On our recent trip to Spain, we just had to try Cardhu. In a land where the blended whisky is king, Cardhu 12 years old is the single malt of choice and outsells any others by a large amount. The brand is hard to find in the UK, despite being in the world's top 10 for single malt sales, as the majority of the whisky released is exported to southern Europe. Spain is its main market and it is also popular in France, Greece, Italy and Portugal. The distillery is currently owned by drinks giant Diageo and only 30% of the whisky produced at Cardhu (around 2 million litres per year) is released as a single malt. The other 70% contributes as a major ingredient for Diageo's famous Johnnie Walker range of blended whiskies.
Cardhu means ‘black rock’ in Gaelic and is located in the heart of the Speyside region, close to the village of Knockando. The distillery was founded in 1824 by farmers John and Helen Cumming. Previous to this, they were famous in the local area for illegally producing a particularly potent whisky and this was sold from the farm’s kitchen window. Once legalised, their whisky was sold as Cardow, from which today's name is derived. The distillery remained in the Cumming family until 1893, when it was sold to blender John Walker and Cardhu has been involved in the Johnnie Walker blended range that he invented ever since.
The colour of this Cardhu 12 years old is golden amber and the nose is robust and has an interesting combination of aromas. There is lots of sweet caramel and vanilla with some honey (imagine honeycomb biscuit), citrus (think of lemon zest) and something herbal (imagine dried grasses or hay) creeping in underneath. On the palate, this is lighter and fresher than the nose suggests with the caramel element becoming more sugary and the honey and citrus notes particularly prominent. There is also some nuttiness and a grainy cereal note that comes through. The finish is disappointingly short and is gone in an instant, however this is refreshing and palate cleansing - perfect for hot climates.
Upon adding water, this became very refreshing and easier to drink. There is a pleasant combination of sweet vanilla, caramel and zingy citrus. It would also be good with ice, in a cocktail or in a long drink with soda water and a slice of lemon as this would compliment its characteristics well. This must be why it is so popular in warmer countries. When drunk straight it is just a bit flat and one dimensional. A bottle should cost about £35-40 from specialist retailers in the UK or for around €25 from anywhere that sells alcohol in Spain.