Cardow (Cardhu) Distillery, Speyside

Cardow (Cardhu) Distillery, Speyside

Cardhu – Gaelic for “black rock” – was founded in the early 1800s by John Cumming, then a distiller of illicit whisky. The proximity of the river Spey was ideal for a distillery, and the surrounding hills offered a hide-out in case of raids by excise officials. Such unwanted visits were frequent, though John’s wife, Helen, was on hand to help: she would invite their visitors for dinner, raising a red flag behind the barn as a warning to her husband of their presence. In 1824, after the promulgation of the Excise Act, John purchased a licence to legally produce his whisky; in 1876, his daughter-in-law, Elizabeth, started developing the distillery into a successful commercial venture.

Around 30% of the production is sold as single malt bottlings; the remainder is used to produce blends, most significantly Jonnie Walker’s Red, Black, Green and Blue labels.

Cardhu’s single malt whisky production fell victim to its own success. In 2003, owner Diageo realised that it had insufficient stocks of 12-year-old whisky to meet demand; the “single malt” descriptor denotes using whisky only from a single distillery. In response, it decided to introduce a vatted malt – a combination of single malts from different malt whisky distilleries – called Cardhu “pure malt”, using the same bottle shape and a similar label. The term “pure” had not been officially recognised by the Scotch Whisky Association; on review, it was deemed to cause consumer confusion and thus banned. Cardhu single malt returned, however, shortly thereafter.

The Cardhu single malt bottlings are distinguished by their smooth, delicate, easy-drinking Speyside character. The 18-year-old expression demonstrates a fatty texture with caramelised nuttiness – a good match for non-acidic desserts.

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