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Cardhu Distillery reopens visitor experience - with a focus on its rich history

The new Speyside Home of Johnnie Walker visitor experience at Cardhu Distillery has reopened - with a flag raising ceremony to celebrate pioneering women in Scotch whisky.

Published: June 17, 2021
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The new Cardhu visitor experience tells the story of the distillery’s founder Helen Cumming and how, in the early days of illicit distilling in Speyside over 200 years ago, she would raise a flag to warn her neighbours of approaching authorities.

It also celebrates Helen’s daughter-in-law Elizabeth, who took on running the distillery as it grew into a successful business throughout the 19th century until it became the first distillery to be acquired by John Walker & Sons in 1893.

The new visitor experience is part of a £185m investment in Scotch whisky tourism by Diageo.

The leadership team includes managing director of Diageo’s Scotland brand homes Barbara Smith, Cardhu Distillery manager Roselyn Thomson, Cardhu brand home manager Laura Sharp, Johnnie Walker chief archivist Christine McCafferty and Johnnie Walker master blender Emma Walker.

Barbara Smith said: “It is a very proud moment for everyone at Diageo to launch the new Speyside Home of Johnnie Walker at Cardhu Distillery.

“The story of Helen and Elizabeth Cumming is one of the most inspirational in Scotch whisky, particularly for all the women working in the industry today.

"The new visitor experience is a vivid and immersive celebration of their legacy, and we hope it will inspire new generations of women to join us in the industry as well as engaging consumers in the magic of Scotch whisky.”

Roselyn Thomson added: “It is a great source of pride for me to walk in the footsteps of the Cumming family and to make Cardhu single malt whisky with the same focus on quality and character that has defined it for more than two hundred years.”

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Visitors can look forward to an immersive and interactive tour which includes a captivating, animated video interpretation of the distillery’s early years made by award-winning Scottish production studio, Eyebolls.

Guests will also be able to explore the distillation and maturation process of Cardhu’s signature whisky, bursting with notes of orchard fruits and freshly cut grass, as part of a selection of interactive sensory tours and experiences, and enjoy a dram or highball at the brand home’s new Tasting Kitchen.

Helen and her daughter-in-law Elizabeth led the family business and took the Cardhu brand to new heights culminating in selling the distillery to John Walker & Sons in 1893.

This then became part of Johnnie Walker, and visitors can find out more about this rich history at the distillery.

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Visitors can also enjoy the distillery grounds which feature a statue of Elizabeth Cumming – raising the famous red flag – alongside a statue of the iconic Johnnie Walker Striding Man, hand painted by local artist Joanna McDonough.

Cardhu is the latest distillery and visitor experience to open as part of Diageo’s £185m investment in whisky tourism in Scotland.

Glenkinchie and Clynelish distilleries have recently re-opened as part of the ambitious project which re-imagines the traditional whisky tour experience.

The centrepiece of the investment programme, the Johnnie Walker Princes Street global visitor attraction will open in Edinburgh later this year.

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Diageo has worked closely with Euan’s Guide, a Scottish Charity that works to improve accessibility at visitor attractions, to make the Cardhu brand home more accessible.

The distillery has also introduced new sustainability measures as part of its redevelopment to help drive Diageo’s ambitious Society 2030: Spirit of Progress action plan, such as reducing overall light pollution, conserving water with landscaping and site implementations systems and safeguarding local pollinators and wildlife with a new biodiversity protection programme.

Cardhu Distillery will reopen as a Green Tourism Gold accredited site, joining sister distilleries Blair Athol, Brora, Clynelish, Cragganmore, Glenkinchie, Lagavulin, Oban, Royal Lochnagar, Singleton of Glen Ord, Dalwhinnie and Talisker on the list of award holders.

Laura Sharp, Cardhu Distillery brand home manager, said: “Speyside is the heartland of Scotch whisky and our new visitor experience brings an exciting new dimension to the tourism landscape.

"We look forward to welcoming visitors and to engaging them in the story of our distillery, of Johnnie Walker, the incredible whiskies we make and the people who make them.”

Christine McCafferty, Johnnie Walker chief archivist, said: “It has been a delight to work on the new Speyside Home of Johnnie Walker at Cardhu Distillery.

"It has such a rich and unique heritage, particularly in relation to the remarkable women who played such a pivotal role in the story. To see this legacy brought to life in such a compelling way makes us very proud.”

Emma Walker, Johnnie Walker master blender, added: “There is a simple reason why the Walker family made Cardhu the first distillery they ever bought in 1893; they wanted exclusive access to the highest quality single malt whisky available. Just as it was then, Cardhu is a crucial single malt in our inventory.”

For more information and to book a tour at Cardhu Distillery, please visit their website.

Known for cake making, experimental jam recipes, Champagne and gin drinking (and the inability to cook Gnocchi), Rosalind writes for The Scotsman on all things food and drink related as well as hosting Scran, The Scotsman's food and drink podcast.

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