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Cardhu SMWS 106.18 - Bottled essence of summer

A Much Better Cardhu

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@talexanderReview by @talexander

9th Apr 2013


Cardhu SMWS 106.18 - Bottled essence of summer
  • Nose
  • Taste
  • Finish
  • Balance
  • Overall

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In a week or so I'll be meeting my good friend Avi for some long-overdue drinks; usually we go for dinner and then back to his place for a few drams. Because his favourite single malt is Cardhu 12 Year Old (which I am not fond of), I'm looking forward to bringing my sample of this SMWS bottling - at the ripe old age of 27! - and see what he thinks. But before he guzzles it, I'm taking a wee bit off of the sample to taste and write up on.

Although Cardhu gets a bad rap among most whisky connoisseurs that I know, it's an extremely important distillery as it is at the heart of what drives the Scotch industry: Johnnie Walker. John Cumming took out a license for Cardhu in 1824, but it didn't take off until his daughter-in-law Elizabeth Cumming rebuilt it in the 1880s - perhaps she was the first female successful licensed whisky distiller? She soon sold it to Johnnie Walker, and it has been the spiritual home of the blend ever since; the vast majority of the spirit goes into all the JWs. The distillery became the centre of controversy in 2002 when Diageo, who couldn't keep up with Spanish demand for Cardhu 12 (its biggest selling territory) decided to rename it Cardhu Pure Malt (rather than Single Malt) so they could add other malts to it. By March 2003, after getting their knuckles rapped by the Scotch Whisky Association, plus public outrage and bad press, Diageo scrapped it and it went back to being a single malt.

I had the pleasure of visiting the distillery in May of last year, during the Speyside Whisky Festival. I went during off-hours, so got a small personal tour - it is fairly non-descript with not much of a visitor centre, but is very charming and smaller than you would think. The surrounding area is gorgeous, with a beautiful farm next door and the rolling hills of Cairngorms National Park close by.

This particular spirit was distilled in November 1984 and matured for 27 years in a refill hogshead (cask no. 2882). Like all SMWS bottlings, it is single cask, cask-strength, non-coloured and non-chill-filtered.

The colour is a light amber; the nose is malty, buttery and beautifully floral. With honey and traces of oak, it noses older than it looks. Quite herbal with mint and basil. Light, fruity, and delicate. Water does little except simply dilute the whisky, unfortunately; at this age, it should be enjoyed neat.

The palate is just as delicate: sweet, light honey, barley sugar, the slightest hint of milk chocolate. Water adds a little bit of heat, but again, does little else.

The finish radiates warmth and sweetness with more honey, orange and ginger. Quite lovely. It will likely be the best Cardhu you will ever have! If you enjoy the light, easy-drinking nature of the 12 as much as the Spanish do (it goes down easy when it's hot out), then you will love this - if you can find it. Just don't add water.

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