Cardhu & Helen Cumming; cunning doesn’t even come close.

English: Helen of Troy

English: Helen of Troy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Helen of Troy; daughter of Zeus, hatched from an egg, coveted by both Greeks and Trojans.

Helen Churchill Candee; Titanic survivor, campaigned to women about independence from men.

Helen Thomas; ballsy White House journalist who thrived on asking questions that made presidents squirm.

Helen Cumming; wife, baker, sly whisky maker. Cardhu takes a bow in her honor.

Is it the name? I doubt it. For many it evokes the image of an elderly auntie at a family reunion, the one with lipstick on her teeth and a Miracle Ear the Smithsonian has dibs on.

Yet it must be said, the exceptions to the rule are truly rule breakers. Girls with guts and revelers of a rush.

Helen Cumming, a pioneer in distaff distillation, clearly took part in elevating her name by taking the lead in an industry that was not only absent of female recognition, but illegal to boot. Bootlegging wasn’t a traditional career choice for women in the early 1800’s, though Helen took a great deal of pride in it.

Married to John Cumming of Cardow Farm, it was clear Helen realized her husband’s skills were deemed necessary in the fields, which meant she was in charge of the stills. Working illicitly for more than a dozen years, Helen churned out the spirit in the farmhouse and set up a drive-thru window for the convenience of her customers. And given the opportunity, her patrons would likely have thrown a parade in her honor for the protection she offered against the wily excisemen.

Farmer's wife from the canton of Zurich in the...

Farmer’s wife from the canton of Zurich in the year 1817 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Welcoming any taxman into her home, she found tremendous success in serving tea and scones, waving away any curiosity regarding that yeasty-like smell as the consequence of all the hefty baking a good farmer’s wife is required to do.

In the meantime, while the regulator took a respite from the unforgiving demands of his profession, Helen made sure the rest of his day would be less taxing by slipping out of sight to raise the flagpole’s red banner of warning to any clientele heading her way or other distillers in view of the farm. Warm and welcoming, facile and furtive; Helen Cumming probably had more likes on her Facebook page than Cristiano Rinaldo and Rihanna combined.

It takes dedication to create a fine spirit, and lucky for whisky lovers, she passed on her devotion to her daughter-in-law Elizabeth.

Young Lizzie handled the reigns of the finally legal distillery with aplomb. Not only did she continue to create Cardhu’s (at the time) robust Speyside standard, but she soon rebuilt the facility, furthering its future potential.

To top it off, Ms. Cummings pulled off the business feat that many an industry expert would give their left lung to enjoy; authority without responsibility.  She sold it on to John Walker & Sons—distinguished regulars who knew a gem when they sipped it—with the caveat that her family still retain control of the operation. A Wall Street frontiersman in the making.

English: Cardhu distillery near Aberlour in Ba...

English: Cardhu distillery near Aberlour in Banffshire, Scotland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The whisky went on to new owners and operators, and its flavor camp may have jumped from classical to verdant and vernal, but its history packs a punch, even if its character treads lightly.

Cardhu was the crown the ‘Queens of the Whisky Trade’ wore with pride and with purpose.

~Slainte!

Don’t forget to check out what I blethered on about this week on the main post page (here) and find out what’s cookin’ in the scullery too (here)!

 

2 thoughts on “Cardhu & Helen Cumming; cunning doesn’t even come close.

  1. thanks for yet another entertaining story — shining the headlamp of inquiry upon yet another not-too-well-known tale (i can only surmise it WAS not too well known? — except among you and the rest of the “w” cogniscenti).

    • You’re right, Betunada. The story isn’t one that a lot of folks have stumbled across on Reddit, but it should be. It’s a nifty little tale of someone who outsmarts the government–and I think that’s a theme many folks are hungry to hear someone’s found success with today.
      Glad you liked it. Cheers!

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