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The isle of Jura
The Jura distillery as we know it today dates from the early 1960’s but this small island off the west coast of Scotland has a far longer relationship with the national spirit than that…
Distilling for personal consumption was commonplace on the isle of Jura until the UK government outlawed the practice in 1781. Excisemen were employed to travel the length and breadth of the land, seizing whisky and distilling equipment wherever they could find it. This state of affairs only served to drive distilling underground and led to decades of now infamous cat and mouse games between smuggler and gauger. Though records from the time are scarce, it is highly likely that an island so remote as Jura, described by George Orwell as ‘extremely un-get-at-able’, would provide a safe haven from the authorities for those with an eye on whisky making.
Eventually, an official distillery opened in 1810 and produced a Jura spirit for almost 100 years before it closed in 1901. Over the decades that followed, the island’s population dwindled thanks to clearance and emigration. The population shrank to fewer than two hundred people from well over a thousand and the old distillery crumbled and fell into ruin.
Then, in the 1960’s, at the onset of a new decade, two local landowners named Robin Fletcher and Tony Riley-Smith set out to reinstate whisky production to the island, with hopes of creating employment and protecting the island from further population decline.
Building on the site of the original distillery, they were in production by 1963, selling their spirit to the blending houses of the mainland, and by 1974, they were bottling whisky as a single malt. In recent times, the Jura malt has established itself as one of the most recognisable brands on the market.
There are four core expressions of Jura available today, including the lightly peated ‘Superstition’, heavily peated ‘Prophecy’ and 16 year old ‘Diurach’s Own’ but the most often seen is the entry-level 10 year old, dubbed ‘Origin’. Bottled at 40%, Jura Origin is available in the UK for around £30.
Smell: Malty with Honey and Biscuit, Vanilla, Heather and a touch of Apple.
Taste: Honey and Caramel, Biscuit, Cream with maybe the faintest hint of Brine. A soft, subtle dram that just falls a little bit flat for me.
Thoughts: The Jura range is oft-discounted in UK supermarket chains but for me, even at such low prices, there are better alternatives. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a bad whisky, I’m not entirely sure such a thing exists but Jura seems to lack personality and depth, for my palate. Sometimes it even comes across a little hot, a bit spirity. It will no doubt remain popular thanks to its low asking price and prominence on supermarket shelves but for me it fails to do justice to the beautiful island that made it. Nestled between Islay and the mainland, crowned by craggy peaks and home to ten times more deer than people, the island has a unique, magical character and so should its malt.