Cardhu is a whisky with an interesting tale to tell. Happily, we’ve already told it, so I can get down to the business of telling you a little more about the spirit. Cardhu lies in the heart of Speyside, next door to Knockando and just a couple of miles down the road from Aberlour. The bulk of the aged distillate heads for Diageo’s blending vats, emerging as part of the ever-popular Johnnie Walker portfolio of whiskies.
Around 30% of the condensate from the swan-necked stills is aged and bottled under the Cardhu name, though, and it’s that we’re talking about today. The voluptuous bottle begs to be grasped and poured, and I’m never one to refuse such an invitation. A light spirit, akin to freshly hewn timber, gushes forth invitingly. It’s just as light on the nose, where cereal and gentle butterscotch vie for your attention, before you detect a fruitier note – juicy pear or tart cranberry. Woven throughout are curlicues of mild, sweet smoke. Cardhu’s relationship with Johnnie Walker Black Label is immediately apparent: the blend reflects and amplifies Cardhu’s character perhaps more than any other component. Make no mistake though, this is a delicate nose. Persist and you may even unearth a hint of fresh ginger.
The aromas intrigue; the taste disappoints. The first sensation is that same cereal found in the nose, and there’s an oak note too. Behind, though, lies a somehow insipid sweetness. The flavour profile isn’t as rich as the nose, and seems to lack variety. It’s pleasant, but it’s hard to say much more for it than that. A slight off note, like overly tart white wine sipped from a dusty glass, lurks. It doesn’t dominate, but it’s there.
The finish starts mutely, before quickly acquiring greater heft. It builds towards a surprising piquancy before gently receding, leaving a slightly biscuity trace (that’s cookies, for our American cousins). Add a little water and the whisky takes an interesting turn. The nose has a new, malty backbone and a more prominent caramel. At the same time, there’s a coppery note that detracts from the new focus. The body becomes slightly chewier, but sadly gains little complexity. Cardhu is a pleasant enough whisky, but you’re unlikely to weep that it mostly ends in Johnnie Walker – it has gone to a better place.
Nose 20 Taste 17 Finish 17 Balance 19