Category Archives: Cardhu

Cardhu 12 y.o. Review

121Cardhu 12 y.o.

40% abv

Score:  76.5/100


Arguably the most controversial single malt whisky ever to hit the shelves.  While I’d like to see I’m a bigger man than to fuel a dying fire…I’m not.  With that being said…grab your marshmallows  Let’s stoke the flames a little bit longer.  Late to the party, yeah, but the lessons behind this debacle should not be forgotten.

Drinks giant, Diageo, raised the ire of whisky purists the world over in 2003 when, in an unprecedented act of brazen big-boy-gets-his-way rule-bending, they elected to solve a shortage of supply issue for their Cardhu 12 year old single malt  by simply redefining what the boundaries of what malt whisky were.

By the end of 2003 demand for Cardhu had grown to point where the distillery simply couldn’t produce the volume to meet consumer guzzling.  Spain, in particular, apparently couldn’t get enough of this rather middle of the road single malt.  Rather than fall back on one of the more orthodox solutions – increasing production through expansion, raising prices of the existing expression thereby allowing the market to solve its own issues or simply saying ‘tough shit, that’s all there is’ – Diageo decided to try pulling a fast one.  I’m not certain whether this was a deliberate attempt to deceive in an ‘as if the unwashed masses are smart enough to catch on’ kind of way, or if it was a more sinister power play in a ‘we’re Diageo and we’ll do whatever the fuck we want’ sorta deal.  Either way, the results were to be expected.  The populace came out with pitchforks and torches. 

What Diageo had done was to continue releasing a 12 year old Cardhu, but now healthily bolstered by the addition of various other single malt whiskies from the Speyside region, and conceded no change (or very little change, anyway) to nomenclature, packaging or marketing.  They had simply tweaked a word on the bottle from ‘single’ malt to ‘pure’ malt.  Hmmmm.  Dubious?  Yes.  Unethical?  Most probably.  However…there was nothing really in the rules to allow the book to be thrown at Diageo.  This was more a matter of the industry’s vehemently protected integrity on the line.  Ultimately the big boys backed down and Cardhu returned to being a single malt. 

A couple years later, in the settling wake of all of this uproar, the fine (ahem) folks at the SWA finally stepped in and redefined the way Scotch whisky was to be branded.  The appellation ‘Pure Malt’ was no more.  There’s a little more to it, and a bit more long term fall out, but in the interest of brevity we’ll move on.

Let’s talk about this more contemporary Cardhu 12.  I suppose the big question is…was it worth all the headlines?  And the answer, quick to lips, is a resounding ‘no’.  This is a bland, milquetoast single malt if ever there was one.  Simple, boring and…(yawn)…I really can’t be bothered to elucidate more on it quite frankly.  Speyside…predictable…over-processed…uber-branded.  C’est fin. 

Here are some tasting notes…

Nose:  Dried flowers and dust.  Straw.  Dry meadow notes.  A lot of apple.  Very tight, tart red berry.  Mild caramel.  Boring vanilla cream notes.  Biscuits or white bread with honey.

Palate:  Weak and watery.  A hint of apple carried over from the nose.  Kinda like caramel apple with very, VERY mild spices (cinnamon, nutmeg and clove…all muted).  Milk-soggied Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal.  The pinnacle of generic…maybe even edging out Glenfiddich for that honour.

*(I’d love to try this as a straight-from-the-barrel cask strength dram.  Would be interesting to see what it COULD be if not so neutered.)


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt