Posted on | October 6, 2011
Written by | Kristen Wolfe Bieler
To describe the essence of The Isle of Jura’s house style, Master Distiller and Global Brand Ambassador Willie Tait uses three words: “Elegance, lightness and fragrance.” That might be where the similarities between the distillery’s varied offerings end.
Jura’s diverse line-up includes the 10-Year-Old (light and delicate), 16-Year-Old (rich and full-bodied), Prophecy (profoundly peated) and Superstition (lightly peated), among others.
Each whisky is as unique as the island where they are made. One of the inner-Hebridean islands just off the west coast of Scotland, Jura is home to thousands of deer, about 180 people and a single distillery. While the island is only a few miles north of the much more famous island of Islay, its whiskies have remarkably little in common. (As Tait likes to say, the best thing about Islay is the view one gets of Jura.)
The 201-year-old Jura distillery was purchased by Whyte & Mackay in 1994 and since then the quality of the whiskies and freedom to experiment have only increased. “It’s very difficult to be in this business on your own,” says Tait, who has lived on the island for 25 years. “Distilleries work best when they are able to produce more malt, some of which goes into other distilleries’ blends, and that is the benefit of being part of a larger company.” A high proportion of Jura’s malt goes into Whyte & Mackay blends—the rest is used for the distillery’s prized single malts.
Legends Worth Drinking
Unlike most distilleries who take a more fixed approach with peat (use a little, use a lot, or use none at all), Jura crafts whiskies up and down the peat spectrum. Their creative Superstition bottling represents an unorthodox blending recipe no one else has ever tried: A Highland malt made on an island with no peat is combined with young, heavily peated malted barley from Islay. A mix of flavors and ages (there is significant amount of 21-Year-Old in the blend), it is beautifully balanced—”equal parts sweet caramelized toffee and smoky oak,” describes Tait.
Jura’s more recent expression, Prophecy, is all about peat—what Tait imagines the earliest Jura whiskies tasted like: “Peat was a life source for the people here, just like in Islay, so they would have made malts with it.” Prophecy takes its name from a legend about a prophet who was evicted from the island. Upon leaving, she predicted that the last Campbell (the ruling Clan on the island for hundreds of years) would one day leave the island with an eye missing and with a single white horse. Over two centuries later, in 1938, this prophecy came true, when Charles Campbell (the last Campbell on Jura) departed with a white horse and his eye shot out during WWI. Bottled at 46% without chill filtration to recreate the authentic taste of 1938, Prophecy is the most heavily peated whisky from Jura in recent memory, with no Highland malt added at all.
A Gentle Hand with Oak
Because lightness and delicacy is what Jura malts are all about, Tait takes a judicious approach towards oak: “I prefer to work primarily with American white oak and secondary bourbon barrels. Sometimes we tamper with Sherry oak—we finish the 21-Year-Old in a little Oloroso—but in my opinion, Jura doesn’t need a lot of very expressive oak. As a distiller I really like to see each spirit’s authenticity, and I find Sherry barrels can really start to dominate.”
This year, the Jura 21-Year-Old — created to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the distillery — and the 1976 vintage will reach U.S. shores. Like all Jura expressions, each tastes distinct, with its own personality. “Some people think then that we were confusing the consumer on just what is Jura, but we think it is much more interesting to offer a range of flavor profiles,” says Tait. “And when you look closely, you will see they all have a family resemblance.”
|THE JURA RANGE|
Jura 10-Year-Old: Light, fragrant—”a perfect aperitif whisky,” Tait describes.
Jura 16-Year-Old: Tait’s favorite, packed with sweet toffee, developed fruit notes.
Jura 21-Year-Old: Rich and fullbodied, finished in Sherry casks.
Superstition: Slightly peaty, nutty and rounded.
Prophecy: Non-chill-filtered with heavy peat flavors and notes of cinnamon and salt.