The Extraordinary Women of Cardhu: Helen & Elizabeth Cumming
08-03-2018 By Nokulunga Msibi
The story of the phenomenal women who ran the Cardhu distillery from 1872 is a relatively unknown one. Helen and Elizabeth Cardhu are responsible for the success of Cardhu distillery and its running to 1893, when Elizabeth sold it to Alexander Walker of Johnnie Walker.

Cardhu Distillery in 1893

In 1811 John and his wife Helen Cumming leased a farm at Cardow and started small scale distilling. Helen assisted her husband and her community in dodging the excise man. She would disguise the distillery as a bakery. By serving the tax man her baked goods, she would hang a red flag high above her distillery, alerting her community that the excise man had lodged with them.
John and later his son Lewis run the family business until Lewis' death on 1872, leaving the running of the distillery to Lewis' wife Elizabeth and mother Helen. Elizabeth was responsible for scaling the business and it’s success. She was a savvy business woman. In 1872, Elizabeth registered Cardhu as a trademark.

Elizabeth Cumming

Elizabeth also expanded the business by buying extra land to build a new Cardhu distillery- three times the capacity of the old distillery in 1884. This was to meet growing demands of their malt for the blending industry. One of their major clients was Sir Alexander Walker of John Walker & Sons. Elizabeth successfully ran the business and eventually sold it, in 1893, to John Walker & Sons for their Old Highland Whisky which would later become Johnnie Walker Black Label. She bought 100 shares into John Walker & Sons's company, making a fortune for her family.