The distillery was founded as Cardow (Gaelic for black rock) by John Cumming in the early 1800's, when he started using the barley grown in the family farm to produce his own peat.
He began as a moonshine distiller. The proximity of the river Spey was ideal for a distillery and the surrounding hills offered a hide-out in case of raids by the excise men. The controls were frequent, but John's wife, Helen Cumming helped to distract them. She used to invite them for dinner, while putting a red flag behind the barn as a warning to her husband for the presence of the excise men. In 1824, after the promulgation of the Excise Act, John purchased a licence for the production of his whisky and in 1876 his daughter in law, Elisabeth, started developping the distillery in a successful commercial venture.
An alternative spelling to the distillery name, Cardhu, emerged after the Second World War, when it the distillery start promoting single malt bottlings. The distillery name reverted again to Cardow Distillery since 1981.
About 30% of the production is sold as single malt, the remaining entering in blends, most significantly of Johnnie Walkers blends, Red, Black, Green and Blue labels. The whisky fell victim to its own success, when Diageo (the current owners) decided to introduce a vatted malt, Cardhu Pure Malt, (augmented by other single malts of the Diageo group), as it was not able satisfy all the demand for Cardhu single malt.
However in 2006 Cardhu recommenced producing a single malt. The Cardhu single malt bottlings are distinguished by their smooth, delicate, easy drinking character. Versions of over 12 years old demonstrate more fat texture and caramelised nuttiness, that makes them a good match to desserts.