Cardhu’s is a fascinating wee Speyside distillery who’s story starts in 1811 when John and Helen Cumming rented a small farm above the spey valley to offer small-batch Speyside whisky.
John was a well known whisky bootlegger, having been convicted three times for distilling without a licence. But in truth it was his wife Helen who was the smuggler, selling bottles of whisky from the kitchen window of their small farm.
Occasionally the tax man would visit. Forewarned he was in the area she’d dust herself with flour and pretend to be baking, a cover for the smell of whisky production that hung in the air. She’d also raise a red flag to warn other bootleggers in the valley that the inspector was in the are. Of course as a lady she was never suspected of such criminal wrongdoing and when whisky production was discovered it was her husband who took the rap.
Seeing the opportunity of The Excise Act of 1823, John Cumming built a new distillery further down the valley that maximised the demand for Speyside whisky. Now with a license, his new-build distillery was able to produce three times that of his farm-yard enterprise and by 1885 the new distillery was in production.
The increased output of Cardhu pleased whisky entrepreneur John Walker and much of Cardhu’s output was sold to Johnnie Walker and Sons and became a major component of their blended whisky. In 1893 Elizabeth Cumming (John’s daughter) sold the business to Johnnie Walker for £20,500 on the proviso that she would continue to manage the day to day affairs of the business. Sadly she died in 1894 thus giving Johnnie Walker complete control.
The name changed from Cardow to Cardhu in 1981, deriving from the Gaelic for “Black Rock”. It was thought that the Gaelic name was more authentic.
Cardhu still produces whisky for Johnnie Walker and has underwent a million-pound refurbishment in 2021. It is considered the Speyside home of Johnnie Walker. Cardhu produces a single malt whisky which is most commonly found as a 12 year old although some older special releases can be found on the market.
The distillery logo still features Helen Cumming’s red flag.