A History of the Isle of Jura Co Whisky Distillery

Located in the Inner Hebrides, Jura Distillery is 60 miles off the mainland of Scotland on the Isle of Jura. Despite its remote location, the distillery has played a significant role in the whisky industry, producing unique spirits reflecting its island home’s rugged charm.

jura distillery outside

Early Beginnings

With only 1,312 inhabitants (otherwise known as Diurachs) at its peak in 1831, the people of Jura had to be resourceful. So, the distilling heritage on Jura dates back to the 18th century when islanders crafted spirits from rowan berries. This rudimentary method of production laid the groundwork for the island’s future in whisky-making.

The First Legal Distillery (1810)

In 1810, Archibald Campbell established the first legal distillery on Jura, located in Craighouse, the island’s main settlement. Despite the formalisation of operations, the distillery faced numerous challenges, including high costs and logistical issues due to its remote location.

19th Century Struggles

Throughout the 19th century, the distillery underwent multiple ownership changes and rebranding efforts, known variously as Craighouse, Small Isles, Caol nan Eilean, and Jura. These efforts were ultimately in vain, as economic difficulties and the high cost of operations led to the distillery’s closure in 1901 during a significant downturn in whisky sales.

The Rebirth in the 1960s

The distillery lay dormant for over six decades until the 1950s when island landowners Robin Fletcher and Tony Riley-Smith sought to revive whisky production. With financial backing from Leith-based blender Charles Mackinlay & Co. and the design expertise of William Delme-Evans, a modern distillery was constructed and opened in 1963. This initiative aimed not only to produce whisky but also to bolster the island’s dwindling population.

jura whisky stills

Expansion and Growth (1970s-1980s)

Jura began being sold as a single malt in 1974, marking a significant milestone in its history. The range of products steadily expanded, introducing whisky enthusiasts worldwide to the unique flavours of Jura.

By 1978, the distillery had expanded to its current size, further solidifying its presence in the whisky industry. The large 1960s rooms became larger and a clear flow from a semi-lauter tun, stainless steel washbacks, and a capacious stillhouse with very tall (7.7m) stills with a capacity of more than 20,000 litres became the centre of the distillery’s production.

In 1985, Invergordon Distillers acquired Mackinlay, integrating Jura into its portfolio. This acquisition facilitated further growth and distribution.

Introduction of Peated Whisky

From the late 1990s, Jura incorporated peated malt into its production for a small period annually. 

This addition brought a subtle smokiness to some expressions and was fully realised in products like the no-age Superstition brand in 2002 and the 100% smoked Prophecy in 2009 (both discontinued in 2018).

The Radical Revamp of 2018

In 2018, Jura underwent a comprehensive revamp, launching a new range of whiskies characterised by a lightly smoky profile. 

This new range of regular expressions includes: 

  • Jura Journey
  • 10-year-old
  • 12-year-old
  • 14-year-old American rye cask
  • 18-year-old 
  • Jura Seven Wood

Further expressions like Jura Time and Jura Tide have also been introduced in 2019, enriching the distillery’s offerings.

jura whisky barrels

Key Events Timeline for Jura Distillery

  • 1810: The first legal distillery on Jura was established by Archibald Campbell.
  • 1853: Campbell leases the distillery to Norman Buchanan.
  • 1867: Buchanan goes bankrupt and J&K. Orr assumes control.
  • 1876: James Ferguson & Sons acquired the distillery’s licence.
  • 1901: Distillery closes due to economic difficulties.
  • 1950s: Construction of new distillery starts.
  • 1963: Modern distillery reopened by Robin Fletcher and Tony Riley-Smith.
  • 1974: Jura begins begins selling single malt whisky.
  • 1978: Expansion of the distillery.
  • 1985: Acquisition by Invergordon Distillers.
  • 1990s: A small range of peated whiskies started.
  • 1995: Whyte & Mackay takes over Invergordon Distillers. 
  • 2002: Introduction of the no-age Superstition brand.
  • 2007: United Spirits take over Whyte & Mackay.
  • 2009: Release of the 100% smoked Prophecy.
  • 2014: Whyte & Mackay is bought by Emparador Distillers for £430m.
  • 2018: Radical revamp and launch of a new range of whiskies.
  • 2023: Jura Distillery becomes the first building in the UK to trail self-repairing limewash.

Modern-Day Jura

Today, Jura continues to thrive, balancing tradition with innovation. Its modern operations and diverse product offerings ensure that it remains a notable player in the global whisky market. Jura’s commitment to quality and its unique island heritage make its whiskies distinct and cherished by whisky investors and connoisseurs worldwide.