Whisky Review: Rare by Nature 2020 Special Release Cardhu 11 Year Scotch Whisky

, | December 28, 2020

Editor’s Note: This whisky was provided to us as a review sample by Diageo. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.

The annual Diageo Special Releases always has a theme. However, the 2020 edition is the first time a theme has been repeated. Due to the popularity of the 2019 Rare By Nature collection, Diageo has released a part two. Master Blender, Dr. Craig Wilson was given this special opportunity for an encore to his carefully selected whiskies from 2019. 

The 2020 Rare by Nature has the same whiskies as the 2019 Special Releases for whisky lovers to compare. Dr. Wilson meticulously hand-selects each whisky to show another side of the distilleries chosen. The first whisky in the Rare by Nature editions comes from the Cardhu Distillery. While the 2019 edition of Cardhu is 14-years-old, the 2020 edition comes in at 11-years-old. 

Notorious whisky smugglers, John and Helen Cumming founded the Cardhu Distillery in 1811. The Speyside distillery is one of the most famous in the region. Cardhu’s single malts are continuously sought after. However, most of the distillery’s product ends up Johnnie Walker blends. In fact, John Walker & Sons purchased Cardhu for £20,500 in 1893.

Whisky drinkers, though, owe their gratitude to Helen herself. She ran the distillery, and to evade tax collectors, she would pretend to be baking as she hid distillation equipment. Eventually, Cardhu became a legal operation following the Excise Act of 1823. 

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Let’s see how the Rare by Nature encore of the Cardhu tastes.

Rare by Nature 2020 Special Release Cardhu 11 Year Scotch Whisky

Rare by Nature 2020 Special Release Cardhu 11 Year Scotch Whisky (image via Diageo)

Tasting Notes: Rare by Nature 2020 Special Release Cardhu 11 Year Scotch Whisky

Vital Stats: 56% ABV. Speyside single malt distilled in 2008; matured in refill, new, and ex-bourbon fresh-charred American oak hogsheads. 750ml $113.

Appearance: Pale gold

Nose: I am hit with a mist of vanilla. Tobacco and sandalwood are at the forefront. The whisky comes off delicate. In the middle, the smell of shortbread cookies makes me want to procrastinate and bake. Lemongrass and barley fields also meld together. 

Palate: It’s not so hot at its natural cask strength. The mouthfeel is light, and again delicate. I get a big bunch of tobacco leaves with ash.  Lemon drop candies, like the kind you would find in a dish at your grandma’s, brightens up the dram. Light toasted oak fades in the background. French vanilla comes in waves, but is minimal. 

The Takeaway


The Cardhu this year for the Diageo Rare by Nature Special Releases collection is delightful. I thoroughly enjoy the nose on it. The tobacco on the palate is right up my alley. I wasn’t sure how I felt about the age statement decreasing for this encore, but it shines. It is a more delicate whisky, but it is a Speyside. I recommend picking up a bottle if you can find it.

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Courtney Kristjana

Courtney Kristjana is a leading whiskey taster in the country. She left a career in Gerontology after an article on Heather Greene inspired her to follow her passion for whiskey. She is studying to become a Master of Scotch and someday hopes she is nominated for the Keepers of the...