December 2015 Whisky of the Month:
Jura 16 Year Old Duriach’s Own, so named because it’s the Jura islanders’ whisky of choice, kept us in high spirits over Christmas. Join The Club now for exclusive access to more exciting drams like this each month and great member perks.
Country of Origin:
“Extremely unget-at-able”. This is how George Orwell famously described his attempts to reach the Isle of Jura and amazingly, the island is as awkward to reach today as it was in 1946. The Isle of Jura lies off the west coast of Scotland and is eleven kilometers wide by 48 kilometers long, making it a bit smaller than Cairns. There’s only one road, one pub, one shop and one distillery. It’s believed that Jura takes it’s name from the old viking word “Dhiura” meaning red deer, however, the Vikings weren’t the first people to inhabit Jura. Carbon dating puts some of the earliest settlements on Jura at around 8000bc. Standing stones, ruins and manmade caves dot the landscape serving as a reminder that the island has been inhabited for a very long time.
Whisky making on Jura has a long history. The Duriachs (as inhabitants of Jura are known) enjoyed a long period of unhindered home distillation before this was banned in the Excise Act of the 1781. The islanders, however, thought very little of the ban and many of the estimated 250 pot stills remained active after the imposition, and considering the island’s extreme unget-at-able-ness, it was going to take a very determined excise man to actually enforce the act.
In 1810, seeing a clear demand for whisky, local kingpin Archibald Campbell decided to build a distillery on the Island, initially calling it Small Isles Distillery in reference to the numerous small islands in Craighouse Bay where the distillery is located. Not short of a few bob, the largest landowner on the island created an engineering marvel using only gravity to move liquid between the production areas. Small Isles produced a heavy, smoky whisky similar to those made on neighbouring Islay and took its water from the dark, peaty Loch A-Bhaile Mhargaidh, 300m above Craighouse.
Over time the Campbells, not being experts in whisky production, ran the distillery into the ground and in 1875 they found new professional tenants. Ferguson & Sons Distillers from Glasgow signed a 25-year lease that required them to increase capacity and build and maintain a new pier and a connecting road. In 1900, the Campbells argued with their tenants over the rates on a new lease and the following year Ferguson & Sons ceased production, stripping out all of the production facilities including 4 large copper stills. Things took a turn for the worse when the crumbling distillery’s roof was removed in order to avoid paying tax rates. It is believed that four warehouses still housed whisky until 1938 when the last barrel left the island.
In 1955 Jura’s population had dropped to a dwindling 150 inhabitants (down from over 2000 when the distillery was established in 1810), with the industrial revolution, new frontiers and two world wars among the reasons cited for this mass exodus. In 1958, realising that something had to be done about the dwindling population, two landowners, Tony Riley-Smith and Robin Fletcher, combined their love of whisky and a shared concern for Jura’s declining fortunes and enlisted the architect William Delme-Evans to oversee the rebuilding of Jura distillery. Delme-Evans was so dedicated to the rebuild that he learned to fly a propeller plane and built a small runway near the distillery in order to ease his commute to and from the island. Unfortunately Robin Fletcher passed away before the project was completed and a foundation stone from the 1810 distillery that sits at the entrance of the distillery reads; “This stone from the ruins of the original Jura distillery was laid here by the widow of Robert G Fletcher who with F.A Riley-Smith conceived and instigated the rebuilding of this distillery to provide industry for the island.”
In 1963, the stills at Jura distillery fired up once more and ran with fresh new make spirit. Today, although the population hasn’t returned to the original level, the distillery sits at the heart of the small community and underpins the local economy and environment, not just by providing employment but also via whisky related tourism, attracting over 7000 visitors a year.
About Jura Single Malt Whisky:
Isle of Jura distillery is owned by independent bottler Whyte & Mackay, who bought it in 1993. This was a significant moment for Jura because it brought production under the umbrella of Richard Patterson, third-generation master distiller and whisky industry legend, who this year celebrates his 45th year in whisky. Also know as “the nose”, Patterson is best known for his work with Dalmore and creating Whyte & Mackay’s award winning range of blends, and has been instrumental in turning Jura’s single malts into the sought-after delights that they are today.
Jura is a relatively large distillery considering the size of the island, producing around 2 million litres of spirit per year, much of which goes to the popular Whyte & Mackay blends. The current distillery is built on the ruins of the old, and all the equipment was built to a new design including the introduction of very tall stills. These stills are unique, and set Jura apart from other distilleries because they give the distiller the flexibility to create a mix of whiskies ranging from sweet and mellow to rich and smoky. This ability to create a Jura for every palate has become the one of the distillery’s hallmark.
Another Jura hallmark is the move away from the heavily peated malts made by Small Isles Distillery to a lighter, fruity spirit. This fruity character allows Jura whiskies to develop flavour and body in a relatively short space of time resulting in the full-bodied and very complex malts that the island has become known for. In recent years heavily peated batches were reintroduced and these are run for a few weeks each year for the Prophecy and Superstition expressions.
Duriachs’ Own, so named because it’s the islanders’ whisky of choice, is Jura’s flagship expression. It’s made up of whiskies aged for a minimum of 14 years in American oak casks and specially selected for their body and complex fruit notes, before spending a further 2 years in ex-Amoroso Olorosso sherry casks. This finish and long maturation subverts the Jura light and floral house style and gives Diurach’s Own the very rich and full-bodied character that’s made it so popular and sought after worldwide.
Age on release:
Aged initially in American oak ex-Bourbon casks and finished for a minimum of two years in ex-Amoroso Olorosso sherry casks.
Jura quick facts
Place of origin: Craighouse, Isle of Jura, Argyllshire, PA60 7XT, Scotland, United Kingdom
Water source: Loch a’ Bhaile-Mhargaidh (Market Loch)
Washbacks: 6 x Stainless Steel
Number of stills: 2 wash stills and 2 spirit stills
Capacity: 2,200,000 litres per annum
Colour: Dark mahogany
Nose: Rich, aromatic, nose with vanilla, tangy citrus, sweet fudge and warm caramel notes followed by hints of mixed berries and chocolate. Underlying subtle coastal notes.
Palate: Delightfully sweet and caramelly with rich buttery notes with honey sweetness tinged with orange spices.Vanilla custard, maple syrup before returning to spiced oak and subtle clove.
Finish: Long and lingering sweet toffee and honey finish
Apricot stuffed Lamb followed by Olorosso sherry-soaked Christmas pudding