Cardhu distillery

Cardhu whisky

Diageo eventually resolved the situation by bringing back the 'old' Cardhu in 2005.
It suddenly became part of their greatly extended range of 'Classic Malts', along with a string of other distilleries like
Glen Elgin, Knockando and Royal Lochnagar that had been operating in the shadow of the six 'classic' Classic Malts
since that range was launched in the late 1980's. With the mere stroke of a pen, suddenly virtually all malt whiskies
in the Diageo stable became 'classics' ;-)

Cardhu Scotch Whisky

Cardhu  (Pronounced: car-DOO)
Speyside (Central)
5728'12.3384 N, 321'.1476 W
Tamdhu, Knockando, Dailuaine
1824
Active
Sources on Mannoch Hill and Lyne Burn
3 Wash stills, 3 Spirit stills
2,300,000 litres of pure alcohol per year
Diageo > UDV (since 1986)
Knockando, Aberlour, Banffshire AB38 7RY, Scotland, UK
+441479 874635
Not as such, but they do give tours nowadays
No
Yes
Below, on Whiskyfun and on the Malt Maniacs Monitor

Where to find Cardhu?
Cardhu location

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Trivia about Cardhu

1) The name Cardhu means 'Black Rock' in Gaelic...

2) Cardhu isn't just Diageo's biggest selling malt whisky, it's also an important ingredient of (almost?) all of Diageo's Johnnie Walker blended whiskies. According to the Malt Whisky Yearbook, almost 3 quarters of the total production of Cardhu malt whisky (some 70% around 2010) isn't bottled as a single malt, but becomes Johnnie Walker. I usually regret the dilution of a nice malt whisky with grain whisky, but won't shed too many tears about Cardhu...

3) Shortly before the introduction of the Cardhu vatted malt whisky in 2003, more than 3,000,000 bottles of Cardhu single malt whisky were sold around the world every year - a lot of them in Spain and Italy.

4) The sales of Cardhu in its main market Spain have decreased by 40% since 2004.

5) The buildings around the Cardhu distillery include 5 dunnage warehouses with room for 7,500 casks.
 

Cardhu single malt whisky

Bottlings of Cardhu are not hard to come by - at least if you want the 12yo official bottling.
There have been a bottling in UD's 'Rare Malts' series and a 22yo OB, but independent bottlings are very scarce.
That's why I haven't actually sampled that many different expressions of Cardhu so far. That's why my tasting notes include several different batches of the 12yo. I've only sampled a handful of independent bottlings...

Cardhu NAS 'Special Cask Reserve' (40%, OB, batch # Cs/cR.07,04, Bottled +/- 2007)
Nose: Settles down after a melon attack. Hint of oil. Cardboard? Werther's Original (caramel candy)?
The faintest hint of organics? Some dust? There is some complexity, but you have to work quite hard at it.
Taste: Rather nondescript apart from the spirity bite. An unexpected hint of Salmiak in the flat finish.
Score: 73 points - I can see how there's a large "mass market" for the Cardhu single malt whisky.
It's really a lot like a better class of blend - blandish, but you don't get the unpleasantness of grain whisky.

Cardhu 22yo 1982/2005 (57.8%, OB, 3000 Bottles)
Nose: Sweet & grainy; a bit like Irish whiskey. Veggy, prickly in the back of the nose. Hint of dust.
Taste: Sweet, dusty & fruity start, big dry centre. Old fashioned cinnamon sweets. Dry. Liquorice.
Score: 80 points - not terribly complex (and not too much development) but this whisky is very drinkable.
Two classes above the standard 12yo OB, that's for sure - but that's to be expected at this age.
Although this is a good dram, it suggests that they never paid much attention to wood at Cardhu.

Cardhu 1974/2001 (54.1%, Signatory Vintage, Cask #3615, D. 26/4/74, B. 27/8/01, 417 Bottles)
Nose: Fruit sweets ('Rang '), lemon drops, nail polish. Tea. Later it sweetenes out with more organics.
After a while even something resembling 'antiquity' emerges - lovely complexity. We have a winner here.
Taste: Big, smooth and sweet. Excellent, but not quite spectacular enough to reach the 90's.
Score: 89 points - making it by far the best Cardhu I ever tried. Very good whisky!

Cardhu 12yo (40%, OB, 100cl, Bottled +/- 2000)
Nose: Light, as always, but perhaps just a little bit maltier? Hey, could it be caramelised?
Not a lot of development, and this time I couldn't find the banana I found in earlier batches.
Taste: On the palate it started soft, became grainier and maltier in the centre and bitter in the finish.
Really fairly nondescript; no wonder it's popular as a de luxe blend in the warm climates of Spain and Italy.
Score: 71 points - roughly in the same league as earlier batches, as far as I could tell.

Cardhu/Cardow 13yo 1987/2000 (56.9%, Cadenhead's, Bourbon, 318 Bottles)
Nose: A soft maltiness. Smooth but not very distinctive. Tea. Faint organics. Enjoyable.
It picks up a slight nose prickle with time. A good malt that lacks a little personality.
Taste: Sweet start, growing maltier first and then bitter towards the finish. Solid.
Heavy course brown bread - very distinctive. Not quite sweet enough in the finish for me.
Score: 80 points - one of the best Cardhu whiskies I ever tried, but I'm sure the high proof helps.

Cardhu 27yo 1973/2000 (60.02%, UD Rare Malts, Bottled October 2000)
Nose: Much 'richer' than the old 12yo OB, but I guess that's not surprising at this strength.
There's even a hint of peat or something coastal, but the nose flattens out surprisingly fast.
Taste: it showed an unexpected hint of smoke and was quite dry. You can't taste the age.
Score: 79 points - to me, this falls just short of 'recommendable' territory - too bad.
Further proof for my theory that Cardhu might have neglected to pay enough attention to wood.
Since the majority of the malt was produced for the JW blends, maybe they wanted consistency?

Cardhu 12yo (40%, OB, 50cl, Bottled +/- 1997)
Nose: A bit sharp in the nose. Malty. Distinct aroma of yellow banana-candy 'hard foam'.
Taste: Overpowering bitterness is about all there is to tell. Otherwise: tastes like whisky...
Score: 72 points - if it had tasted as good as it smelled it would have received some more points.

Cardhu 12yo (40%, OB, 70cl, Bottled +/- 1994)
Nose: A little sharp and grainy, but it has something I've always found easy to recognize.
It's those little yellow chemical banana-candy things. The nose developed quite nicely and slowly.
Taste: In this case I unfortunately neglected to make proper notes on the taste during this session.
Score: 73 points - just a tad below average, but very easily drinkable. And I love the bottle...

Cardhu 12yo (86 Proof, OB, Ivory Label, 100% Unblended Pot Still, NY Import, Bottled +/- 1985)
Nose: Light and a little grainy. Maybe some faint honey notes? Malty but not too expressive.
Taste: Starts quite sharp, mellowing out in the centre and becoming quite bitter in the finish.
Score: 72 points - but I should point out that Serge (80) and Olivier (78) liked this whisky better.

Cardhu 12yo  (40%, OB, Old white label with black type, Bottled +/- 1975)
Nose: Fruity at first with farmy stuff in the background. Dust and cardboard? Very interesting!
Taste: Feels rougher on the palate than I would have expected, which pulls it from the upper 80's.
Score: 84 points - this whisky scores just short of the upper 80's, but miles better than the current version.

Cardhu 'Over 8 Years Old' (75 Proof, OB / John Walker & Sons, Bottled +/- 1975)
Nose: Swampy. Antiquity with a hint of something metallic. Sourish. Lapsang Souchon? Salmiak. Unique.
Taste: Very soft start. Serious. This one quickly grew on me, despite being not as sweet as I normally like.
Score: 88 points - almost the best Cardhu I ever tried. A shame I received too little pocket money in 1975...
 

And there's more to tell about Cardhu...

These were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Cardhu Scotch whisky I've tried over the years.
Besides, these tasting notes only reflect my own, personal opinion; your tastes might be different from mine.
Fortunately, you can find the scores and tasting notes from up to two dozen other whisky lovers in the 'Malt Maniacs Monitor' - an independent whisky database with details on more than 15,000 different whiskies from Scotland and the rest of the world. Visit the Cardhu page on the MMMonitor and select 'scorecard view' if you want to know how other whisky lovers felt about the hundreds of Cardhu expressions that have been released in recent years. However, if you'd like to learn more about whisky in general (and single malt Scotch whisky in particular), you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky (10 chapters filled with everything you need to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky) or the mAlmanac (sort of a rudimentary whisky shopping guide.) 
 

Cardhu distillery in the new millennium

2002 - After Cardhu has been a fairly low profile single malt for at least a decade (although it was relatively popular in Spain) Diageo replaces the single malt with a vatted malt whisky - with a virtually identical bottle and label.
 
2004 - After continued protests from customers & competitors, Diageo withdraws the Cardhu vatted malt whisky .
 
2005 - The Cardhu 12yo single malt whisky is reintroduced as part of the extended 'Classic Malts' range.
So, Cardhu suddenly became much more 'classic'. At the same time a 22yo official bottling is released.
 

Cardhu whisky advertising
Cardhu Scotch whisky

In 1960/1961 Cardow was completely rebuilt and the number of stills expanded from four to six. That was also the time it became available (again) as a bottled single malt whisky. This was quite a novelty at the time. After the invention of blended whisky in the second half of the 19th century, more and more of the malt whiskies had been used in blends (a mixture of malt whisky and grain whisky - see the Beginner's Guide for more information on that). The official name of the distillery was changed from Cardow to Cardhu around 1980. Since 1986 Cardhu is owned by United Distillers, formerly part of the Guiness Group, now Diageo.

Cardhu has never been a very 'high profile' single malt, but I have to admit I have a bit of a soft spot for it. One reason is quite superficial; I love the look & feel of the bottle. Around the year 2000 more and more nicely designed bottles appeared on the market, but when I started my voyage of discovery through maltland in the early 1990's there really weren't that many other attractive bottles available. With the notable exception of Balvenie and Bowmore, most other (official) single malts came in straight, dull bottles. Sure, some labels looked nice, but as far as the 'overall package' was concerned the shelves of the average liquorist were hardly 'a feast for the eyes' during the 1990's.

Although Cardhu wasn't one of the big brands in the
malt whisky world, Diageo evoked the wrath of anoraks
worldwide when they launched a 'new' Cardhu in 2003:
'Cardhu Pure Malt'. That's correct; this was actually a
vatted malt - a 'blend' of malts from different distilleries.

This vatted malt whisky was iinitially released in France, Spain, Greece & Portugal.
Diageo explained they had no choice because those 'latino's' simply drank too
much of the stuff, but after loads of bad publicity the 'old' Cardhu was brought
back. Of course, the reason for the public outrage wasn't so much the fact that
Cardhu disappeared as a single malt (by 2003 malt lovers worldwide were spoilt
for choice after the lean years that were the 1990's), but that the new 'vatted'
bottling was virtually indistinguishable from the single malt. The fact that this
could 'blur the lines' between both categories initially seemed to upset 'anoraks'
more than the 'watchdogs' (or rather lapdogs) at the SWA (Scotch Whisky
Accociation), but they eventually woke up and took the matter up with Diageo.

Cardhu whisky distillery, Scotland

The Cardhu distillery (known as Cardow at the time) was officially founded
in 1824 by John Cumming - a farmer who allegedly had been involved with
illegal distillation at the site for at least a decade before 'legitimising' his
business. In 1839, John's son Lewis took over the reigns at the distillery.

The current Cardhu / Cardow distillery isn't the 'original' one. In 1872 John
Cumming's daughter-in-law Elizabeth Cumming decided to build a brand
new distillery from scratch on an adjacent piece of property. Cardow was
extended in 1887 and purchased in 1893 by John Walker and Sons Ltd.
Yep, that's right - the same Johnnie Walker that's depicted on the blends.
John Walker and Sons merged with DCL just a few decades later, in 1925.
Even today, Cardhu malt is a key component of the Johnnie Walker blends.

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