Cardhu is one of Diageo's Classic Malts.
The distillery was set up by John Cumming, who had previously been a whisky smuggler, in 1824. The distillery was sited high up on Mannoch Hill, above the River Spey due to the peat softening the water. The distillery started as farm distillery working on a seasonal basis after the harvest had been gathered. The distillery was mainly run by his wife Helen who used to sell bottles of whisky to passers-by through the window of their farmhouse.
In 1885 the distillery was rebuilt on a new piece of land but continued to stay in the hands of the Cummings, being run by Elizabeth Cumming, the daughter-in-law of Helen Cumming. The stills from the old distillery building were sold to William Grant who set up Glenfiddich distillery. The new building and stills meant that Cardhu could produce triple the amount of whisky it had previously produced. These higher production levels led to Johnnie Walker and Sons buying much of Cardhu's output to put into their increasingly popular blend.
In 1893 Elizabeth Cumming sold the distillery to Johnnie Walker and Sons on the condition that the Cumming family could continue the day-to-day running of the distillery. Cardhu distillery kept working under these conditions until the onset of the Second World War when wartime restrictions meant that it was harder to use barley for distilling purposes.
In 1960 the distillery's still-house, mash-house and tun-room were rebuilt, and in 1970 steam coils were introduced to heat the stills and the number of stills was increased to six. Spring water from Mannoch Hill started to be mixed with water from the local Lynne burn to supply the increased production of the distillery.
In December 2003, parent company Diageo caused controversy by halting the production of Cardhu single malt and replacing it with a blended malt which they labelled a 'pure malt' using the same bottle design and label as its single malt. This was done in order to keep up with increased demand for the whisky, particularly in Spain and Portugal, as well as for use in Johnnie Walker blended whiskies. The decision by Diageo angered both consumers and other whisky producers who were worried that the single malt image would be damaged. Diageo responded to the criticism by agreeing to change the label style and colour of their pure malt in order to avoid consumer confusion. Sales of Cardhu pure malt dropped substantially due to the change.