The Cardhu Distillery is part of the Malt Whisky Trail and as such is probably visited by more whisky lovers than many others in Scotland. However, you wouldn’t be able to tell when you drop into the visitor centre, which is maybe a bit larger than my living room.
When I entered for my latest visit there were about ten people inside and it already felt crowded. Even worse, the reception area doubles as a rather paltry bar-cum-tasting room where the whiskies are served at the end of the tour. The ‘bar’ (just a round table, really) offered a choice of a whopping six or seven whiskies at the time of my visit.
Turning left, my mood brightened considerably as I beheld the very nice selection of Diageo single malts on sale. Apart from the usual standard expressions from several of their distilleries, there are at least a dozen Flora & Fauna bottlings plus limited Distiller’s Editions and a couple of very interesting rare bottlings.
The tour itself is nothing to write home about since it follows more or less the usual Diageo track. Yes, you can have a look into the mash tun (through a window) and a washback, you will see the stills and the spirit safe, but the whole exercise is somewhat lacking atmosphere. I would almost describe the experience as lukewarm.
As in most of the other Diageo-owned distilleries I have visited so far, the tour does not include direct access to a warehouse. The visitors are led into a small cubicle and can marvel at the casks through a row of windows, but what is a visit to a warehouse if you can’t smell the angel’s share?
The guided tour finishes in the visitor centre with either one, three or six drams. If you look forward to sitting down and relax as you enjoy your whiskies, you are likely to be disappointed because there are no chairs around the table and you have to gulp down your drinks standing.
Unfortunately, the whiskies do nothing to alleviate the rather dismal impression of the tour as a whole. I had the Cardhu 18 (decidedly unimpressive and lacking body for a whisky of that age), the non-age statement Amber Rock (nicer than the 18yo, but no gold medal winner either) and the Singleton of Dufftown Spey Cascade.
While it will forever beat me while you would want to include a whisky from another distillery in your tour program, I am glad I could try the Spey Cascade. By far the nicest of the trio, I was positively surprised by this dram. The finish is a bit short, but otherwise it is worth adding to your drinks closet. Which I did, naturally for research purposes only…
- Good selection of single malts from several Diageo-owned distilleries
- knowledgeable tour guide
- price for the 3-and 6-whisky tour includes a free glass
- Visitor centre, reception area, bar and tasting room all squeezed in one small room
- tasting area too cramped, no chairs/stools
- ‘bar’ is a joke
- tour follows the Diageo standard mould
- no direct access to a warehouse
- no photography allowed
- the whiskies served for tasting are rather underwhelming
The Cardhu Distillery tour is lacking atmosphere and character (like its whisky?). A good tour guide can do a lot to compensate for that, but as it stands, this is never going to be one of my top-rated tours in Scotland.
Big thumbs-down for not including direct access to a warehouse and for prohibiting photography.
If you are in the area, go to Glenlivet instead where the visitor centre will blow your socks off. Or travel on to the Strathisla Distillery in Keith, a small distillery that is famous for its picturesque setting and old-fashioned equipment. Last not least, if you are a photographer, head up to Elgin and visit Glen Moray which offers one of the best distillery tours I have ever done (and they allow you to take pictures which the others do not).
WhiskyPic’s Distillery Tour Rating – Cardhu (Speyside)
Open year round, tours start every full hour, last tour one hour before closing (click here for details)
Cardhu Distillery Tour: £5
Classic Tour: £8.50
Cardhu Collection Tour: £14
Phone: 01479 874 635