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Of all Scotland’s distilleries, Jura must be among the most remote. The Island is reached via neighbouring Islay – itself a two-hour ferry ride from the mainland. There are just 200 people living on the island, in a community that finds itself significantly outnumbered by the 5,000 deer which roam the island.
A distillery was first built in Jura in 1810. Originally named Craighouse, then renamed to Small Isles and Caol Nan Eilean before eventually being called simply Jura. The best account of the distillery at this time is to be found 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 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 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 visited 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.
Smell: A bit rough at first, but then Cereal, Honey and Floral Peat Smoke emerge.
Taste: Pepper and Honey, Fudge and Salted Caramel with some depth provided by the Peat 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 its low price range, there are strong alternatives.
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 its 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. Jura Superstition is certainly not undrinkable, I do find it just a little bit lacklustre.