Tuesday, April 23, 2013

New release - Cardhu 15 years old

This whisky has just been released on to the UK market and is the older sibling of the popular Cardhu 12 years old.  The brand is relatively difficult to find in the UK, despite being in the world's Top 10 for single malt sales.  The majority of the whisky released is exported to southern Europe - Spain is the main market and it is also popular in France, Greece, Italy and Portugal. This 'new' 15 years old has been available in selected European markets for some time, but now is its time to go global.

Cardhu translates as ‘black rock’ from 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 whisky and selling it from the farm’s kitchen window. Once legalised their whisky was sold as Cardow and the distillery remained in the Cumming family until 1893.  It was then sold to blender John Walker and Cardhu has been involved in the Johnnie Walker blended range that he created ever since.

The distillery is currently owned by drinks giant Diageo and only 30% of the whisky produced there, which is approximately two million litres per year, is released as Cardhu single malt. The other 70% contributes as a major ingredient for the famous Johnnie Walker range and other blended whiskies in Diageo's portfolio.  Cardhu 15 years old is bottled at 40% ABV and is available from specialist whisky retailers for around the £50-55 mark.

Our tasting notes
The colour is a dark reddish amber and the nose begins with lovely aromas of fresh fruit and malty cereal grains.  A note of crisp green apple is particularly prominent, as is that of malted barley.  In addition there is a rich sweetness that develops (think of caramel and toffee), along with some dried fruit (especially raisins and candied orange) and some warm earthy spices (imagine ginger cake and nutmeg).

On the palate, this is immediately sweet with the caramel and toffee notes from the nose at the forefront.  There are also notes of honey, vanilla and brown sugar which add to the sweetness.  before long, the fruity elements begin to appear - firstly in the form of the fresh green crisp apples from the nose and then in the form of the dried fruits.  The candied orange peel is particularly prominent and adds a pleasant tangy quality when combined with the apple.  Darker dried fruits, such as raisins and figs, add softness and depth.  There is also a hint of bitter dark chocolate in there.  Towards the finish, the sweeter notes give way to drier and spicier ones - think of oak, cinnamon, nutmeg and a hint of ginger and cloves.

The finish is particularly drying and packed with cinnamon and nutmeg-like spices.  In the first instance, it seems a little bitter but after retrying it softens slightly and allows some of the sweeter and fruitier notes to shine through the dry woody spices.  A distinct malty graininess also increases with time and helps to lengthen the finish.

What's the verdict?
Initially this new Cardhu was a little disappointing - it seemed basic, closed and a bit flat.  However, it has grown on us.  It is one that most clearly demonstrates the benefit of leaving whisky in the glass for some time before assessing or drinking it.  It opens up well with time and becomes both more enjoyable and more complex.

The end result after 10 minutes or so in the glass is a very enjoyable drink that makes you want to go back for more.  If you have never tried Cardhu before then it is worth searching this expression out or the seemingly under rated 12 years old, which is more readily available.

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