Whisky Showdown! Johnnie Walker Gold Label vs. Cutty Sark 25

Another cold winter’s day and one of the pleasures of such times is setting a nice fire and enjoying a day at home with few commitments. As the fire warms the house and I find myself drawn to the fireplace to enjoy the heat, I realize that there is something missing from the experience. My thoughts turn to my readers, and what better way to complete the moment than by enjoying whisky and sharing my thoughts.

My recent tasting of Cutty Sark 25 has inspired me to try it against the closest blend I have in terms of number of years aged. Johnnie Walker Gold Label is an 18-year-old of good repute and could prove a worthy challenger.

The Cutty Sark has already proven to benefit from the addition of more than just a little water andI have added a few drops to the Johnnie Walker. The benefit of having more than 45% abv to the Cutty Sark 25 is the flexibility in adding water without diluting the drink too much. The Johnnie Walker demands attention in this respect so as not to weaken it too much due to its alcohol content of 40% abv.

The colour on the Johnnie Walker Gold is lighter gold than that of the Cutty Sark. The contrast is stark, as the Cutty Sark 25 makes the Johnnie Walker seem almost yellow next to it.

The legs are satisfyingly thick and slow on both.

The nose of the Gold is lighter and less smokey than the Cutty Sark, both blend with the light smoke from the fireplace perfectly. The Cutty Sark is more oak than the Johnnie Walker. The younger fruit of the Gold and the deeper orange of the Cutty Sark work well together. These two whiskies appear to be complimenting each other rather than competing at this level.

The palate on the gold is lighter and smoother. The Cutty Sark comes on bold and deep, with stronger oak flavours and smoke. Contrasting the sweet fruitiness of the Gold against the pepper of the Cutty Sark is quite interesting and I find myself going back and forth several times to appreciate this obvious difference. The sherry of the Cutty Sark also comes out in stark contast against the Johnnie Walker’s honey.

The finish on the Cutty Sark 25 is richer as well. Its spicy finish is longer, more complex, and more interesting as it leaves behind an oily texture that the Gold has difficulty matching.

Overall, the Cutty Sark is a richer product with enough complexity and character to satisfy most whisky lovers. The Gold has its appeal and is most certainly meant for a broader variety of drinkers and would probably add quality to mixed drinks as well. The palate and finish of the Cutty Sark is just too much for the Gold to compete against however. As I throw another log on the fire, I listen to the sounds of the kids playing, watch the dog sleeping next to me, and remind myself that there is something to say for lazy Sundays at home.

Cheers!

Cutty Sark 25

Time for another tasting. I will be trying a blended whisky this time around and a brand one that is well know among those who appreciate blends. Cutty Sark 25 appears to be the high end of the range of products branded as Cutty Sark and produced by the Edrington Group. I have seen the non-age expression at the SAQ in Quebec as well as the 12-year-old. There exist 15 and 18 years old versions as well. My interest in this particular version of Cutty Sark was propelled by the scarcity of its supply, the age of the single malts used in the blend, and an interesting price point from Ontario’s LCBO. At the time if the purchase, only 4 bottles were available in Ontario and none in Quebec or anywhere else reasonably close by.

Some history would be appropriate. The name comes from a famous Scottish clipper ship and its image is displayed on all bottles of Cutty Sark. Cutty Sark’s genesis is a result the light whisky craze in the United States during prohibition. In order to capitalize from the interest in this sort of whisky, the brand’s owners (Berry Brothers & Rudd) commissioned this blend. It was quite popular at the time. The Cutty Sark 25 was introduced in the late 1990s and earned an award for best blended Scotch by Whisky Magazine in 2003.

The blend is made up of several of Edrington’s classic single malts, such as Macallan and Glenrothes. There are more than 20 single malts involved in the blend, many of which are from Speyside. The single malts are ex-bourbon and ex-sherry cask matured, a sizable portion of which are first fill casks. The single malts are married in oak casks in order to mature further and provide Cutty Sark’s signature characteristics. Recently, a Tam O’Shanter version of the 25-year-old was released. This 2012 release release is said to introduce peat to the regular version.

The box is quite a visual treat itself. It opens on both sides to reveal the bottle nestled in a royal purple silk-like lining. It is quite large, unfortunately taking up a disproportionate amount of space in my cabinet.Cutty Sark Bottle

This acquisition came about thanks to a friend who was heading to Toronto for the holidays. Upon hearing of my interest in this blend, word quickly spread to Toronto and the trigger was pulled on the purchase…without my knowledge. That said, I cannot complain that folks attribute great import to my cause and take measures to ensure that my whims and fancy are satisfied for all things whisky.

Now then to the tasting!

The colour is deep gold with some thick, slow running legs. This deeper colour is quite unlike younger versions of the product that I have seen but not yet tasted. My introduction to this brand will be from the top of the range.

The product is bottled at 45.7% abv.

The nose offers orange and spice, a bit of jasmine and a hint of coffee. Some sherry is hinted at and a bit of fruitcake mixes in to provide a rather unique aroma.

The palate is mellow. Spices abound, black pepper comes up first. There is some smoke and dried fruit in there but this is a spicy whisky more than anything else.

The finish is long and full of oak and spice. Fruit comes back and it goes sweet at the top, but the lingering impression remains with the oak and spices.

Adding water opens up the nose significantly. Whereas I struggled to pull out the fruitcake earlier, it now comes through clearly. Additionally, oak is available now on the nose.

The palate too opens up quite a bit. Sherry, ripe fruit, a hint of caramel, and toffee make it to the forefront. The spice remains but is no longer the focus on the palate.

The finish becomes sweeter and richer. Much more complex and satisfying than earlier.

This is a whisky that benefits enormously from the addition of a good dose of water, but mind your proportion or risk watering it down too much. I added about 10 drops to a little more than half an ounce of drink. The water turns a mid-level blend into a higher end product and seems to be produced to deliver this effect. In fact, the bottle itself recommends adding a measure of water.

Overall, a fine dram and one that is worth checking out. Just don’t forget the water or your experience will leave you wondering what the fuss is about.

Cheers!

Cutty Sark 25 box