In 1811 John and Helen Cumming sited their first still at Cardow Farm on Mannoch Hill, high above the River Spey. At this location, spring water, naturally softened by rising up through a layer of peat, bubbled from the ground. It is alleged that Helen Cumming distilled the first gallon of Cardhu, the only malt whisky to be pioneered by a woman. For many years Helen Cumming produced only the smallest quantity of malt whisky in Cardhu’s little still as quality was her chief concern and she continued to contribute to its success well into her 90s.
Elizabeth Cumming, Helen’s daughter-in-law, took over the managment of the distillery in 1872 when her husband died and ran it with energy and foresight. Under Elizabeth’s direction, a new piece of land was acquired on which the distillery was rebuilt in 1885. Sales of Cardhu tripled in the space of a few years and by the end of the 19th century, Cardhu had attained a reputation as one of Scotland’s top malt whisky distilleries.
Cardhu has made a unique contribuiton to the success of Johnnie Walker Blends. In 1893 when the Walker family wanted to guarantee the quality of their Blends, at a time of rapid growth, they negotiated the purchase of Cardhu Distillery from Elizabeth Cumming to secure supplies for blending. Elizabeth’s son, John Fleetwood Cumming, was appointed to the Johnnie Walker Board. His skill as a Distiller complemented the talents of the Walker brothers, George and Alexander II, who brought both the artistry of blending and entrepreneurial drive to the Board. Together they made a team that ensured the growth in international popularity of the Johnnie Walker Blends.
Cardhu is the luxury single malt whisky from Speyside. It is produced in limited quantities by a deliberately slow distillation process, and matured for 12 years in specially selected oak casks. It may take longer than many malts to reach fruition, but it is time well spent, as can be judged by Cardhu’s exceptionally smooth and mellow character.
The malt itself – which is presented in an elegant decanter with a beechwood stopper – is pretty typical of a Speyside malt. It is highly approachable – smooth, sweet, mellow and uncomplicated and often described as silky. It has good body and length. Interestingly, the distillery is the only place in the UK where you can buy Cardhu™ single malt – which, naturally, adds to its very special nature. It’s a taste that is obviously popular as it is known and loved all over the world. Such is the popularity of Cardhu Single Malt in Spain that worldwide demand has outstripped the capacity of this small distillery, with the result that its malt is sadly no longer available in many countries.