THE new Speyside home of Johnnie Walker visitor experience at Cardhu Distillery was launched yesterday with a flag raising ceremony to ­celebrate pioneering women in Scotch whisky.

The new visitor experience tells the story of the distillery’s founder Helen Cumming and how, in the early days of illicit distilling in Speyside more than 200 years ago, she would raise a flag to warn her neighbours of approaching authorities. It also celebrates Helen’s daughter-in-law Elizabeth, who took on running the distillery as it grew into a successful business throughout the 19th century until it became the first distillery to be acquired by John Walker & Sons in 1893.

The tradition of female leadership continues at Cardhu and Johnnie Walker today, and women who have played a key role in the transformation project joined forces to launch the new visitor experience, which is part of a £185 million investment in Scotch whisky tourism by Scotland’s leading distiller, Diageo.

The leadership team included managing director of Diageo’s Scotland brand homes Barbara Smith, Cardhu Distillery manager Roselyn Thomson, Cardhu brand home manager Laura Sharp, Johnnie Walker chief archivist Christine McCafferty and Johnnie Walker master blender Emma Walker.

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Smith said: “It is a very proud moment for everyone at Diageo to launch the new Speyside home of Johnnie Walker at Cardhu Distillery.

“The story of Helen and ­Elizabeth Cumming is one of the most ­inspirational in Scotch whisky, ­particularly for all the women ­working in the ­industry today. The new visitor experience is a vivid and immersive celebration of their legacy, and we hope it will inspire new ­generations of women to join us in the industry as well as engaging consumers in the magic of Scotch whisky.”

The new brand home treats visitors to an immersive and interactive tour which includes a captivating animated video interpretation of the distillery’s early years made by award-winning Scottish production studio, Eyebolls. Guests will also be able to explore the distillation and maturation process of Cardhu’s signature whisky, bursting with notes of orchard fruits and freshly cut grass, and enjoy a dram or delicious highball at the brand home’s new Tasting Kitchen.

The story of Helen and her daughter-in-law Elizabeth leading the family business and taking the Cardhu brand to new heights by selling the distillery to John Walker & Sons in 1893, securing its role in the development of the world’s best-selling whisky, is told throughout the visitor experience.

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Visitors can also enjoy the distillery grounds which feature a statue of Elizabeth Cumming – raising the famous red flag – alongside a statue of the iconic Johnnie Walker Striding Man, hand painted by local artist Joanna McDonough.

Thomson said: “It is a great source of pride for me to walk in the footsteps of the Cumming family and to make Cardhu single malt whisky with the same focus on quality and character that has defined it for more than 200 years.”

Sharp said: “Speyside is the heartland of Scotch whisky and our new visitor experience brings an exciting new dimension to the tourism landscape. We look forward to welcoming visitors and engaging them in the story of our distillery, of ­Johnnie Walker, the incredible whiskies we make and the people who make them.”

Walker, Johnnie Walker master blender, said: “There is a simple reason why the Walker family made Cardhu the first distillery they ever bought in 1893; they wanted exclusive access to the highest quality single malt whisky available. Just as it was then, Cardhu is a crucial single malt in our inventory.”

Cardhu is the latest distillery and visitor experience to open as part of Diageo’s £185m investment in whisky tourism in Scotland. Glenkinchie and Clynelish distilleries have recently re-opened as part of the ambitious project which re-imagines the traditional whisky tour experience. The centrepiece of the investment programme, the Johnnie Walker Princes Street global visitor attraction, will open in Edinburgh later this year.