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After all of the shenanigans, the single malts are only now becoming generally available again. The core offering is a 12 YO Whisky that is a fairly good example of a Highlander with a mild, peaty influence. The distillery sits very near a large peat bog and the water source is exposed to the dark loam -- thus the flavor. The rest of it is staight on goodness with a medium body, light sweetness, and a flavor of baked pears. The experience is akin to second-hand smoke on the finish.
Cardhu is a bit off the beaten track near the village of Knockando, in central Speyside. It sits just about 100 yards from another Diageo distiller, Cadow, to the northeast.
John Cumming was a Whisky smuggler. When the Excise Tax Act was passed that made legal distillation available and profitable once again, the price premium for smuggling dropped as well. So John Cumming used his illegal profits, to start his legal distillery in 1824.
Originally they operated as a farm distillery, seasonally producing Whisky from the grain that did not sell on the market. But they were soon making more money selling the spirit, rather than the grain, so in 1885 a new distillery was built from the ground up, just down the hill.
This tripled the amount of Whisky capacity, and lead to the acquisition of their largest customer -- Johnnie Walker and Sons -- who used it in their popular blend. Johnnie Walker eventually bought them out in 1893.
The still house and mash buildings were completely rebuilt in 1960, and then steam was introduced in 1970. Cardhu became a part of Diageo when they acquired Johnnie Walker. Which brings us to the great "Pure Malt" Controvesy of 2003.
In the late 1990s, the popularity of both the Johnnie Walker blend and the Cardhu single malt were increasing rapidly. Demand outstripped supply, and in December 2003, the marketing geniuses at Diageo pulled a flim-flam of epic proportions, that almost sank the brand.
They started selling Cardhu as a blended Scotch Whisky with no announcement, the exact same bottles, and virtually identical labels. The only difference is that the old labels said "single malt", and the new ones said "pure malt."
Instantly the entire Whisky-loving population, and every other "real" single malt distillery in Scotland, sounded the alarm on this obvious PR-production, liguistic trick. In the outrage, sales of Cardhu plummeted.
After repeated denials, lackluster defenses, and fruitless atempts to promote and market their way out of this mess, Diageo finally let Cardhu return to it single malt roots in 2006. But the damage had been done. Although it has regained its previous status in Spain -- now it largest market -- the rest of the world has not forgiven nor forgotten it seems.