A new Ardbeg whisky always gets the whisky world swinging back and forth between equal measures of excitement, cynicism, anticipation and confliction. There can be no doubt that this small distillery on the south-east coast of Islay has produced more than its fair share of world-beating drams. It is largely this fact that has solidified the Ardbeg reputation, making it one of the most loved, and hyped, of all Scottish distilleries. Old bottlings and young single casks change hands for obscene sums, while any truly limited or unusual releases are feverishly horded for future drinking or speculation.
In recent times Ardbeg has been characterised by a string of non-age-statement bottlings, often featuring some of the Glenmorangie Company’s typically modern wood experimentations. Most have garnered high praise from many commentators, but there are still some that would wish to see more transparent “natural” bottlings (Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist… ah how I miss it) finding their way from the salt sprayed warehouses of Islay. This new release makes obvious reference to the most recent Ardbegian marketing experiment which saw a few vials of new make find their way beyond our atmosphere. It is a vintage bottling this time around though, and with the inclusion of some Marsala matured stock.
After touching upon the official releases of Jura distillery in July’s Review of the excellent Isle of Jura 1988 Archives label, it’s about time we get around to tasting one. Things have changed for the standard 10 year old in recent years, progressing from being the butt of many a whisky-snob joke to one of the best-selling single malts in the U.K. Some of this must surely be down to its notable presence on supermarket shelves, but not all. The quality has risen markedly in recent batches, and while it still hasn’t shaken away all negative associations, it’s gaining in credibility as a result.
That aside, things do still remain hazy for Jura if it is to be a brand aimed at serious whisky lovers. It’s a common theme with the distilleries owned and marketed by Whyte and Mackay; colouring, chill-filtration, low bottling strengths, they all serve to put off those who prefer their whisky a little more natural. In my experience Jura is at its best when allowed greater time in the wood, so let us start with the Jura 16 year old, perhaps the distillery’s unusual, beguiling character will shine in-spite of the aforementioned curtailments.
The island of Jura is a place of deep beauty, feeling far more remote and isolated than its neighbouring Islay and where this Island of peat is home to eight celebrated distilleries Jura boasts only one. It is a significant one in the U.K market though and, in its 10 year old form, is a staple among widely available supermarket malts. However, even with this undoubted success and some peated releases to draw extra interest, Jura whisky remains quite unloved beyond casual whisky drinkers.
The quality of the standard range has risen markedly in recent years, yet only the older official bottlings and interesting examples from the Independents pique the interest of many. Personally I can understand some of the misgivings associated with the Jura 10 year old, but have tasted a few beautiful old Jura’s in the past and feel the distillery often gets rather unfairly overlooked. This is where quality cask selection comes in of course and, having spoken about the Jura Archive bottlings before, we can pour this one with quite some optimism.