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Issue 120 - Jura and George Orwell

Whisky Magazine Issue 120
June 2014


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Jura and George Orwell

Two stories running in tandem

Picture this: beautiful natural surroundings, undisturbed by mass tourism; one distillery; approximately 180 inhabitants and 5,000 red deer. Welcome to the Isle of Jura, only separated by a relatively small strip of water from its larger sister Islay, but producing an entirely different type of whisky, largely underestimated. The cause might partly be the fame of its neighbours on the adjacent island, or partly the truly chequered history of the distillery. The operation even started under another name: Small Isles Distillery. When the license changed hands in 1831, the new lessee, William Abercrombie, introduced the name Isle of Jura. Up to 1901 that license would change hands five times and the distillery narrowly escaped bankruptcy.

As if that were not enough, in 1901 license holder Ferguson entered an apparently unsolvable dispute with his landlord, one of the mighty Campbells. He closed the distillery and shortly thereafter removed the roofs of the buildings, leaving them to be destroyed by the elements.

End of story? By no means, an entirely different story would be written in the 1940s. This time by famous novelist and social commentator George Orwell, who allegedly wrote his sombre scenario for the future in a cottage on the island, between 1946 and 1949. London was too busy for him at the time, and he confessed to wanting to be in an “unget-at-able” place. Looking at Jura's geographical position, the working title for his novel The Last Man In Europe seems we...

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