I almost got to Jura! How many of us whisky lovers can say that when we’ve made it to Islay and looked across the Sound to the Paps, the distinctive breast-like mountains that announce Jura’s presence in the Inner Hebrides? Of course, three might be a strange number of paps unless, like me, you are something of a Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy fan. If you are not, you’ll have no idea what I am talking about...
One person who certainly has made it to Jura is Ian Buxton and his experiences are engagingly chronicled in his excellent book Whiskies Galore. My additional insights about the island are concerned with George Orwell as a friend has served as Secretary to the Orwell Society. Was he a whisky drinker? Well, if he was, what was he drinking during the years that he spent on the island? Regrettably, as the distillery was mothballed for decades around the dates of Orwell’s residency, it was unlikely to be Jura’s own spirit. Then there’s aquaculture. Top quality salmon farming is a lifeline for many remote areas on the West Coast, bringing jobs and families to places that need more people playing an active role in diminishing communities. Salmon and whisky go hand in hand, consistently performing as the UK’s number 1 and 2 food and drink exports and yet Jura, having produced a new house style and range of whiskies that re-announces them to the whisky world, appears determined to block aquaculture. Hey ho. Rant over. Back to the whisky.
My opportunity to taste the new Jura range from Whyte & Mackay came through the excellent Twitter Tastings organised by Steve Rush, aka The Whisky Wire. I have not been a fan of the distillery, finding the previous drams to be a bit on the bland side for my palette. A whisky friend declared the likes of Superstition and Prophecy to be a dumbing down of the old Jura style - I didn’t know it and can therefore not comment. Ian Buxton seemed to rate the 16yo Diurach’s Own and so I included it in my Winter Whisky Collection of 2018. Now, as I look back at Whiskies Galore, he didn’t actually recommend it as such - and I must confess that I found it pleasant but absolutely outclassed by others in that collection. So I came to this Jura tasting with a great deal of interest and rather less hope. Until the samples arrived.
Having been in the world of magazine production for many years as a writer and editor, I am well aware of the danger of style triumphing over content. The Jura samples arrived in the classiest packaging for a Whisky Wire tasting to date, which worried me. Could the whiskies be as good as the presentation? Generous samples in the distillery’s classic shapely bottles. Once released from their very snug and safe packaging I was ready to sign in and taste. Jura declared their new house style to be rooted in American white oak (ex bourbon) barrels with hint of subtle smoke. Some drams are further enhanced in European woods. This is a brief note of what I found: do watch the vlog above too.
The Jura Journey at £33.00 is the entry whisky, a NAS bottled at 40% with a nose that was delicate to begin with, suggesting vanilla and toffee, then stewed apples and pears and, as the spirit sat in the glass, hints of ginger with pepper. In the mouth it was all stewed apples and pears, then vanilla and custard and then a surprising hit of pepper, ginger and smoke. My second sip added butterscotch but the finish was all about the pepper, ginger and smoke and was surprisingly long. Yes, I am enthusiastic about it and the following drams built on the flavour profile announced by the Journey.
The 10yo will be around £38.00 in the UK. The flavour profile is deepened by a finishing period in aged Oloroso sherry casks. This adds boozy sultana notes to the whisky which is also bottled at 40%abv. I liked it very much as the sherry was not full-on and the original character of the series, the apples and pears, was still there. Many 10yo whiskies are quite gawky and immature but this 10yo Jura was confident and ready to be taken seriously, although I found the finish shorter than for the Journey.
Including the 12yo in our tasting which is not available for all markets was a bit confusing as Our World, yours and mine Dear Reader, is global. However, of the 5 drams in the collection, this was the sweetie that wanted to be paired with tart Tatin, plum frangipani and other autumnal and winter fruit puddings and pastries. I found the extra aging delivered marzipan notes on the palate but, to my great surprise, when I tasted it with a mildly curried but fruity Bobotie, it paired much better with it than my preferred dram to drink, the 10yo - so far! At £45.00 Jura 12yo is certainly good value.
Whilst I applaud the skill of the distillery team involved in whiskies that have been blended from spirit matured in many varieties of wood, I find them generally not to be my favourite expressions. The Jura Seven Wood, in the wake of many headline-grabbing Dalmores, underlines my personal feeling that these whiskies are too smooth for me. Initially the Seven Wood was like fireworks in my mouth, simply because there was a cacophony of experiences going on. A drop of water tied it all together for me and it instantly became super smooth. Even the finish became muted for me. At £59.00 the Seven Wood is a classy dram at 42%abv and will be a regular on many people’s shelves, but not mine. It deserves to be a favourite with the whisky drinkers who search for really smooth whiskies at affordable prices.
However, asking £75.00 for the new Jura 18yo, bottled at 44%abv Makes this whisky a bargain at the price! It delighted me with its food and whisky matching possibilities. I forgot to mention in my video that this is finished in red wine casks, which was rather a BIG MISTAKE. I’m not always a great fan of wine barrel finishing but, as with Dalmore’s Cigar Malt, this really works. The wine cask accounts for the ‘hole’ on my palate that I talk about, and also brings in the savoury notes. This whisky is definitely great with venison - I promised in the video to tell you about that.
Jura and The Dalmore are the two single malts from Whyte & Mackay that I know best from their range. Coming to whisky sharing after many years in a supermarket culture I am used to the Good, Better, Best thought behind brand positioning. Whilst Jura is an Island whisky and The Dalmore a Highland I would have to say that Jura plays second fiddle to it’s Highland co-distillery but, with this new house style at such competitive prices, I think Jura deserves to be seriously rethought by many whisky drinkers and evangelisers. I doubt it will ever have the cult-like following of The Dalmore but it is now a distillery top take seriously.
For those of you who would like to have a go at some food and whisky matching at home, here’s my Bobotie recipe, as featured in the Jura vlog. It is not the traditional dish as I have used some cracked wheat to thicken it instead of breadcrumbs.
Bobotie with cracked wheat salad Serves 6
This is a Cape Malay classic from South Africa, tweaked to be easy entertaining at its best. A covered hob to oven skillet is ideal for making and serving this if you have one. The traditional accompaniment is a yellow rice salad: the cracked wheat tabouleh-style salad may be jumping continents but it works really well. It looks like a lot of ingredients but don’t be put off - and you get all the work done well in advance of sitting down to eat.
250 cracked wheat or burghul • 2 large onions and 1 leek • 1 lemon • 1 lime • 1tbsp oil • 1 tsp cumin seeds • 1tbsp curry paste • 1 tsp ground turmeric • 750g lean minced beef • 1 tsp salt • freshly ground black pepper • 75g raisins • 3 tbsp mango chutney • 4 large eggs • 1 lime • 50g toasted flaked almonds • 250ml milk • tomato salad to serve
For the cracked wheat salad: 4 spring or salad onions • 150g frozen broad beans or peas • 75-100g currants • 1/2 a cucumber • a handful of parsley • olive oil
Preheat the oven to gas mark 4, 180C. Cook the cracked wheat in boiling water for 10 minutes then drain and rinse. Finely chop the onions and slice the leek. Grate the zest from the lemon and squeeze the juice. Grate the zest from the lime.
Cook the onions and the leek slowly in the oil in a large frying pan or covered skillet with the cumin seeds for about 5 minutes until soft. Add the curry paste and turmeric to the onion with the minced beef and cook until browned, stirring frequently.
Add a quarter of the cooked cracked wheat, the lemon zest and juice, the lime zest, salt, pepper, raisins, chutney and 2 beaten eggs and mix together well. Pack the mixture into a suitable buttered dish (or pat it down in the skillet if you have one) and cover the dish with foil or the lid. Bake for 1 1/2 hours.
Complete the cracked wheat salad. Trim and finely slice the spring onions. Cook the broad beans or peas in boiling water, drain and rinse under cold water. Coarsely grate the cucumber. Finely chop the parsley. Mix everything with the cold cracked wheat, adding the currants, the juice from the lime, the chopped parsley, salt and pepper and olive oil to moisten if necessary. Stir the salad again just before serving.
Increase the oven temperature to gas mark 6, 200C. Scatter the almonds over the Bobotie. Beat 2 eggs with the milk, season and pour the mixture over the almonds. Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes until the topping is set.
Try this dish with a selection of your favourite whiskies at home and please let me know which is your favourite with it. Thanks.