Co-founder Helen Cumming would raise a flag up a tall flagpole in her farmyard to warn local illegal distillers that the Customs and Excise men were paying them a visit at Cardhu. This early warning system could be seen almost three miles away.
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Tours through Cardhu Distillery are available Monday to Friday, plus Saturday and Sunday during summer. Charges apply.
How to pronouce Cardhu? car-doo
Cardhu means ‘black rock’ in Gaelic and is located in the heart of the Speyside region, on the north bank of the River Spey. The distillery is currently owned by drinks giant Diageo and is one of the smallest of their 27 distilleries with a capacity of around 2 million litres per year. Despite its size, the whisky produced there forms a major part of the Johnnie Walker blended range. Now, around 70% of the whisky goes to Johnnie Walker and 30% is released as single malt. Cardhu is referred to as ‘the spiritual home of Johnnie Walker’ and the single malt sits in the top 10 best sellers in the world, getting as high as 4th in 2003 when 3.5 million bottles were sold in a year. It is especially popular in southern Europe, particularly Spain, France, Greece and Portugal.
Close to the village of Knockando, the site at Cardhu had an illegal distillery running for many years. The land had been farmed and owned by the Cumming family for 150 years before the legal distillery was founded in 1824. Previous to this, John and Helen Cumming were famous in the local area for there particularly potent illicit whisky and this was sold from the farm’s kitchen window. Once legalised, the whisky soon began to gain wider recognition and was sold as Cardow. In 1880, the distillery was expanded and the old equipment was sold to William Grant, who used it to set up Glenfiddich. Cardhu remained in the family until 1893, when John and Helen’s daughter-in-law Elizabeth sold the distillery to John Walker & Sons. Cardow had formed a major part of the Walker’s blended range and they purchased the distillery in order to gain sole ownership of the whisky. Elizabeth and her son John remained as distillery manager and director respectively. John retired in 1923 but was succeeded on the John Walker & Sons board by his son Ronald. He was later to become their chairman, then chairman of parent company DCL (Distillers Company Limited) and was also knighted. He was instrumental in re-introducing Cardow as a single malt in the late 1960s. The brand was only renamed as Cardhu in 1981.