Purple Palate Blog

Day 28- Cardhu and Balvenie

Up and out early, off to Cardhu for a tour and tasting.

Cardhu was the first Scottish distillery established by a woman in 1824. Helen Cumming started by making illicit spirits in her kitchen. After been caught three times by the excise collectors, she would see them coming, hide the evidence of her home brew, cover her arms in flour to make out she was baking bread (to hide the yeasty smell of the fermentation) and invite them in for tea. While they were inside she would duck out and raise a red flag to warn her neighbours (and partners in crime) that the tax man was out and about.


Eilidh (pronounced Alley) greeted us and took us around the Cardhu facility. Cardhu is owned by Johnny Walker which is owned by Diageo.

It was bought by Johnny Walker in 1893 from Elizabeth Cummings (Helen’s daughter-in-law). Elizabeth however ensured that her son had a position on the board, and that all her workers had houses built on site.

Cardhu produces a light fruity style of whiskey. This is achieved by buying in malted barley, and using a local spring for the water along with standard yeasts combined with a significantly longer fermentation time (75 hours). Their washback stills have a 90 degree neck going into a water condenser. This results in lighter low wines, which is redistilled in the spirit still with the neck angled slightly upwards, meaning heavier flavour components don’t go into the finished whiskey.

Maturation is predominately in American oak Bourbon barrels with a small proportion of sherry barrels.

After an extensive tasting of 9 whiskeys, we headed to Balvenie.


We joined a group of 6 whiskey lovers, and set off for a three hour extravaganza on the entire process of the Balvenie Distillery. These guys do everything from growing the barley, malting the barley, sprouting, milling, fermenting, distilling, cooperage, filling, ageing, bottling and labelling on site.

Only 6 distilleries in Scotland still malt their own barley. Balvenie is proud to carry on the tradition by malting approximately 10% of the barley used in their production.

They also have a cooperage that refurbishes around 50000 barrels per year.


A 36 year old aged in a sherry barrel topped of a tasting of their double wood 12 and 17 year old, along with the 21 year old port wood and the 14 year old Carrabean (finished in rum barrels).

All in all a fantastic way to while away a windy Scottish afternoon.

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