Of all of 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 on the island. A community who find themselves significantly outnumbered by over 5,000 deer. The distillery was first built here in 1810 and saw many owners come and go in its infancy, as well as multiple name changes from Craighouse to Small Isles to Caol Nan Eilean and eventually Jura.
There is a great account of the original distillery in the book ‘The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom’ by Alfred Barnard. Barnard 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 of his travels was a 500 page tome of technical information and beautifully descriptive accounts of the distilleries and 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…’ ‘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 only a few of the originals still in existence. Those that remain can change hands for upwards of £2,500. However, the book was re-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 very nearly joined 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. That was until 1963 when two local landowners took it upon themselves to bring whisky back to the island. The whisky was bottled as a single malt in 1974 and would later come under the ownership of blender Whyte & Mackay.
Thus it remains today with a core range creatively named ‘Origin’, ‘Superstition’, ‘Diurach’s Own’ and ‘Prophecy’. Superstition is a lightly peated whisky, bottled at 43% and 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.
Smell: Not a great nose, particularly at first. Improves with water and time though.
Taste: 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: 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 a palatable dram on it’s day.
Score: 38 / 50.
Prior to this review it was a while since I last tasted Jura and I wasn’t overly keen then so I had hoped to find some improvement here. Alas it still wasn’t really there for me. 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 and I’ve heard some commentators sing it’s praises at greater age but at entry level, it could really do with a bit of attention. I’m sure there’s been a generous helping of caramel colourant added here as well because the colour is, to be honest, a bit ridiculous. It could almost be mistaken for Scotland’s other national drink, Irn Bru, such is its bright orange hue. So while Jura Superstition is not undrinkable, I find it just a little lacklustre and the flavours just a little muted.