The Whisky What Now?

So everyone seems to be talking about the latest edition of Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible, and nobody asked my opinion so here it is anyway. (Also, I didn’t have any reviews written for this week, so I’m just gonna rant at you for awhile instead. Feel free to tune out at any time.)

First, I’ve never held a high opinion of Jim’s work, and I’ve only once paid for a copy of his Bible. (That was back in 2011 and as a quick perusal of my work from that period will convince you, I didn’t have any clue what I was doing.) This is less to do with Jim himself, and more to do with my lack of interest in a compendium of some dude’s very brief opinion on every whisky in existence. I want to read about how a whisky was made, who made it, why they made it, what went into it, what the history of the distillery is or what the history of the brand was. If I’m lucky, I’ll get really useful information like what low-cost slop it was cut with or where they contracted bulk cast-off barrels from. I buy whisky books that give me information, not just endless pages of somebody’s soapbox. I’m pretty fed up with reading about my own opinions on this blog, I don’t feel like I need someone else’s too.

Second, I’ve never had a high opinion of numeric scores (which I don’t use) or awards/rankings of any kind. It’s not possible to name “The Best Whisky In The World” because not only is such a thing necessarily subjective (your best whisky is very unlikely to be my best whisky), but there really is no single best anything. There might be… say… “The Best Whisky In The World That Is Under 18 Years Old And Is From Scotland And Was Matured Full-Term In Sherry And Costs Under $200.” Maybe. Even that’s a stretch. So, I don’t give much credence to a writer who claims to be able to tell you the year’s best whiskies. For the same reason I don’t give much attention to whisky awards. They are at best subjective in the same way and at worst pay-to-play enterprises that allow whisky companies to direct advertising dollars into shiny award stickers that they can slap on their marketing materials. Even if they’re reputable, awards don’t tell me anything about how a whisky will align with my tastes or (more importantly) my budget. “We won a gold medal at The 2019 MacGlen’s Whisky Emporium Visitor Center Annual Whisky Awards” tells me exactly nothing about the whisky. “We scored a 92 out of 100 in Some Dude’s Book” tells me about as much.

Finally, let’s talk about Jim being crass in his books. Everyone holds their own opinions about the current Culture of Cancellation. I am not qualified to speak on the topic, so I won’t. Everyone also holds their own opinions about “locker room talk” and whether it is or is not acceptable in public or semi-public spaces. Again, not my area of expertise. One thing I think we can all agree on, however, is that nobody – and I mean nobody – wants to read thinly-veiled allusions to this man’s

Photograph of Jim Murray
Woo Hoo! Public domain image! Not getting sued over THIS, anyway…

sexual conquests. A gentleman does not kiss and tell, and Jim Murray has proven himself no gentleman. One more thing, and let’s be honest here, who puts the word “Bible” in the title of their own book? I wasn’t going to buy his book before, and now I’m going to continue to not buy his book, but also feel a little better about the decision. /rant.

Oh, I shouldn’t have to say this, but if I catch anyone trolling in the comments, I reserve the right to delete it or censor it. I normally don’t do that, but you have no 1st Amendment rights in my comments section, as I am not the Federal Government, and there is a line.

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  • Agree completely with all but the last point. (I must have missed the sexual allusions.)

    I bought the Murray book for a couple of years but stopped after I realized that (a) I often didn’t understand his descriptions of how the juice tasted (too much “delightful whiff of Lysol on the nose with raspberries and asphalt present in the marathon-like finish”); and (b) I often didn’t agree with his ratings. Especially the latter. Way too many instances of his suddenly and inexplicably doing the whiskey equivalent of giving Bud Light a 99/100 and declaring it “Beer of the Year.” Say what?

    The book is expensive, too, far too expensive to buy it just for the entertainment value. And it had to have entertainment value, because it was sorely lacking as a guide to whiskey.

  • After reading this I’m happy I’ve never bought or even read one of his books. As for awards, you can make the argument that they are actually detrimental to whisky drinkers. Take Henry McKenna for example. An excellent 10 yr old, single barrel, BiB bourbon that used to sell for $30 now sits on shelves for anywhere from $75 to $125 because it won whisky of the year at the 2019 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. It’s because of these types of situations that are now rely on things like this blog, people who I know to be knowledgeable, and my own experience to decide what I want to try next.