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Cardhu distillery

The name of the Cardhu distillery in the middle of Speyside means something like black rock. Cardhu was written as Cardow until 1975. The famous Cardhu Distillery is also noteworthy as the only distillery founded by a woman. While in the past most of the single malt production was used for the Blend Johnny Walker, this changed after Cardhu became more and more popular as a single malt and most of it is now sold as a single malt. Cardhu is particularly popular in the Iberian Peninsula and France due to its light character.

Malt Whisky Trail

Cardhu is part of the world famous Malt Whisky Trail. A marketing tool for tourists to visit whiskey distilleries in the Speyside area. The Malt Whiskey Trail gives visitors the opportunity to visit Speyside distilleries and also to watch the staff at work. Also on the Malt Whiskey Trail are Glenfiddich, Strathisla, Benromach and Glenlivet. Not far away is Craigellachie and Aberlour.

How does Cardhu taste?

The character of Cardhu was considered heavy and powerful in the early days, which was due to the small stills. With the installation of new and much larger pot stills in 1897, it was possible to highlight today’s still beloved elegant and noble style. With its delicate single malt qualities, Cardhu is one of the lighter products on the market. The flavors are wonderfully harmonious and balanced.

The Speyside style is typically creamy and mild. Often you can find aromas of blossom honey, caramel and oranges, which are contrasted with a pleasant spice of oak and a little malt. The barley malt for Cardhu is not smoked over peat, which is why the whisky is not smoky. Overall, the whiskies are round and well balanced.


The light character starts with the 12-year-old and is a solid introduction to the highly awarded family of this single malt series. This Speysider represents the region and its diverse producers of high-quality, matured barley grain brandies in a very classic and wonderful way. The Cardhu 12 years, the standard quality, has a soft body, is comfortable and of medium weight. With an alcoholic scent of sweet apple blossom and heather aromas. It has a well balanced taste with a warming, drying finish. A real beginner and connoisseur whisky.

With increasing age in the 18-year-old, the character becomes significantly more abundant and yet velvety in texture. It is a rather quiet and secretly extra matured whisky that is not immediately noticeable. It opens slowly with enchanting finesse to give the connoisseur an exquisite structure, a rich body all while preserving the delicate Cardhu character. In between there is the 15 year old and other Non Age Statement whiskies with the Amber Rock and the Special Cask Release.

Independent bottlings are extremely rare because the distillery prefers to keep their whiskies for their own production.


The Cardhu Distillery uses a 7.2 ton mash tun, 8 fermentation vats with a volume of 37,000 liters each and distills the whisky in three wash stills and three spirit stills, all of which are heated by steam. The water for the almost 2.5 million liters of whisky comes from the Mannoch Hill spring and the Lyne Burn.


John Cummings and his wife Helen ran the Cardow estate around 1810. The company, which initially emerged as an illicit distillery, was legally licensed in 1824. The story goes that whenever tax officials came by, Helen disguised the mash tuns and fermentation tanks as containers for fermenting bread dough. While the officers then drank their tea, they hoisted a red flag on the barn to alert the surrounding neighbors that the tax investigators were in the area. The Cummings were caught three times for illegally distilling so when the tariffs were reduced by the tax law of 1823 John & Helen took the opportunity, bought new stills and sold their whisky on a large scale with the help of their friend George Smith, later founder of the Glenlivet distillery.

After John died in 1846, Helen and her son Lewis continued to run the distillery from then on, while the operation officially became the property of George Smith. A brewer and a maltman were also hired at this time. When Lewis died in 1872, his wife Elisabeth took over the farm, which she ran with Helen and their two sons. In the following years the demand for whisky increased and a new larger distillery could be built. After the renovation was completed, the old stills were sold to William Grant & Sons to build the Glenfiddich distillery.

The well known Kilmarnock merchant John Walker was a regular customer and Cardow was a constant component in his own brand blends. Over time Cardow, became indispensable for the Walkers. In 1893, Elisabeth sold the distillery to John Walker & Sons for £ 20,500. In return, she and her family received shares in the company. From 1893 until 1908 the distillery was known as Cardu after which the name reverted to Cardow. This purchase proved fortunitous as with the larger company behind them, it was possible for the distillery to survive the difficult times that came with the collapse of the whisky market following the Pattison whisky crisis. In 1917 production is stopped due to the war but resumde in 1919.

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The Walker company went public in 1923. Two years later Cardow became part of the newly created The Distillers Company Ltd. and became the property of Diageo in 1987.

In 1930 the distillery finally passed to its current owner, the Distillers Company Ltd., now Diageo. It received its current name (Cardhu: black rock) in 1965.

The new stills were increased by two more to a total of six in 1960. Expansions were made, experiments were carried out and, finally,

Diageo’s attempt to introduce a Cardhu Pure Malt in 1993 is notorious. This was not a single malt, but a vatting from various distilleries in the area around the Cardhu distillery, because Cardhu was hardly able to meet the great demand from Spain on his own. Diageo’s attempt caused a great outcry in the Scottish whisky world, as it was seen as a danger of weakening the single malt quality feature. As a result, even the Scotch whisky Association changed its labeling rules. The discussion about whether these changes were good or bad (Vatted Malt now had to be called Blended Malt) continues to this day.

At the time when Cardhu did not have enough single malt in stock, the owner, Diageo, tried to market a blend with other malt whiskies from various distilleries under the name Cardhu Pure Malt, but failed because of the admission of Glenfiddich. The terms “Pure Malt” and “Vatted Malt” have been replaced by “Blended Malt”.

Cardhu factsheet

Name Pronounced AKA Region Country of Origin
Cardhu Cardow Speyside Scotland
Status Active Whisky Type Website Tours Available
Active 1824 - Present Malt Cardhu Tour Link
Manager Distiller Blender Owned by Parent Group
Andy Cant Diageo

Cardhu Timeline:

1811: John & Helen Cumming leased the site and begin illicit distillation

1824: The Cummings got a licence and built the Cardow Distillery

1839: John Cumming died and let the farm to his son Lewis Cumming (1846 mentioned as well)

1872: Lewis Cumming died leaving the farm and distillery to his wife Elizabeth Cumming. She became known as the "Queen of the Whisky Trade" due to her work at the distillery for nearly twenty years

1884: Elizabeth leased another four acres (1.6 hectares) of land adjacent to the farm and built a new distillery capable of producing 60,000 gallons (over 270,000 litres) annually to take advantage of the vast popularity of the "Glenlivets", as the Speyside malts were named, for blending (1886 mentioned as well)

1887: Distillery extended

1888: The malt produced was sold in London as "Cardow". This popularity didn’t stay unnoticed and several take-over bids were turned down by Elizabeth because she wanted the Distillery to be retained by the family

1893: Elizabeth negogiated a deal with John Walker & Sons Ltd. of Kilmarnock, Cardhu’s major customer. Her son John Cumming became a salaried director of John Walker & Sons Ltd. while remaining at Cardhu Distillery. John Walker & Sons Ltd. then bottled Cardhu as Old Vatted Cardhu, and as Cardow from 1908

1897: John Walker & Sons Ltd., Kilmarnock expanded output

1923: John Cumming retired from the board and succeeded by his son Ronald Cumming

1925: Merged with the Distillers Company Ltd. (DCL)

1930: Transferred to Scottish Malt Distillers Ltd. (SMD)

1939: During WWII 100% of production went into the Johnnie Walker brands

1960: Rebuilt when extended from four to six stills

1960: Cardhu is reintroduced as a single malt

1971: Stills became steamheated

1975: Name changed to Cardhu and licensed to John Walker & Sons Ltd., Kilmarnock

1992: Licensed to United Malt & Grain Distillers Ltd. (UMGD)

1999: Owned by United Distillers & Vintners Ltd. (UDV)

Can I tour Cardhu?

Yes Cardhu distillery is tourable. On Trip Advisor the distillery has been rated as excellent by 391 of 540 tours to date. This gives Cardhu an overall rating of 4.5

Latest reviews

Cardhu Distillery Is a Must Visit by Jane Wads

Just had a fantastic tour by Daniel. He was so knowledgeable & we certainly learnt a lot. We loved the story behind the distillery & the history that is still there. The tasting experience was fantastic in a gorgeous room. They even provided a drivers take away tasting pack & an amazing mock tail for me as the driver. All the staff were very friendly & helpful. The shop has all sorts of whisky & some very unusual gifts. We can’t thank you all enough.

Brilliant Value for Money by Nils L

Went for a spur of the moment tour of Cardhu distillery. Shop and tour facilities have just been refurbished tyo a very high standard. Our giude Daniel gave us and excellent tour and had an excellent knowledge of anything we could throw at him. Tour ended with a tasting of 6-7 whiskies in their excellent new kitchen facility.Have recommended the tour to some of my friends and we will be back in the autumn.Best £15 ever spent!!!

An Excellent Experience by Colleen T

Our guide Holly was very welcoming right from the start. She was very knowledgeable and spoke very well. Saw a short film of how it all started then was shown round the distillery. at the end of the tour you are taken to a bar and there are samples of different whiskies, you are give the option of small bottles if you are driving and wish to take them home. There is a lovely gift shop also which is reasonably priced for the location. Tour not very suitable if you have difficulty walking as there was several sets of steps during it.

Rating Reviews
Excellent 391
Very good 107
Average 30
Poor 7
Terrible 6