by Tom Morton
Afflicted as I have been this week by asthma – two days off work and counting – I have been relying on various forms of pharmaceutical to enable my breathing to continue. And let’s face it, breathing is, on the whole, a necessity. Steroid inhalers of the red and blue variety. A nebuliser. A spacer for the blue inhaler, one with a face mask that transforms me instantly – visually at least – into Dennis Hopper in his role as ‘Frank’ in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet.
There is some scientific evidence that asthma attacks – and lest we forget, the fact is that three people a day die from asthma in the UK alone – can be triggered in some people by substances present in beer and wine such as histamines and sulphites. Whisky, curiously, is not seen as major ‘trigger’ in its own right. Drunkenness, however, whether induced by the most expensive single-cask or the cheapest fortified wine, is undoubtedly a major factor in some adult asthma deaths, either through simple stupefying of the system or the desperate inability to find the right inhaler at the right time.
There is also some anecdotal evidence that ‘a wee dram’ – and that’s one wee dram, or three very, very wee ones – can ease the agonies of asthma. I was willing to test this theory, and I had an opportunity to do so in the company of three fascinating whiskies anyone with access to a supermarket can contrast and compare without breaking the bank.
For a tenner if you’re lucky you can pick up the three-miniature pack called Jura: The Collection, and be transported to that one-road, one-pub, one-distillery island a few minutes away from Islay. That provides you with 5cl each of 10-year-old ‘Jura Origin’ as it’s now called – the standard Jura single malt; Jura ‘Superstition’ and the 16-year-old ‘Diurach’s Own’ (as in, belonging to an inhabitant of Jura, a Diurach) . It’s extremely valuable, not say entertaining, pleasant and instructive, to sit down and conduct a comparative nosing and tasting with these three drams in sample-size. Then you can decide if you want to spend around £25 on a full bottle of the 10-year-old, £33 on the Superstition, or £44 on the 16.
You should try this yourself, but for what it’s worth (and I’m in practice for my stint next week as a judge in the World Whisky Awards) Here’s what I think.
The 10 year old, which I used to denigrate as a faked-up island attempt at producing a lightweight Speysider, I know appreciate as a unique complement to the more boots-off smelly-feet drams from adjacent Islay. It has a truly beautiful aroma on the nose, all honey notes, nubuck leather and clean leather armchairs topped with a leafy greenness. In the mouth it’s light and yes, somewhere between a sweety Glenmorangie and the Glenfiddich/Glenlivet creaminess. Comforting, mead-like, perhaps a hint of acorns and coffee. The finish is full of fragrant warmth, not attacking heat. Only 40 per cent alcohol. It’s a smooth, delicate and rather wonderful whisky.
Superstition is essentially blended from Jura whiskies of any age past three years, though its darkness of colour indicates the presence of a few oldies in there. Age is not necessarily a signifier of great quality – one of the finest drams I ever tasted was in the Glenfarclas warehouse, and was just over three years old. You pay a premium for Superstition, though. Is it worth it?
On the nose it’s at first worryingly rubbery, like a bicycle repair outfit. That pungency reveals itself as warehousey remnants – the ashy floors and old sherry butts, finally cut down by an ozone whiff of alcohol. In the mouth – and this is odd, as the whisky is bottled at 43 per cent strength – it seems thinner than the 10-year-old, though there are different flavours – a woodiness, a hint of the sea, the merest wisp of smoke. But there’s that bitter warehouseyness again, the acidic burntness of old wood coming through. But thinly.
The finish dies away very quickly, but that burnt-almond spirity remant is left. On the whole, I’m slightly disappointed, and I don’t think it’s good as the bog-standard 10. Too much faffing around with new and old casks.
Back to 40 per cent for this, and your nose immediately picks up a citrussy spiciness, with apple chutney and even, finally, a bit of melon springing to mind. Still, there isn’t that immediate, comforting sense of integration, of welcome you get in the 10. Taste it, and the smoothness, the roundness of the 10 is there, but with the honey cut through by a lemony astringency that never overwhelms, but undoubtedly nags away at the palate.
Somehow, I’m disappointed. this exchanges the subtlety of ‘Origin’ Jura, the essential character of the dram, for a kind of cluttering, raggedy heat you can find in many other whiskies. On the finish, this smooths out considerably, leaving you with a bigger sense of that honeyed heat. but then there’s a prickly bitterness. That warehouse flavour again. And remember, a bottle of this is £44.
I prefer to taste whiskies of this alcoholic strength neat, though many will quibble that adding water releases the flavours. These drams are already watered down from cask strength, though, before bottling. I’ve tried them with added water in the glass, and while they may be easier to drink that way, I don’t think it benefits their falvoursomeness.
Anyway, for £10, why not have a go yourself? My feeling is that, for a spiritous visit to Jura, that £25 bottle of the 10-year-old is a bargain fare. And by far the best value. However, confusion reigns via the website, where the classic 10 seems to have disappeared. You can still get it all over the place, though. And as I say, as the most long-standing and least fiddled-with of the distillery’s output, not to mention the cheapest…go for it.
Oh, and how’s the asthma, I hear you ask? Just the same. But for a wee while there, I forgot all about it.