Cardhu 12 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Review


By Richard Thomas

Rating: B-

A decade ago, Cardhu was at the center of scotch’s first big supply flap. Although The Whiskey Reviewer has disproved the myth that whiskey around the world is suffering from a general and widespread supply crisis, the idea that rising international demand is putting a supply pinch on some whiskey brands is valid enough. Cardhu was just such a brand.

Cardhu Distillery is owned by British drinks giant Diageo, and is a major contributor the Johnnie Walker blends. Cardhu Single Malt was just one of the Diageo’s brands suffer from supply problems, and a Diageo spokesperson was quoted in many of the articles I’ve read asserting the idea of a general whiskey supply crisis. In 2003, Diageo responded to an early example of a supply crisis by trying to turn the Cardhu brand name from a single malt into a vatted malt. The importance of that change cannot be understated, since it meant that what came in a bottle of Cardhu could come partially, mostly, or even entirely from somewhere other than the Cardhu Distillery.

The change ignited a firestorm of protest around the world, and sales dropped accordingly. Diageo tried to cope initially by changing the label on the Cardhu vatted malt, saying it would avoid confusion, causing sales of the vatted malt to plummet even further. Ultimately, they were forced to drop the vatted malt altogether. As if the lesson of New Coke weren’t clear enough, Diageo had to learn the hard way that you simply do not mess with the formula people like and are accustomed to.

The Scotch
Cardhu 12 Year Old Single Malt is a Speyside whiskey, located near Archiestown and drawing its water from springs on Mannoch Hill and Lynee Burn (creek). It comes in an attractive, eye-catching bottle with a fat wood and cork stopper, and is bottled at 40% abv.

In the bottle and the glass, the color of the whiskey in the glass and bottle is in the vein of pale orange and light gold. The nose is predominately musty oak and sea spray, with strong notes of apple and pear sweetness. Overall, the scent has a good body.

The flavor flows from a dry, woody place, interwoven with peat smoke notes and a peppery bite. The apples and pears grow into apple and pear spice, with distinct undertones of cinnamon and ginger. I found the finish to be short, but warm, rolling out of the apple and pear spice, and leaving a modest, ashy aftertaste.

The Cardhu single malt has a good body on it, but I found it out of balance. Most of the flavors are on the soft side, but that peppery bite, while not harsh, throws the whiskey off kilter. It’s just a bit too strong, and that is what makes it a B- instead of a B.

I usually see Cardhu 12 Year Old Single Malt priced at around €30 in Europe. In the United States, $35 to 40 is fairly common.


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  1. We only learned that Cardhu single malt was again available while shopping for Christmas, and only tonight did we open the bottle. Off balance yes and I would say harsh. I would give it a C-, C at best. Fortunately we had some of the original, which we loved, left to compare. Coke was never the same. Perhaps Cardhu will never be either.

  2. I must admit I’m not familiar with 1990s era Cardhu or before, as I was an all-bourbon and -rye drinker back then. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that old Cardhu isn’t the same thing as the current version, since the vatted malt was introduced in the first place to deal with supply problems from the one distillery. Even so, that’s just a guess.

    If Cardhu is C-, then you must think all (and I do mean all) of the mass market blends are D or F material, yes?

  3. I could never claim to have tried all the mass market blends, can’t drink that much (so I try to not waste my time with poor product), but Johnny Walker Red – bad, Johnny Walker Black – enjoyable.
    The new Cardhu doesn’t even smell like the old Cardhu. Perhaps they should have used Yuengling as a business model.

  4. Ha! Excuse me, Johnnie Walker!

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