Off the west coast of Scotland lies the picturesque Isle of Jura. Located at about 60 miles from Glasgow as the crow flies, the remote island has one road, one pub and a one really big whirlpool. Boasting a population of about 200 Diurachs (Gaelic name for the residents of the Isle) and about 5000 deer, it is also home to one of the most famous distilleries this side of the Prime Meridian – the Jura.
The Jura Story
The Jura distillery sits in Craighead, the only settlement on the tiny island. Its story begins in 1810, when the local Laird (meaning landlord) Archibald Campbell obtained a license for legal distillation. While historians agree that there was some amount of unsanctioned brewing going on up to that time, the license was the first step in the Jura story.
Jura’s journey however, was not a smooth one, and it changed hands several times within the first fifty years of its existence. The name too kept changing, and included – Craighouse, Small Isles, Caol nan Eilean and finally, Jura. Among the different owners who kept the stills going during this time was Norman Buchanan of Glasgow, who took over the lease in 1853. Buchanan’s name would forever be associated with another iconic product, the Caol Ila – but that’s something best left for another story.
The Jura distillery kept changing hands, and in 1876, the license was taken up by James Ferguson and Sons. The Ferguson’s had a longer run than all the other previous owners, and continued to run the operations till 1901. In that year, marked by the end of the Victorian Era and the advent of the Edwardian Period, Jura ran into problems of its own. The proprietors fell afoul of the Laird Colin Campbell, the local laird of Jura. Their cause was not helped by the first worldwide slump in whisky sales, and the ever mounting cost of maintaining operations in such a remote location.
These challenges prompted the Ferguson family to close the distillery for good, dismantling and selling most of the equipment. Jura, in the next 60 years, would fall into disrepair.
Fun Fact: George Orwell, who in 1946, wrote his classic novel 1984 in Jura, described the isle as ‘the most un-get-at-able place’.
The original distillery site fell into disuse and disrepair following the 1901 closure. In the 1960’s two locals, Robin Fletcher and Tony Riley-Smith decided to revitalize the operations. Out of their efforts was born the Jura distillery as we know it today.
Noted architect William Delmé-Evans, who had been involved with the redesign of Tullibardine, and would later go on to build Glenallachie, was on boarded for Jura’s rebirth. Delmé-Evans, who remained on the board of the distillery till his retirement in 1975, redesigned the distillery, noted for its distinct tall stills capable of an excess of 20,000 liters.
The new, redesigned distillery began operating in 1963, and by 1978, the number of stills had been doubled from the initial two to four. The company continued to grow from strength to strength, and was acquired by Invergordon in 1985. Whyte & Mackay took over the distillery in 1993 and has continued to operate it since then.
Jura’s produce is much closer to the Highland style than the heavily-peated produce of its near neighbors on the island of Islay. This strategy has continued to bear fruit for Jura, even though some experimental peated bottles from the late 1990s have found their way into the market, and to some great reviews.
The distillery continues to serve up a variety for the palates of connoisseurs, and introduced a 100% smoked Prophecy brand in 2009.