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Cardhu in the past has been variously known as Cardow and Cardoor from the Gaelic 'black rock'. The distillery was established in 1824 by the local farmer John Cumming and the company joined Johnnie Walker in 1893.

There was illicit distilling on the site prior to 1824 and it is said that John Cumming relied on the aromas of Helen Cumming's home baking to conceal the presence of the still from the excisemen.