Few distilleries can match the setting that Jura affords itself, being situated just off the coast of Islay and its marvellous skyline being dominated by the Paps of Jura. Today its produce is available worldwide and has a strong support that enjoys its subtle charms and affordable price point. However, when discussing its history, it’s important to draw a line between the original Jura distillery and the one we see today.
Founded in 1810 by Archibald Campbell, the Small Isles Distillery was located in Jura’s only settlement of note called Craighouse and for a period this was also the name of the distillery. As the owner of the isle of Jura itself, Archibald set out with good intensions but a series of owners and name changes undermined the whole project. Unsurprisingly its whisky from this period was supposedly of the peated variety much like its neighbours across on Islay. In 1853 the distillery was leased to a Glasgow businessman, who filed for bankruptcy in 1867 thereby allowing the license to be acquired by James Ferguson & Sons. Under their ownership, the distillery was refurbished in 1884 and continued until 1901 when the effects of the Pattison Crisis reached the remote Jura shoreline. Another factor was a dispute between Ferguson and the then land owner, Colin Campbell, with such conflicts being all too common amongst island folk across Scotland.
Escalating overheads would have been a major contributor to the situation, as even today Jura is an undertaking to reach via the mainland. It’s more infamous whisky neighbour in the form of Islay, still is the gateway to its shores via a short ferry crossing. Such a route would have driven up costs for Ferguson and when faced with a market slump in demand, the cold hard facts of finance would have prompted its closure. Unable to do business, Ferguson went so far as to completely dismantle the distillery, leaving Jura with a ruin and sadly the loss of major employment in the remote area.
Locals would have to rely on Islay for their local dram and for several decades it seemed Jura, like so many other distilleries across Scotland, was lost to the history books. That is until 1963, when local landowners attempt to stem the growing trend of depopulation on Jura. Forming an alliance with a mainland blending company, work began to construct a new Jura distillery on the remains of what existed previously. Leading the project was William Delme-Evans, who as the distillery architect was well versed in establishing efficient distilleries. Of particular note was his work at Tullibardine that took advantage of a former brewery on its site. However, before work could commence he designed and helped build a runway on the island to overcome the nuisance of traditional travel to Jura. The fact that he hadn’t qualified as a pilot yet was beside the point, as once he passed his exams Delme-Evans was able to oversee the work with efficient ease.
Jura was a more widespread project than just a distillery, as accommodation for distillery workers was built and the only hotel on the island was expanded. Arguably Jura was the first social distillery, a concept that many new distilleries in Scotland now display such as Harris and Raasay. The project was completed in 1963, despite disagreements amidst the workforce who supported opposing football teams. Eager to produce a high quality peated whisky, he remained as its managing director until 1975. However once reopened, the Jura style was different to what had been produced previously, as its tall stills and unpeated malt produced a more Highland style whisky.
Jura was expanded in 1978, when its number of stills was doubled to 4 and then in 1985 it was acquired by Invergordon distilleries. Ownership passed to Whyte & Mackay in 1993, where it remains today under the guidance its master blender Richard Paterson, who has a particular fondness for Jura’s style of whisky. In recent times, sales of Jura have increased dramatically so much so that it is one of the UK’s largest selling single malts. Given its annual output of just over 2 million litres and recent resurrection, it’s a remarkable achievement.
The Jura range has also expanded greatly since 2002 and the launch of its popular lightly peated Superstition bottling. This has been joined by various age statements, the Prophecy which ups the peat level, the 10-year-old Origin and the 16-year-old Diurach’s Own. These are joined annually by special releases including the special Jura festival celebration. While not the most complex whisky, Jura continues to grow as a brand and popularity internationally.