By the time John Cumming bought a license for his Cardhu distillery in 1824, he and his wife Helen had already been producing illicit whisky for 13 years.
Whenever the Excise officers passed by, Helen would disguise the mashing and fermenting as bread-making. Then, while the officers drank the tea she made for them, she would fly a red flag from the barn to warn their neighbours that revenue men were around.
Once the distillery was officially licensed, John and Helen Cumming continued to value quality over quantity. Their son and daughter-in-law, Elizabeth, followed in their footsteps. The qualities of the malt they produced became essential to John Walker and Sons (of Johnnie Walker fame – unsurprisingly). So much so, in fact, that in 1893, Cardhu was the first distillery that they bought – although it was still run for a time by John and Helen’s grandson, also called John.
By the end of the nineteenth century, Cardhu™ had gained a reputation as one of Scotland’s top malt whisky distilleries. It is a reputation that continues to this day.