Talking Whisky: Jim Murray & His Love for the Golden Tipple

In a recent interview with Whisky Exchange, Jim Murray confessed to drinking his first whisky (a dram of Teacher’s) at the age of nine. He remembers how he brought the old fashioned tumbler to his lips, under a little persuasion from his uncle who wanted to see the effects of whisky on a young boy. The deep, robust peat of the scotch hit him on the face. When he finished his dram, he put down his tumbler like Oliver Twist and said, “Can I have some more?”

That young boy, born in Merstham, Surrey, UK, grew up to be a newspaper journalist. But years later, he quit his job and left Fleet Street to chase bigger dreams-- to become the world's first whisky writer. After his visit to Talisker, for the first time in 1975, he decided to visit more distilleries across the globe. But before he could begin that journey, he spent time visiting and working in as many distilleries in Scotland and Ireland as he could. He was working on the book, Jim Murray's Irish Whiskey Almanac, which was published in 1994. It was the first of many popular whisky books he would go on to write, to establish his place as one of the leading authorities on whisky. Three years later in 1997, the same book was revised and re-released as Classic Irish Whiskey.

However, it was not until 2003 that Murray came up with the brilliant idea of rating every whisky available in the market. This ongoing Whisky Bible project allows him to rate as many as 4000 brands annually. Jim tastes every whisky himself and has a unique system of rating each dram out of 100-- based on the nose, taste, finish, and balance of the liquor. Whiskies which are rated above 94.5 are awarded the highly coveted title of Liquid Gold. In the past few years, the limited editions which attained the status of Liquid Gold saw a rapid increase in price, making Jim one of the most influential experts in the world of whisky. 

But the question remains: How does Murray choose the world whisky of the year? A few interesting facts came up when whisky intelligence interviewed the man. To begin with, Murray tastes about 20 brands per day, and describes the process as translating the notes into English. But only, after he has shortlisted a few brands for the world whisky of the year, and is sampling them individually, he tastes the same whisky at three different times of the day, but at the same temperature. Murray, also chooses whiskies based on their complexity. He does not recommend whiskies that are either too peaty, or too sherried. Hence it was hardly a surprise when he picked the Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013, calling it an extraordinary amalgamation of oak and sherry, as the world whisky of the year.

While last year saw a Canadian whisky, Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye, winning the title, this year, Murray has awarded world whisky of the year to Booker’s Rye 13 Year Old, rating it 97.5 out of 100. This Kentucky straight rye whisky was produced from some of the last batches of spirit distilled by the legendary distiller Booker Noe. A limited-edition one-off release, Booker’s Rye 13 Year Old has been bottled at 68.1%, after being aged for 13 years, 1 month, and 12 days, resulting in well-balanced notes of wood, oak, and spice, a big bold flavor, and a deep finish.

In the same interview with whisky exchange, when Murray was asked what would be his desert island dram, he immediately wanted to go back in time and grab a bottle of Ardbeg which was distilled in 1974, and bottled as a ten year old. Jim Murray, the man who is brilliant with his words, floundered to describe it, calling it simply astonishing. But we all know, if Jim says that the Ardbeg 1974 is the best whisky that he has ever tasted, then that’s saying something.