Guest blog #2: Jura and Orkney
Islay is considered a mecca for peat freaks and with its eight working distilleries is a wonderful way to spend time. Less traveled islands host distilleries including Mull and Arran. Our trip took us to two others: Jura and Orkney. Our trip to the Isle of Jura is a literal “jump” from Islay, a seven minute ferry ride. “Any time someone travels all the way to Jura, I’d be happy to show them ‘round!” Even on a Saturday morning, we found out. Distillery Manager Willie Cochrane loves to show off the distillery. This was the first time that we’d had the opportunity to get to Jura; sometimes the water is too rough, more often, time runs too short. A truly unique experience and one which gives you a great idea of how the climate affects the maturation of the whisky.
Orkney is a totally different experience. To experience the wind and see the barren, treeless landscape are a must! It’s a bit of a drive and a ferry ride, but there are incredible non-whisky field trips as well.
We were fortunate to get a tour of Scapa thanks to our friend Ian of Chivas Brothers who met us there to show us around. Scapa is not open to visitors and it is rare to see inside. (Stills on left.) There has been some modernization but it remains a very traditional distillery. The Scapa 16 YO reflects a movement from the 12 and 14 YO in an attempt to produce a standard product while they build up more stocks. The distillery was mothballed from 1997 to 2004 and no whisky was being produced. It will take till 2014 to see significant stocks of 10 YO whisky again.
Highland Park is always a pleasure to visit. They have the largest traditional floor maltings of any distillery (peat-fired kiln on left) and Edrington Group clearly wants to move Highland Park into a top selling single malt. Gerry Tosh gave us the tour and he believes peat type and levels and quality of casks are the drivers for what you finally taste in the whisky. While lots of people focus on water source, shape of the stills, barley and so forth, Gerry sees that those make up a very small part of the overall distinctiveness of the whisky. Met a number of the key marketing staff during the visit and expect to see aggressive promotion of Highland Park and new expressions in the future. They will maintain true to their core 12 and 18 YO, but you will see other vintages as well. – B. J. Reed