Cancelled sailings due to adverse weather or repairs are perhaps common enough for the islands. What was a minor inconvenience to me is something to factor into everyday life for the people living and working here who rely on the ferries to support their livelihood. Port Ellen is sometimes closed in bad weather and with both ferries operating out of there for a long period there may have been a few more disruptions than normal. Still, the Islay folk are laid back and stoic so you just get on and adapt to it I guess.
|Port Askaig to Feolin ferry crossing|
The Jura ferry uses a separate slipway to the linkspan and so my desire to include Jura Distillery on this leg of my journey was still on track. So here I was, on my final day in the isles, waiting to drive across the ramp onto the ferry, when a strong swell comes down the Caol and the boat starts rocking from side to side in front of me! “Just wait a moment until she settles” the boatman advised, just in case I was working out the angle for a two wheeled stunt entry, as the ramp jumped a foot off the ground alternately at either side for about a minute.
|Jura Highland Coo|
|MV Fingal, Barnard's transport to Jura (picture from Museum of Islay Life)|
|Craighouse piers and the Small Isles|
|Old corn mill in Craighouse, once known as Milltown|
|Craighouse village and cloud topped Paps on a dreich day|
|Jura Distillery 'castle'|
|Etching from Barnard, the original photo it was taken from is in the distillery|
The main buildings were all built around a courtyard which was entered through a gateway facing the sea. A new maltings had recently been built on the slope behind the existing works, with both the old and new maltings the same size and with the common arrangement of barley loft above malting floor above warehouse. Each one had a kiln attached and the process of malting and milling is fairly standard. The mash tun is a substantial 20 feet across, one of the largest recorded by Barnard although his only comment is that it is driven by a water wheel. He does note a secondary mash tun from where the final sparge and the draff are pumped to drain back into the heating tanks for the next run.
The Tun Room contained 4 washbacks at 13,000 gallons each (59,000 litres) and these in turn supply the three stills at 6,650 gallons (30,000 litres), 2,350 (10,700) and 1,200 (5,500) respectively in the traditional triple distillation pattern. Barnard here describes the Still rummagers as being driven by a wheel 18 inches wide, 12 feet in diameter and placed below the worm tubs. This sounds like they are powered by the water flowing out of the tubs, themselves elevated by 40 feet and fed direct from the nearby stream.
There were four warehouses containing over 3,500 casks/1 million litres of “pure Highland Malt”, from an annual production of around 285,000 litres, although the works had a capacity of almost three times this. Barnard also mentions a turbine waterwheel “of simple construction, and yet wonderful power, and capable of flooding the whole place in ten minutes” which suggests a dual purpose of providing power and fire protection.
The company that owned Jura also built Ardlussa Distillery in Campbeltown in 1879 which they ran until it closed during the downturn there in 1923. At Jura there appears to have been a falling out with the Campbells in the 1890s and after the laird that the Fergussons had dealt with passed away in 1901 they dismantled the operation and gradually removed the equipment and then the maturing whisky casks. By the time the lease ended in 1910 the operation was long since finished and so it remained for over 60 years. To avoid paying rates the roofs were removed from the buildings and they were left to ruin.
|New distillery built 1960-63|
Now owned by Whyte & Mackay, anyone who has made the effort to get to this remote distillery is rewarded with a friendly tour and dram at no cost. My welcome began in the main street as I was taking photographs. I was approached by an elderly resident and when asked what I was doing here I said I was working on a whisky project, to which the reply came “Ah, Americans!”, and seemingly satisfied with this he shuffled off to continue with whatever errand he was on. This lightened my spirits on what had turned into rather a dreich day and I just managed to stop laughing in time to meet Sue for the tour.
Sue introduced me to a new way of appreciating the wash. Rather than diving your nose into the vapours inside the washback, if you cup your hands below an open hatch then you gather only the heavier, richer vapours that will drift down the outside of the washback and you can breathe in the wonderful grassy aroma from there. No need to risk whiplash from the CO2 kickback and a different aroma to that inside.
|Jura 'Lantern' style stills|
There are now five warehouses, four by the distillery and one on the approach road, now holding 25,000 casks from an annual production of around 1.7m litres. When the new venture began in 1963 most of the whisky went for blending but they are now holding back around a third of their production for single malt bottling.
Jura celebrated the 200th anniversary of their first founding last year and I imagine that the 2013 celebrations may even surpass that, the distillery once more a focal point for the community. I wish I had planned time for a walk up the river to the waterfalls and loch that Barnard visited but ferry times were against me as I had to make my way back home from Islay that afternoon. Barnard too had to rush away, the steamer calling by special permission of Mr MacBrayne just as his tour ended, and he left with regret and hoping to return some day too.