I normally want to take home the whisky after a tasting. But last night, I wanted to take home the speaker.
Jura Master Distiller and Global Ambassador Willie Tait had a charm that completely stole the spotlight from the whisky he was introducing. And it’s hard to distract me from whisky. He talked about Scotch the way Pablo Neruda describes avocados, so by the time we came to the drinking part of the tasting, I felt as if I should talk to my glass seductively a little before just drinking it down.
Few things make me want to want to leave my cozy apartment when it’s a windy 14 degrees outside (“feels like” painful misery), but a Scotch tasting will do it.
The intrepid Scotch tasters trudged into Brooklyn Wine Exchange shivering, staring longingly at the warm whisky we knew would thaw our cold wintry hearts. And that’s when Willie decided to show us a video of deer jumping around the island of Jura and the history of the distillery. No offense, I thought as the crowd shifted in their seats, but we could really use a drink.
But Willie had us. He was going to warm us up in his own way. A couple of minutes in, we were mesmerized by his Scottish brogue and blunt humor.
“It’s good to see so many nice people looking to learn about whisky,” he told us by way of a welcome. “Or you’re just drunks.”
Probably a little of both.
Jura, as we learned from the video, is a remote island off the West Coast of Scotland where “every sheep has a first name.” Just 186 residents live on the island, which is two ferries from the mainland by way of Islay. The original distillery ran from 1810 to 1913, and was rebuilt in 1962 by some wealthy landowners who had divided up the estate on the land for deer-shooting.
Willie went there in 1975 and has an infectious appreciation for the whisky. He referred to it as a lovely woman, and to the distilling process as a mother and father still (there were two) making a baby that soaks up the flavors of the island, then is given a nice home in its cask.
When we finally got to the tasting, he had one main tip for how you should drink Scotch:
“You’re either right-handed or left-handed. If you miss your mouth, you’re pissed.”
But it turns out he had quite strong opinions on adding ice. He set the scene: You have a lovely woman. You bring her home for the evening. Turn on the bath. Maybe light some candles. She slides into the tub.
Then you pour a bucket of ice on her head.
“That evening doesn’t end well for either of you.”
We tasted four expressions of Jura. The stills are tall to create a light, delicate flavor and the distillery uses bourbon, American oak, and sherry barrels, depending on the expression.
The lightest was the unpeated Origin, 10-year. I’ve been drinking more bourbon lately, so I enjoyed the complexity and maturity of the Scotch. I also liked the hint of licorice at the end.
The 16-year “Diurach’s Own” was my favorite. It also had no peat, but some nice flavors of vanilla, honey, and ginger.
The lightly peated one was “Superstition,” which marries 13% of a heavily peated whiskey with a non-peated Highland style. The flavor is soft, not too smoky, and a little spicy.
But I was more a fan of the heavily peated “Prophecy,” which tasted like yummy leather that’s been all spiced up.
As a bonus, they unveiled “Jura Brooklyn” to ooohs and ahhhs from the crowd. Nothing gets Brooklyn all excited like something with “Brooklyn” in the name.
It will be formally launched later this spring, but we got to taste it early. It’s a partnership of the Jura distillery and some local joints, including Brooklyn Wine Exchange, Buttermilk Channel, and Brooklyn Brewery.
Willie said it was complex “as anyone from Brooklyn would be.” I also thought it was a little nutty “as anyone from Brooklyn…” It came off as sweet; some at the table said even a hint of syrup. Willie suggested that was from the casks, which are, interestingly, pinot noir, Oloroso sherry, and American oak.
You can tell a good tasting because people don’t want to leave. They linger to chat more and have already made new friends. This crowd was slow to go back out in the cold, but even more reluctant to leave Willie behind.