Jura Distillery: What Makes It Unique
Some may sniff, but Jura Distillery and its whiskies are truly remarkable. This short article promises to give you a complete understanding of the distillery and the philosophy underlying its whole range. By the time you get to the final sentence, you’ll understand what Jura is really all about, and why you should be paying attention to its range.
Jura is a distillery that evokes strong views. The critics can be quite scathing. Their criticism lies in what they claim it could be. Consider the following: this is a distant, nearly inaccessible island off the west coast of Scotland, an island so windy, it’s barely possible to walk on it without being blown off – absolutely true. It’s guarded by a dangerous whirlpool, the Corryvreckan. It has only one road, one pub, one shop and of course only one distillery. Surely…
Surely, it should be making saintly, cosseted, peated whiskies which have slumbered for many years in damp Atlantic warehouses, and then end up being nosed by serious men in tulip-shaped whisky glasses, and yet what do we see?
Jura’s vast range of single malt whiskies can be found at affordable prices in every supermarket in the land – horror of horrors!
Critics argue that if it just disciplined itself and produced a smaller range, it could give us better whiskies. Some even argue that it should be making more peated expressions given its very close proximity to Islay.
This argument misunderstands the uniqueness of Jura.
Jura Distillery: A Human Story
To understand the uniqueness of Jura Distillery and its whiskies, you need to understand its history. Jura is not an ivory tower distillery. It is the very heart of the island. It deeply involves its community. It is one of the most human distilleries around, and that influences its taste and flavour.
Jura Distillery: A Distillery Built for the People by the People
In understanding the reason for the building of the distillery and its choice of stills, we get to understand the real uniqueness of Jura.
The distillery is very old. It was founded in 1810, and it was visited by the famous Victorian whisky historian Alfred Barnard. Alfred wrote that the distillery produced a heavily peated whisky, similar to its closely neighbouring Islay. The stills were small, producing a heavily robust and concentrated spirit.
The distillery fell into disuse many times. Its longest period of disuse was between 1900 to 1963. In the 1950s, Robin Fletcher and Tony Riley-Smith, two local estate owners, wanted to revitalise the local community, bringing in new life and retaining the old community. They were not romantics trying to restore an antique distillery; they wanted to stop the depopulation of their island.
They rebuilt the present distillery and installed the second tallest stills in Scotland, rejecting the use of smaller stills it had from its Victorian days. The distillery reopened in 1963.
It’s important to understand that the distillery was built for the people of the island. The choice of tall stills allowed the distillery to create a lighter and more accessible whisky – a whisky more in tune with the time. Jura is ultimately for people, and it’s made by its people. It produces single malt whiskies that are pleasing, accessible and easy to drink. It’s not for nothing that Jura has been named for both 2021 and 2022:
The UK’s No.1 Top Single Malt Brand
I remember my younger brother’s delight in introducing me to Jura. ‘Try this,’ he said to me. ‘It’s quite different from your usual single malt.’ And indeed it was, and this is down to its unique method of creation.
What Makes a Jura?
We know what makes a Jura: at its essence, it’s the tall stills and the American oak bourbon casks.
The stills are 25ft tall, making them the second tallest in Scotland. The stills, additionally, have a constricting piece, like a Victorian corset, just above its kettle – the bulbous part of the still. This means that there is a lot of copper contact and reflux, creating a very light, delicate, floral and fruity new-make spirit.
The climate is absolutely unique for getting a very even and balanced maturation in the warehouses. This is because despite not rising above 10°C in summer, the average temperature is around 6°C in the winter.
What you get is a very clean, vibrant and fruity spirit that is much loved nowadays, but that doesn’t stop the distillery from going wild and expressing itself.
So Many Ways to Express Something Delightful
One of the great things about Jura Distillery is its large range of expressions. After first being aged in bourbon casks, to receive a lovely vanilla, caramel, cinnamon and nutmeg sweetness, they are finished in many different and innovative ways.
Some are finished in red wine casks, rum casks, rye casks and even ale casks. Jura is eager to democratise the experience of enjoying single malts in their many different expressions.
The Final Secret of Jura Distillery
If you should ever visit Jura and experience the distillery’s visitor centre, the staff make a point of not telling people what they’re tasting during a tasting session. They want people to tell them what they’re tasting.
This democracy and respect for people have led Jura to accomplish something remarkable: they have an enormous production capacity of 2.2 million litres a year, and despite that, not a drop goes into a blend. This is very unusual. In some of the very best distilleries in Scotland, only a very small amount becomes single malts. Most of their whisky becomes part of blends.
People want Jura’s single malts so much that they have none left over for blends!
Jura is a difficult island to access. It’s not easy to make whisky there. They have a single road, a single shop and a single distillery where its people make a singular single malt whisky enjoyed by people across the whole world.