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Essential whisky buying guide
on 22 December 2003
Jim Murray is, according to many whisky aficionados, the premier writer on whisky. He has visited virtually every distillery in existence, and has an unsurpassed knowledge and love of whisky.
His latest book is tall and narrow, the same size as Michael Jackson's Pocket Guide to Beer, so it can be carried along to stores when purchasing whisky. And this is Murray's intention: the book is written as a buying guide for the consumer. Unlike in his previous books, Murray gives numerical ratings to the more than 2000 whiskies he evaluates, a number from 0 to 100, broken down into numbers for nose, taste, finish and balance, each receiving up to 25 points. Although numerical ratings will help whisky drinkers and store owners, he knows that many in the industry may be unhappy with his ratings.
Murray intends his guide to become a yearly publication that will be supplemented and updated throughout the year on the web site [...]
The book begins with introductory material, including a review of the whisky year, as well as a three-page diatribe about "The Evils of Colour Prejudice", meaning the adding of caramel coloring to whisky. Murray claims that colorization degrades the taste of whisky and in many of his reviews, even very positive ones, he claims that the addition of caramel has taken its toll on the whisky's quality.
The book's beginning also contains Murray's award winners for the year in 19 categories, with overall whisky of the year being George T. Stagg bourbon. He then lists, in four pages, all of the whiskies that received a score of 93-97. (One omission: Longmorn 15 year old, to which he gives a score of 93, is not on the list.) Only two whiskies receive a 97, George T. Stagg and Old Malt Cask Ardbeg 1975 Aged 25 years (bottled Oct 00), "without a shadow of a doubt ... the two best whiskies it has ever been my luck and privilege to taste in nearly 30 years". Along with many expensive and rare whiskies on this list are found widely available relatively inexpensive whiskies. Receiving 94, for example, along with Old Malt Cask Ardbeg 1975 Aged 24 years and Laphroaig 40 year old, one finds Glenmorangie 10 year old, Dalwhinnie 15 year old, and even the Canadian Seagrams VO, which I'd guess is most often used as a mixer.
Scotch whisky, including single malts, grain whisky and blends, accounts for about 70% of the book's contents, the remaining 30% being devoted to American, Japanese, Canadian, European and world whiskies. There was no room in this edition for Indian and other Asian whiskies, but Murray hopes to accommodate these in future editions. The book concludes with a Stop Press section evaluating late bottled and additional whiskies, a glossary, and advice on how to drink whisky.
As always, Murray's writing is personal and passionate, and the book makes for fascinating reading. His commentary is by turns lyrical, colorful, provocative, angry and funny (see his review of Littlemill Dunglas, to which he gives a rating of 17).
Jim Murray is a romantic about whisky whose writing draws one into his intense devotion to the drink. For someone beginning to explore the world of whisky, as well as for the whisky expert, this book is a must.