Fundamentally Reassuring

John Bruce enjoys a nice surprise in the form of two expressions from the Isle of Jura

After 52 years on this earth, I like to think that there are some certainties in life. But when Einstein is assigned the dunce’s cap by those revisionist types at the Large Hadron Collider, a person has to re-examine some of life’s fundamentals.

Apparently over the last three years they have managed to send neutrinos from Geneva to Italy faster than the speed of light on 16,000 occasions. As you can imagine, this has caused a wee frisson of concern in the scientific community, as the theory of relativity is somewhat fundamental to all that we thought we understood about the universe. I would ask a more pertinent question: why were the neutrinos (admittedly an anagram of “Turin nose”) so keen to get to Italy in the first place?

Of course the Collider hasn’t just done that. It has also failed to detect the Higgs boson particle, otherwise known as the God particle, despite all of the theory guaranteeing that it would. Given the fact that they are backing away from their dark matter theory of the universe I would imagine that there might be a few refund applications on the desks of a few scientific colleges around the world. Reading about the end of science as we know it reminded me of a similar questioning of fundamentals that I experienced when I recently sampled the Isle of Jura single malt.

I was on my way back to Scotland when I was somewhat taken by the “2 for £70” offer at Heathrow airport and duly purchased a bottle of 16 year old Isle of Jura and an 18 year old Dalmore. The Dalmore met expectations and will be reviewed at a later date but, never having tasted a malt from Jura, I was nevertheless confident in what I would be sampling and thought that it would be a mere matter of comparing it with similar island malts. The problem is, as the Collider crew will tell you, no theory can ever be absolutely proven, but it only takes one conclusive experiment to wreck it.

Jura itself lies just to the northeast of Islay, the home of some of the most distinguishable and indeed distinguished of single malts, all of them redolent of salt, peat and smoke. I poured my first drop of Jura and prepared to compare this new experience with the offerings from its more famous Hebridean neighbour. Perhaps this was not quite the shock to life’s fundamentals as that delivered by the LHC, but peat was nigh on as absent as Higgs boson and there was spiciness but no hint of salt. If I had been presented with this at a blind tasting, I would have placed it somewhere on the mainland near Glenlivet, although it has a honeyed ending that didn’t quite fit that location.

Essentially, Isle of Jura was so different from what I expected that I had to ditch all of my preconceptions and reassess it completely. This expression has slight wooden undertones but the abiding impression was of a full bodied, spicy, quite sweetly finished single malt. At this point, somewhat later than perhaps I should have, I visited the website of the distillery and found that this small island of just over two hundred people has its own rich tradition of producing a unique Hebridean malt. I was particularly encouraged by the need to educate myself further and acquired a bottle of their Prophecy expression, as I felt that statistically it should take more than one experiment to destroy a perfectly valid expectation.

The people of the islands are known as Diurachs and the website describes them, their history and their single malts in some detail. It is an interesting read for a workday distraction and the Prophecy expression was an equally fascinating tipple. It was very different from the 16 year old and perhaps, as this was what I had originally wanted to taste in a Hebridean malt, I much preferred this expression. Although nowhere near the Islay level, the peat and sea saltiness were readily apparent but the follow through was still spicy and hinted at sweetness. It benefitted from a very small addition of water and in my opinion is a remarkably different island malt. I am encouraged to try some of the other expressions from this tiny island and would recommend the Prophecy or the 16 year old to anyone with similar preconceptions to mine, or indeed to anyone who delights in usquebaugh.

Einstein famously stated that “God does not play dice”, although quantum mechanics tested his faith. Similarly “Tiger Woods will win more majors than Jack Nicklaus” can perhaps be consigned to the same dustbin as “all Hebridean malts are peaty”, but there are some fundamentals that defy the revisionists. The website for the Isle of Jura distillery confronts you with the choice “English” or “Francais” and that reassures me that the Auld Alliance still exists. Einstein may have erred but that is only human. I suppose its all relative but, compared to any other tipple, I find single malts to be divine.

Click here to see the published article.