renew this post. First a bit on the clipper ship: On 22 November, Cutty Sark celebrates the 146th anniversary of her launch. Originally designed to last just 30 years, Cutty Sark has survived nearly five times her life expectancy thanks to her world-wide success, fame and beauty. Commissioned by Scottish shipowner John Willis, Cutty Sark was built in Dumbarton in 1869 by Scott & Linton. She is a clipper ship – a ship designed for speed – and Willis had high aspirations that his new vessel would earn him handsome profits as the fastest of the clippers serving the China tea trade. Unfortunately for Cutty Sark, the Suez Canal opened the same week she was launched and steamers soon entered and dominated the trade. After just eight voyages to China, Cutty Sark was forced to seek alternative cargoes. [Read more at http://www.rmg.co.uk/discover/behind-the-scenes/blog/146th-anniversary-cutty-sark%E2%80%99s-launch#6hLLS4KLDSsAzubX.99]
Now to the Whisky:
“Cutty Sark is a range of blended Scotch whisky produced by Edrington plc of Glasgow, whose main office is less than 10 miles from the birthplace of the famous clipper ship of the same name. The whisky was created as a product of Berry Brothers & Rudd, with the home of the blend considered to be at The Glenrothes distillery in the Speyside region of Scotland. The name comes from the River Clyde–built clipper ship Cutty Sark, whose name came from the Scots language term “cutty-sark”, the short shirt [skirt] prominently mentioned in the famous poem by Robert Burns, “Tam o’ Shanter”. The drawing of the clipper ship Cutty Sark on the label of the whisky bottles is a work of the Swedish artist Carl Georg August Wallin. He was a mariner painter, and this is probably his most famous ship painting. This drawing has been on the whisky bottles since 1955. The Tall Ships’ Races for large sailing ships were originally known as The Cutty Sark Tall Ships’ Races, under the terms of sponsorship by the whisky brand.” (Wikipedia)
Other stories say that Berry Bros. & Rudd, Ltd. opened Berry’s Coffee Mill at No. 3 James Street in London, England. Patrons such as Beau Brummel, Napoleon III, and Lord Byron drank the fine Scotch whisky served there. At the times, it was simply called Berry Bros. Scotch Whisky.
However, in the 1870s, an unknown participant at a luncheon in the Old Establishment make the suggestion for a more distinctive name. One of the guests at the luncheon won a heavy purse on a race among clipper ships set to deliver tea to London. This was not a one time race, but one which occurred regularly among the ships bringing the season’s first cargo of tea to London’s docks. The Cutty Sark won that particular match, and thus the name. An artist in attendance took a sheet of yellow paper from his waistcoat and drew the image still used today.
Gavin D. Smith on Whisky-Pages says, “The Cutty Sark blend of Scotch whisky with its distinctive green glass bottle and yellow label is familiar to most drinkers, but not everyone is aware of the fascinating heritage behind the brand. Cutty Sark was created on 20th March 1923 when the partners of Britain’s oldest surviving wine and spirits merchants, Berry Bros & Rudd, met to discuss developing their own blended Scotch whisky. Remarkably, Berry Bros & Rudd can trace its origins back to 1698, when the ‘Widow Bourne’ established a shop opposite St James’ Palace in London, where the business is still based today, remaining in the hands of members of the Berry and Rudd families.”
Meanwhile, The Whisky Exchange says, “The partners had invited James McBey, a well known Scottish artist, to a luncheon that day to discuss the launch. It was he who suggested the name and designed the label for the new whisky. The whisky is named after the 19th century tea clipper, which was the fastest sailing ship of her day.
At the time, the tea clipper of that name was being brought back from Portugal to be docked in London. It was the big story of the day. She was named after a young witch who was dressed in a ‘Cutty Sark’ or ‘short shirt’ and who ran as fast as the wind in a Robert Burns’ poem (Tam O’Shanter).”
There are similarities in the stories and some distinct differences. The name is the stuff of which great tales are made.