Hi Graham, first of all, please introduce yourself and tell us what brought you to Jura and how did you end up in the whisky industry? It was actually my father that brought me to Jura, he was a farmer and got a job with Ardfin estate. At this point I was in the Royal Navy, but I instantly fell in love with the island, although it was remote, the community feel was fantastic. I left the navy on November 1st 1991 and started nightshift on November 3rd, I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
Hi Graham, first of all, please introduce yourself and tell us what brought you to Jura and how did you end up in the whisky industry?
It was actually my father that brought me to Jura, he was a farmer and got a job with Ardfin estate. At this point I was in the Royal Navy, but I instantly fell in love with the island, although it was remote, the community feel was fantastic. I left the navy on November 1st 1991 and started nightshift on November 3rd, I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
Have things changed a lot at the distillery over the years, and how do you see it evolving in the future?
The biggest change is how Jura has evolved. When I started about 80% of jura production went into blended whisky (about 1,200,000ltrs out of 1,500,00ltr production). In 2019 we did 2.3 million litres and it all went for Jura malt whisky. I cannot see that trend decreasing and at some point, Jura will have to expand production.
Can you please explain your main tasks at Jura and what a typical day might involve?
For the first 2 hours every day, I talk to everyone on-site and stick my nose into every stage of spirit production, I also check all the locks on the bonded warehouses. Rest of morning is regulatory paperwork. Afternoons, I try and do something different. This could be tours, nosing casks, check machinery or walk to the market loch to check our water supply.
What is it that you enjoy most about working in the industry?
The best bit is that no two days are the same. I also meet some really nice people who come to visit. In 2019, we had almost 10,000 visitors, so that keeps me going. Almost all have a real genuine enthusiasm for all things whisky.
What has been your biggest career highlight to date?
Has to be becoming manager in 2016, I have had some hard acts to follow in Mickey Heads and Willie Cochrane.
What are some of the key production points that set Jura Whisky apart?
Jura has some differences, we double mash to washbacks which give you different flavours in fermentation. We also have exceptionally tall stills, the wash stills are 26 feet 4 inches tall. This gives you a delicate and light spirit. In maturation, we get hardly any snow on Jura and the gulf stream keeps us quite temperate. This allows our casks to have a longer maturation cycle as the cold closes the wood and stops evaporation. We also only fill into 1st fill ex-bourbon.
How would you describe the character of Jura single malt whisky? Jura is very light and delicate as the tall stills and copper reflux stop all the heavy undesirable flavours reaching the head of the still.
If you were to choose one of the Jura whiskies, which one would it be, and what would be your setting of choice to enjoy a dram?
My new favourite is the 21 year old Jura Tide with a splash of room temperature water. The best thing is enjoying with friends on a dreich winters night around a roaring fire.
Jura is one of the most isolated of islands in the Hebridean archipelago, how is life on the island?
Summer on Jura is easy, except for the midgies. Winter is different as we get lots of horizontal rain, howling gales and ferry cancellations. But if you love the outdoors, lots of wildlife and a warm community, there is nowhere better.
Where would be your favourite place to visit on the island?
I love my monthly visit to the distillery water source at the Market Loch, it’s a good 30 minute walk up into the hills past a huge waterfall. When you are there, you could be on the moon as there is no one there, you can’t even see any houses from the loch side. Sheer magic.
To the readers who are thinking about visiting the island, how would you describe its character and what would you recommend doing while there?
You have to plan carefully as there is only one hotel, one café and one shop. But if you love the outdoors, hill walking, wild swimming, spotting Golden or sea eagles, otters, dolphins, taking one of the sightseeing boat tours, fell running, seeing the house where George Orwell wrote 1984, sailing through the Corryvreckan whirlpool and tasting lots of cracking drams. If you like all that, then it’s the place for you.
Thank you very much for your time Graham!