Jura distillery as we know it today dates from the early 1960’s but the islands’ relationship with whisky goes back long before then…
The people of Jura were entitled by law to distill whisky for their own personal consumption, in fact, many saw it as a birthright and reacted furiously when the UK government decided to ban the practice in 1781. Authority was given to excisemen to seize any whisky or whisky making equipment – even horses and vehicles used for transportation were fair game. Of course this decision only served to drive the practice underground and led to decades of cat and mouse games between illicit distillers and excisemen.
Although records from this time are scarce, it seems highly likely that a place as remote as Jura, described by George Orwell as ‘extremely un-get-at-able’, would have provided a safe haven from the authorities for anyone with an eye on whisky making.
Eventually, a distillery was opened in 1810 but lasted less than a century, closing in 1901 and slowly falling to ruin. The island itself saw massive changes thanks to clearances and emigration. The population shrunk to fewer than two hundred from well over a thousand.
Then, in the early 1960’s two local landowners, Robin Fletcher and Tony Riley-Smith, decided it was time to bring whisky production back to the island and at the same time, stop the population decline. They set about building on the site of the original distillery and by 1963 were producing whisky to sell to blenders. The whisky first appeared as a single malt in 1974 and has gone on to become one of the most recognisable brands on today’s shelves.
The core range of official distillery bottlings include the 10 year old ‘Origin’, Lightly Peated ‘Superstition’, Heavily Peated ‘Prophecy’ and 16 year old ‘Diurachs Own’. Jura has earned something of a reputation as a bargain basement single malt due to consistently low prices and as supermarkets introduce deals in the run-up to Christmas you can bet that more than a few Jura’s will be amongst the discounts.
The Scores: About the Scoring…
Smell: 15 / 20. The nose is Malty with Honey and Biscuit, Vanilla, Heather and a bit of Apple. Not unpleasant though perhaps a touch one-dimensional.
Taste: 14.5 / 20. On the palate there’s notes of Honey and Caramel, Biscuit, Cream and a touch of Brine with maybe the faintest hint of Peat Smoke, although it is supposedly unpeated. It’s a soft and subtle dram that for me, falls just a little bit flat.
Value for Money: 6.5 / 10. Almost always available for under £30 and often nearer £20. Certainly not a lot of money. The trouble is, even at such a low price it falls short of a great buy for me.
Overall: 36 / 50. It’s not a bad whisky it’s just lacking a little in personality. Scotch single malt at it’s best feels like you’ve bottled the atmosphere of the land it came from yet with Jura we have spirit from one of the most remote distilleries in the country, situated on a mountainous island on Scotland’s Atlantic Coast. An island home to more Deer than people, yet the whisky fails to reflect this wild character. In fact, beyond that subtle little touch of brine you could be forgiven for assuming the whisky was made in the central highlands. I’m no expert but maybe a different approach to maturation, including a higher percentage of first fill casks and then a higher bottling strength would improve things. As it is, Jura remains a little disappointing for me.