I promised to write about this and I shall at long last do so.
When I was last over on Jura on business, I had occasion to call in to the distillery. After we’d dealt with the reasons for my call, and with the ferry to Islay on its mid-day break from service, the chap I was talking to invited me to go around the distillery with him. No special treat this, because there are regular tours in any case, but it was interesting to have a look in the company of someone very knowledgeable about the whole process.
Making malt whisky starts with brewing beer, which is then twice distilled to recover the alcohol. The alcohol is never pure, but carries with it the characteristics of the malt and peat used in the production of the brew. The stills at Jura are unique in that they have necks above the main pots which cause a reflux action, intensifying the characteristics of the malt. The final process before maturation involves reducing the alcohol content by the re-addition of water and casking the spirit in used bourbon casks imported from the States.
Maturation is the magic bit; the rest is chemistry and fine process control. The interaction between cask and spirit over years in bond cannot be precisely predicted and some casks acquire the very best flavours and are set aside for single-cask bottlings, which are rare at Jura. We went in to one of the large bonds at Craighouse and breathed in the Angel’s Dram; there was a moment when coming into the atmosphere of oak, bourbon and malt, with the spirit escaping from the casks over the years, took the whole process from industry to art. It was more than a sensory moment, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up as this transformation took place all around me; this was the dram that was lost to the exciseman and returned to the angels whence it came.