Cardhu Distillery has had more than its fair share of interesting characters during its long and distinguished history. From the female founder, Helen Cumming, and Elizabeth Cumming, the lady who really developed the site, through to the giants of the Walker family, Cardhu have had many interesting people associated with it. I met another one of these characters as Laura Sharp (the Brand Home Manager) took me on a tour of the site recently.
Buzz has been working on the site for over 21 years and I think if you cut him, Cardhu single malt would flow from his veins (metaphorically not literally). He is a man of passion about “his” distillery; he has been known to be rather forceful in directing people to the Cardhu malts at airport duty free shops. He is also one of the operators involved in taking tours round Cardhu during the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival.
We had a great chat at the spirit safe, and he even let me turn the handles to put the spirit stills from foreshots onto spirit! It was wonderful standing there, talking about the character of the spirit and being able to smell the pear drops and fresh flower notes seeping out of the safe. Everything at Cardhu is designed to produce a light and fruity spirit; from the longer than normal fermentations to the slightly upwards sloping lye pipes. We also nosed some new make spirit in the warehouse and it had a strong hint of fruit, caramel and toffee (likened by Laura to the old McCowans “penny dainties”), as well as the ester and floral notes.
I’ve always loved the packaging for the Cardhu range, from the bottle with perfect dimples to hold onto, to the large cork that makes the most satisfying noise as it is removed. The whisky itself is also quite wonderful.
As well as sampling their aged products (12, 15 18 and 21 years old) I tasted a couple of well-rounded flavour led and non-aged expressions, the Gold Reserve and the Amber Rock. Now, there are “experts” among whisky drinkers who tell you that age is best and that all single malts should have an age statement. For me the Cardhu range dispels this myth.
Out of the six tasted my top three were the 18 year old, the 15 year old and the Gold Reserve. Different people of course have different tastes and my wife came up with her top three of the 21 year old, the 18 year old and the Gold Reserve. It was very interesting though that we both loved the Gold Reserve, a non-aged expression, and this has also been very well received in a number of nosing and tasting experiences that I have done recently.
The Gold Reserve is a rather interesting single malt; being matured in handpicked toasted casks. Toasting (heating the cask to change the structure of the wood) provides an active layer of wood enhancing the maturation rate, providing interesting flavours and colours in the final spirit. The Gold Reserve is a rich and mellow malt, with fruity and toffee aromas and tastes. The age of this product is not known but it tastes like an “old” whisky, giving a great mouth feel and long, sweet and gentle finish.
My favourite though was the 18 year old (I hope I don’t annoy Buzz by not liking his favourite 21 year old). It had a wonderful sweetness on the lips and was really quite buttery. The sherry influence was really at the forefront but the effect of the bourbon casks was also clearly there. This was a real quality malt, topped off with a tiny bit of peat in the background.
Recommendation of the Month
Having picked out the Cardhu Gold Reserve as one of my favourites at the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Awards judging recently, I have to make this my recommendation of the month. This rich and mellow malt is great value at around £40, and can be purchased from local retailers as well as Cardhu Distillery.