The Cardhu Story
Cardhu, or Cardow as it was originally known, was established in the wake of the 1823 Excise Act. Prior to that, John and Helen Cumming had been producing illegally for many years. In fact, John was convicted on no less than three occasions for distilling privately. In truth, however, it was Helen who operated the stills, more often than not and it was she who regularly fooled the Gaugers.
Helen’s trickery exasperated the excise for years. When notified of their approach she would often hide her distilling apparatus, smear her arms and clothes with flour and tell them she had been baking bread. Then she would cook them a meal and slip out whilst they were eating to alert the other distillers in the area.
Convinced that Helen knew more than she was letting on, the local Excisemen bribed her for information. She took their money and told them to search a nearby cave. There they found what appeared to be a still and other distilling equipment. The men of the revenue left happy that they had foiled the work of a local smuggler but in truth, Helen had directed them to her old, run-down still that had long since been replaced. In effect, the excise paid Helen to take away her scrap.
John and Helen passed the farm and distillery onto their son Lewis. When he died in 1872, it was his wife Elizabeth that took over the business. Like Helen, before her, Elizabeth was a force to be reckoned with. Over two decades, she worked tirelessly to improve the distillery. Not only did she register the Cardhu trademark, she also secured land on which to build a new, bigger distillery in order to keep up with rising demand.
Under Elizabeth’s guidance, the Cardhu malt earned a reputation for quality, not least among the blending houses. Attempts to purchase Cardhu were initially rebuffed until an acceptable offer came in September 1893. Elizabeth sold the distillery to John Walker & Sons for £20,500, ensuring in the process, that her son John would have a seat on the board and an annual salary. Elizabeth Cumming passed away within a year of the sale. Her grandson, Ronald, went on to become Export Director for Johnnie Walker and later, Chairman of the Distiller’s Company Ltd (DCL).
Cardhu’s link with Johnnie Walker continues to this day. Both brands are now owned by Diageo but the distillery has undergone some modernisation in recent times. A new visitor centre opened in 2021, bringing Cardhu under the new Four Corners of Johnnie Walker project.
Cardhu’s 12-year-old is a hugely popular bottling, particularly in Spain, where it is the biggest selling single malt. Bottled at 40%, it retails for £35 – £40 in the UK.
Smell: Ginger biscuits and honeycomb. Apple pastries and cinnamon. Honey. Touch of wood resin. Orange peel and waxy lemons. Pear drops. Fizzy sweets. Malty and biscuity.
Taste: Gentle and well-rounded. Almost white-wine like. Fruit juices. Apple, oranges and pears. White grapes. Pineapple. Watermelon. Coconut. New oak. Pepper and ginger. Quite a dry finish.
Thoughts: You can see why it’s such a popular dram. There’s some depth to the flavour profile without any overly sweet sherry notes or potentially off-putting peat smoke. In other words, there’s nothing to scare people away. Balances fruit with malt and just the right amount of oak. Also has a decent weight to it, given that it’s reduced to 40%. A classic Speyside of decent quality.
Price: Diageo’s range has been going through something of a price jump of late but Cardhu’s 12-year-old is still on the market for around £40, which seems quite reasonable to me. An accessible crowd-pleaser and a decent jumping off point for newbies to begin exploring the world of single malt Scotch whisky.
For more on Cardhu visit here: https://www.malts.com/en-row/distilleries/cardhu