Whisky Odyssey
Old-fashioned with a twist of the modern 

Tasting note of the 200th anniversary bottle of Cardhu

The year 1824 was pretty important in the history of Scotch whisky. Distilling was taken away from under the shroud of illegality and many famous names saw the light of day. Among them not only The Glenlivet Distillery, but also Cardhu Distillery or Cardow as it was known before. Just like The Glenlivet, Cardhu Distillery celebrates its 200th anniversary and released a commemorative bottle for that fact. We already tasted the Glenlivet expression, and jumped on the opportunity to get this new Cardhu in the glass too. Just like many regular Speysiders, I don’t often go for these single malts anymore. The good thing about having a blog is that you can revisit old classics!

Let me say that the way the Cardhu bottle is presented is utterly beautiful. A flag-waving woman is portrayed on the package and label, in honour to the pioneering women of Cardhu, namely Helen Cumming and her daughter-in-law Elizabeth.

In the times of illicit distilling the flag would be used to warn adjourning distilleries that revenue collectors would be on their way. Hide yourself! How ironic that in 2024 we celebrate the tax-evading antics of times long gone!

Of course, Cardhu is wise to push this rather romantic story about their heritage. When I started getting into whisky some 20 years ago, Cardhu was actually know for starting one of the biggest controversies in the recent history of Scotch. The sneaky owners could not keep up with demand of Cardhu in some markets, and found a clever solution for that. They unsuspectedly changed the label of Cardhu from “single malt” to “pure malt”. A few years ago I acquired this Cardhu Pure Malt for the Spanish Market on an auction, a picture of it is enclosed with this blog. Indeed, the box now mentions (and praises) you will now find multiple Speyside whisky’s in the glassware. As far as I know, the Pure Malt consisted of predominantly of Cardhu and Glendullan single malts. 

In today’s market you would say: so what? The thing is, it was still the name (and reputation) of Cardhu on the label. That was deemed an undesirable situation. And thus started the long process that led to the Scotch Whisky Act of 2009 we still know today. Blended Scotch, and the newly invented (and then highly protested) Blended Malt category. Critical followers thought the industry should have stuck the more or less technical name “vatted malt”, but that was considered too … I don’t know. Complex? Anyway, 20 years later we are used to the blended malt category, like this one. The Cardhu Pure Malt is now a rarity that still pops up at auction. Nice piece of history. 

But enough history lesson for now, we take a look at the 200th anniversary expression!  

Cardhu 12 years old limited edition, bottled at 40 % abv

Makeup: Matured in wine casks and bottled at 12 years old. A Google search suggests full maturation in "used wine casks", the packaging itself states “exclusively matured in ex-wine casks”. So, no other casks were hurt in the process.

General impressions: The aroma from the glass is actually pretty nice. Red fruits, strawberry, blackcurrant, but also a smell of just baked and still warm bread that seems to show the malt content is still alive. Moderate wine casks then? Not too loud anyway. After a while, some weird smells do emerge, like toothpaste mint and, ultimately, also hints of creamy tomato soup.

The taste is more traditional for what you would expect from a wine matured whisky, but not nearly the freakshow it can be with more invasive casks. Still, Cardhu is (in my memory) like a porcelain whisky, very elegant and soft, delicate like silk. This expression for the 200th anniversary of the distillery is true to that style, with a heavy injection of tannins to create something different. The jury is still out on if it is too much, so for now we'll settle for "balanced" to describe it. The 40 % does not do it any favours though, makes it come off a bit watery and thin. That is really a pity because this Cardhu is not without merit.

Conclusion: A limited edition, if we are to believe the banter on the bottle and box. But a limited edition should not be a 40 % whisky, right? A missed chance to offer something special, even just a little more alcohol kick would have been nice. But, despite the fact this is a wine matured whisky, I do admit it entertained me over Easter. It actually combined very well with chocolate.

Score: 81 points

Disclaimer: taken from a sample acquired via Whiskysite.nl.

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