There is one well known distillery in Speyside which is more popular in Spain than the UK. When you go on your package holidays it seems to be everywhere alongside DYC of course. There is quite a few different examples of Scottish brands which have more of a foothold in continental Europe or Asia over their home market. Sometimes, this can be because a particular flavour profile is popular or because of a business decision taken because the UK presents a difficult marketplace for entries with its high tax on alcohol and resulting low margins on purchases.
The Cardhu distillery has been around in some form since 1824 in the town of Moray set on top of a hill. The location of a hill was super important to Mr and Mrs Cumming who were smugglers in a past life.
Almost for the entirety of Cardhu’s existence including today the Johnnie Walker portfolio has used Cardhu whisky extensively. As a result the distillery has been owned by Johnnie Walker and its parent company Diageo since 1893. It was Diageo which also brought about one of the most told stories when it comes to Cardhu. I am talking of course about the Pure Malt fiasco.
A pure malt or vatted malt is now well defined as a blend of malt whiskies to produce a new bottling. This new bottling cannot now be called anything which represents a single malt brand which makes sense because what you do not want is consumers thinking they are buying 100% Cardhu when in actual fact its say 95% something else.
Back in 2003 this was not the case and Cardhu 12 year old single malt was replaced by Cardhu 12 year old Pure Malt. In the image above you can see the massive differences in the packaging so as not to deceive anyone. In the resulting crisis the pure malt was pulled from the market. In more recent times with the boom of Irish whisky we can see the exact same problem appearing all over the industry as brand new distilleries open up and release new products on the same day.
Back in Scotland Edin Mill was also upset when they tried to grow their whisky brand for the distillery using blends and were of course told no. Sadly, while Edin Mill might not be trying to deceive anyone the big brands which came before them have ruined it for everyone. Quite a lesson for us all.
The Cardhu which is widely available is a No-age statement Gold Reserve version but the age statement range includes a 12,15 and 18 year old. The 15 year old is available for around £50 at 40% ABV with the premium 18 year old £70 at again 40% ABV. This being a Speysider it is going to have all the hallmarks of the region and that means Sherry cask influence. Other than that though this is one core range bottling with little to no branding or marketing around it at all. In fact up until about a month ago I didn’t even know this existed and it was released originally in 2013!
Colour – dark caramel
Nose – initially quite hot. The strong raisin and sultana’s I suspected might be are in fact there. Some rich banana bread and malty esters combine with black cracked pepper.
Palate – The texture is pretty thin and disappointing and feels like 40% is too low for this whisky. More heat from chilli peppers and a touch of cloves give a level of savouriness.
Finish – A twist of smoke and charred wood might shake things up a little on the finish but its so quickly over its easy to miss it. Unlike this whisky I guess.
I don’t have enough experience with Cardhu to say if this is a good or bad version of the distillery. What is to me though is boring, engineered and stereotypical. It is a beginners experience to what whisky might taste and smell like. If you had to make a whisky from a painting by numbers formula this is what you might come up with and to be honest represents a fairly large proportion of the market right now.