Of all Scotland’s distilleries Jura must be one of the most remote. The Island can only be reached via neighbouring Islay – itself a two hour ferry from the mainland. There are just 200 people living there – significantly outnumbered by more than 5,000 deer. The Distillery was first built in 1810 but changed owners and name many times over the years (Craighouse, Small Isles, Caol Nan Eilean and Jura).
The best account of the Distillery from these early years can be found in ‘The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom’ by Alfred Barnard. Barnard was secretary of the ‘Harper’s Gazette’ and set out to travel the length and breadth of the UK between 1885 and 1887, visiting an incredible 162 distilleries along the way. The result was a 500 page book of technical information regarding the distilleries with beautifully descriptive accounts of their locations. Even today it remains arguably the most important whisky book ever written.
Barnard describes Jura as ‘very romantic, the mountains rising precipitately from the sea, some of them to the height of 2,500 feet above sea level… Upon these majestic heights no trees strike root, and here and there beetling crags project, with no shadow to break their terrible ruggedness… It’s bays project all the charms of Oban in miniature, and the mountain lochs team with trout.’
Of the distillery itself he says ‘one of the handsomest we have seen…’ and goes on to describe in some detail each building on the three acre site and much of the equipment therein… ‘three Pot Stills – one of them, a Wash Still, contains 6,650 gallons, the other two, which are spirit stills, hold 2,350 and 1,200 gallons respectively…’ and ‘3,504 casks are held in the warehouses containing 232,000 gallons of whisky at various ages.’
The book was published in 1887 and there are but a few originals still in existence. Those that remain can change hands for upwards of £2,500. However, a copy of the book was published in 1987 and has been reprinted three times since. It now exists even as an e-book and is a fascinating read for anyone with an interest in whisky.
Many of the distilleries Barnard visits in the book are no longer in existence and Jura was very nearly one of them. The stills fell silent in 1901 when a great slump fell upon the whisky industry (The Pattison Crash) and with no apparent hope for the future the distillery was stripped and left in ruins for more than 60 years. Then in 1963 two local landowners took it upon themselves to bring whisky back to the island. The whisky was first bottled as a single malt in 1974 and later came under the ownership of Whyte & Mackay.
Thus it remains today with a core range creatively named ‘Origin’, ‘Superstition’, ‘Diurach’s Own’ and ‘Prophecy’. I’m going to be reviewing the Superstition – a lightly peated whisky bottled at 43% that usually comes in around the £35 mark. I’ve been tasting it a lot in the run up to writing this review and I have to say, while I don’t love it, it has grown on me slightly. At first I found the nose a bit rough and to be honest, not very pleasant. The addition of water helped greatly though and given a little time, notes of Cereal, Honey and Floral Peat Smoke emerged. Things improve on the palate with Pepper and Honey, Fudge and Salted Caramel with some depth provided by the Peat Smoke.
The Scores: About the Scoring System…
Smell: 14.5 / 20. Not a great nose, particularly at first. Water and time improves it though.
Taste: 16 / 20. Better. A few drops of water tones down the peppery spice and leaves you with an interesting balance of fudge and honey with that undercurrent of smoke.
Value for Money: 7.5 / 10. Jura must be one of the most discounted whiskies in the UK. The ‘Origin’ seems to be on sale all year round in supermarkets and I’ve often seen Superstition discounted as well. They also offer half bottles at 35cl (which is what I bought for this review) – a good idea in my opinion. For me, the Superstition is superior to Origin but still falls a little short of greatness and even in it’s low price range there are strong alternatives. Having said that it is still an enjoyable enough dram to sip on.
Overall: 38 / 50.
Prior to this review it had been a while since I tasted Jura and I wasn’t overly keen the last time so I had hoped to find some improvement here but alas it’s still not quite there. It’s a shame because I want to like Jura. It’s often maligned and sneered at but there seems to be some potential there – I’ve heard many commentators sing it’s praises at greater age but at entry level it could really do with a bit of attention. It looks like there’s been a generous helping of caramel E150 added here as well. The colour is, frankly, a bit ridiculous. It’s so orange it could be mistaken for Scotland’s other national drink, Irn Bru. In any case, current owners Whyte and Mackay seem happy for Jura to cruise along with a reputation as the bargain basement single malt and while I’ll be happy to see out the rest of my half bottle, I won’t be rushing to buy another any time soon.