We pour a dram and catch up with Jura’s brand home manager Mark Bruce, chatting through favourite drams, bottles for Christmas, and why the island itself is just so enchanting…
Most whisky geeks around the world will know about Islay. A trip to the island is something of a pilgrimage. A fewer, but definitely increasing, number know about the hidden gem just to the north and but a short ferry hop: the Isle of Jura.
The island is simply spectacular. It spans the same land area as London but is home to just 200 people (and a casual 6,000 deer). It’s wildly mountainous, but it’s also got sweeping white beaches. It’s where George Orwell wrote 1984. It’s even got palm trees, thanks to the warm air swept across the Atlantic by the jet stream. And it’s home to a whisky distillery!
Jura has become known in recent years for its cask finishing balanced with a gentle peat influence. But its island home has a huge impact on the distillery, too. We find out just how from Mark Bruce, Jura’s brand home manager, who lives on the island.
Master of Malt: Jura is a little-known Scottish island, but it is truly stunning – white beaches, mountains, deer! What are your favourite things about the island?
Mark Bruce: My favourite thing about life on Jura is that I get to live and work within a community that’s dedicated to making great whisky. Jura Whisky and our tiny island community go hand in hand, therefore without one, the other wouldn’t be what it is today. But it isn’t always about whisky. Come the weekends and longer days you’ll often find me out walking the hills after work and enjoying Small Isles Bay on paddleboards and canoes.
MoM: Jura is also incredibly remote – it takes quite the journey to get there! How does this impact island life and whisky production?
MB: I would say our location impacts every aspect of life, but it wasn’t until I moved here I began to fully appreciate that. With just one shop (our community store), one pub and a handful of island businesses, Jura relies entirely on the ferries between us and Islay, as well as those running from Islay to the mainland. The problems tend to occur when the wild weather kicks in and high winds force the ferries to stop running.
Our whisky production also finds itself at the mercy of the ferries during bad weather. Our distillery manager Graham Logan and his team are able to maintain 24-hour production for two or three days before we desperately need the ferries up and running again.
MoM: The whisky a distillery makes is as much a product of its location and community as the production methods. How does Jura’s tiny but close-knit community impact the character of Jura whisky?
MB: I couldn’t agree more. Our location itself doesn’t just make Jura a difficult island to get to, but makes every part of life and whisky-making that bit harder. This brings our community together and ensures anyone in need of help gets it. It also translates directly into our whisky and team here at the distillery. There are 17 of us working in our distillery, and all of us live here on Jura. It’s very much the community helping to make each and every drop of spirit!
MoM: One of my favourite memories of Jura is swimming off the coast in front of the distillery – what are your personal highlights from your first visits to the island?
MB: One of my most memorable experiences was on my first visit to Jura, which was part of an immersion experience with Whyte & Mackay. I was fortunate enough to visit for four days and experience all the best parts of what this wonderful island has to offer. We got to climb The Paps [the island’s mountains], experience Jura’s east coast from a fast boat, and walk up to the distillery’s water source, The Market Loch. We also explored the north end of the island, which has some of its most remote beaches. And we enjoyed the freshly-caught seafood! Of course, we also had an in-depth tour of the distillery, and tasted Jura whiskies with our distillery manager, Graham Logan.
MoM: Talk us through the core Jura range. How do you celebrate the island of Jura through each expression?
MB: I think the entire range of whiskies within our Signature Series is worth celebrating. Exploring them all is a journey in itself, but most importantly, there’s a whisky in there for everyone. We begin with Jura Journey, a great example of how our new-make spirit works perfectly well with American white oak ex-bourbon casks. The 10 and 12-year-old single malts then expand on this with 18-14 months in Oloroso sherry casks. Our Seven Wood is a beauty because it’s different for me every time I try it. American white oak and six different types of French Oak are brought together to create a truly exciting dram of whisky. Jura 18, an island favourite, is best described as armchair whisky for me. It’s very complex, a whisky that can be nurtured on its own and paired perfectly with your main course or dessert. It’s the enhancement period in very special Bordeaux red wine casks that makes Jura 18 an absolute favourite!
MoM: If someone’s thinking of gifting a bottle of Jura for Christmas, where would you suggest they start?
MB: I’d suggest trying one (or both) of our new cask edition releases. Whether it’s the Jura Red Wine cask or the Jura Winter Edition, you simply can’t go wrong. Both of these are perfect for sharing with your friends and family, pairing with food, and mixing in your favourite cocktail.
MoM: What dram will you be toasting Christmas with this year?
MB: A sample we’ve just drawn from a cask destined for next year’s Fèis Ìle. You’ll hear all about it soon enough!
Like the sound of Jura? You could win a trip to the island! Check out our blog post for more.