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Of all Scotland’s distilleries, Jura must surely be the most remote. The Island is usually reached via neighbouring Islay, itself a two-hour ferry ride from the mainland. There are just 200 people living there. It is a community that finds itself significantly outnumbered by the 5,000 deer that roam the island.
A distillery was established in Jura in 1810. Originally it was called Craighouse but was renamed Small Isles Distillery before changing again to Caol Nan Eilean. Locals often referred to it, however, as simply, Jura distillery. The best account of the early distillery is to be found in The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom by Alfred Barnard.
Barnard was a journalist who set out to travel the length and breadth of the UK between 1885 and 1887. He visited an incredible 162 distilleries along the way. The result of his epic journey was a 500-page tome of technical information and beautifully descriptive accounts of 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. There are only a few 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 as an e-book and makes for a fascinating read for anyone with an interest in whisky.
Many of the distilleries Barnard visited in the book are no longer in existence. The Jura he visited fell silent in 1901 after a great slump in the wider industry (The Pattison Crash). 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 first single malt appeared in 1974.
Later, the distillery would be acquired by Glasgow-based blender Whyte & Mackay.
Thus it remains today. Jura has a core range with creative names like ‘Origin’, ‘Superstition’, ‘Diurach’s Own’ and ‘Prophecy’. Superstition is a lightly peated whisky, bottled at 43%. It usually comes in around the £35 mark.
Smell: Actually comes across a bit rough at first. A bit spirity. Then there’s cereal, honey and some perfumed peat smoke.
Taste: A bit of that spirity edge again. Then pepper, honey and fudge. There’s some salted caramel with a wee bit of depth from the smoke.
Thoughts: Jura must be one of the most discounted whiskies in the UK. Their Origin bottling seems to be on sale all year round and I’ve often seen Superstition discounted as well. They also offer half bottles (which is what I bought for this review). That’s a nice touch, in my opinion. I find this Superstition to be superior to Origin but it still falls a little flat for me.
Prior to this review, it had been a while since I last tasted Jura. I drank it often, with ice, when I first got into whisky but I moved away as my palate awoke to new flavours. A few years ago I revisited a bottle and wasn’t overly keen on what I found. I was keen this time to see if my opinion had changed. Sadly, it hadn’t. It’s a shame because I really want to like Jura. It’s often maligned and sneered at but there seems to be some potential there. I’ve heard some commentators sing its praises at greater age but at entry-level, it’s not quite of the standard you’d expect. Hard to put a finger on the reason. For my palate, it’s a little raw, harsh even. There’s little cask influence and the peat can’t save it from being rather forgettable. It’s almost like the distillery can’t decide what it wants to be. It was set up to produce a light-bodied malt in order to satisfy the blenders but now it seems to be trying to relate itself to the Islay style. In the end, it’s neither.
I’m also sure there’s been a generous helping of caramel colourant added because the colour is, to be honest, a bit ridiculous. It could almost be mistaken for Scotland’s other national drink, such is its bright orange hue.