In Praise of Jim Murray

cthulhuSo, the 2015 Whisky Bible awards list is out (ahead of the Bible itself). And as always many whisky geeks are falling over each other to see who can get their underwear in the most self-righteous and virtuous knot possible over Jim Murray’s latest excesses. And some of the luminaries of the whisky blogverse have also chimed in. The Whisky Sponge had a characteristically biting takedown right before the announcement; Serge Valentin of Whiskyfun has run a little graphic announcing that “the best whisky in the world simply does not exist“; and even Sam Simmons (aka Dr. Whisky) has roused his blog from suspended animation to note that Murray’s “controversial choices…are no promotional accident“. And here I am, just as predictably, with a contrarian response.

Let me note first of all that the Sponge at least is consistent—he mocked the Bible last year as well; and he also mocks everything else to do with the whisky industry and those who peddle, promote and obscure its twaddle. It’s less clear why Serge is so exercised about the idea of “the best whisky in the world”—after all, one might say that the Malt Maniacs Awards do much the same as Murray’s lists albeit in different language; and, of course, it’s not clear why the notion of someone proposing a “best whisky” should be so outrageous per se in a world where there’s a best everything, from movies (Crash!) to polka albums to butter sculptures. As for the good Dr. Whisky, one wonders if he and the rest of the Scotch whisky industry—Simmons is a brand ambassador for Balvenie—are as quick to note the promotional aspect of Murray’s announcements in years when Scotch whiskies are at the top of his lists and/or he’s not taking shots at the Scotch industry’s practices (as he did this year).

This is not to say that Simmons is wrong: the Whisky Bible is a commodity—independently produced and marketed—and controversial or at least big, bold statements are what Murray utilizes to get people to notice it and buy it (which is not to say that those statements might not be true). It’s also true that there has to be a fair amount of churn on his lists and a fair amount of departure from what might be expected—otherwise why should people buy this thing every year? It’s not like the whisky world is in fact changing so dramatically, if at all, from year to year. There’s also nothing original about these observations—people have been pointing these things out for years.

To be fair, Murray has also taken on a lot of causes that are in fact close to whisky geeks’ hearts: his naming the Amrut Fusion the third best whisky in the 2010 Bible did more than anything else to put Amrut on the larger whisky map; he’s similarly done more than anyone else to get whisky drinkers in the UK and Europe to take bourbon seriously; he champions the cause of quality blends; and he’s railed against sulphur-taint, the use of caramel colouring, chill-filtration etc. when other well-known writers have mostly stayed quiet. Now, of course, being controversial is a large part of his image/brand but still—these are all things that I think most of us would normally get behind. And it’s not as though Murray’s annual ratings and awards are the most dubious out there—there are plenty of spirits competitions which claim “objective” methodologies and give out medals by the cartload to bog standard product. Murray’s awards, at least, have the merit of being idiosyncratic. (And saying that the Yamazaki Sherry Cask is the best whisky of 2014 is less of a head-scratcher to me than people giving the 2014 Ardbeg Supernova 90 points—the Yamazaki Sherry Cask, I at least thought was very good.)

I am not, however, saying that the above renders most whisky geeks’ antipathy towards Murray mysterious. As I’ve said before, the guy is more than a bit of a dick (see Oliver Klimek’s write-up of a Murray-led tasting he attended); and there’s something galling about the only whisky writer known to the general whisky drinking populace being the one whisky geeks would be least likely to elect to that position. And there’s no denying his reach—the Whisky Bible and/or its scores are prominently displayed in liquor stores and on websites; his awards raise prices and move product. Still, it can seem like Jim Murray is really promoting Jim Murray and not whisky. Put simply, he makes it hard to like him.

There’s no reason, of course, that he should be likable: likability and critical acumen have no necessary relationship—the worst writers of any kind are the ones who are trying too hard to have everyone like them. But I don’t want to focus here on Murray’s very real flaws (there are plenty of other places where you can read about those). I want to suggest instead that there may be something else happening here as well and that might be a kind of discomfort whisky geeks have with the writer as professional. Most whisky geeks want to believe strongly in the notion of a community, and particularly in a horizontal community of amateurs who are only driven by a love of whisky; and this is a notion that the industry has largely exploited very successfully, with brand ambassadors and other industry figures “embedded” in social media. But unlike most other well-known writers, Murray has kept his distance. Unlike Dave Broom or Martine Nouet or Charles Maclean he has no affiliation with the Malt Maniacs; unlike Dominic Roskrow or Ian Buxton he’s not all over Twitter (his last tweet seems to have been in 2012 and the one previous from 2010); he’s definitely not part of #WhiskyFabric.

He’s made no attempt, in other words, to join the putative community of whisky geeks. (By the way, I don’t mean to suggest that there’s something wrong with the kind of community I describe most whisky geeks as wanting to believe in; it’s just that I think it’s a bit of an illusion.) Indeed, he has kept an antagonistic distance from the secondary class of amateur writers/bloggers, and their readers, who’ve sprung up in the last decade or so (forget fifth-tier bloggers like myself, Murray has no time for people’s heroes like Serge). And this has in turn kept him from receiving the goodwill of leaders of this whisky geek community that has often insulated other professional writers against criticisms that everyone feels free to aim at Murray. Unlike Broom and co. Murray does not seem like “one of us” and more troubling still is that he doesn’t want to be one of us and if anything is scornful of us.

But my point is not merely that Murray is disliked because he hasn’t made any attempt to play nice—and I’m certainly not trying to paint him as a victim: this is something he cultivates. Nor am I suggesting that I think that Murray’s antagonism towards whisky geeks has some principled basis, that he’s articulating some critical point about the the whisky geek world—mostly, I suspect, his attitude arises from the same uneasy and self-serving source as that of people like David Driscoll: they know there’s a much larger market out there than whisky geeks comprise and so they don’t want to bother. (Unlike Driscoll, of course, Murray didn’t start out trying very hard to be part of the whisky geek world.) But I think it might be the case that he is disliked by whisky geeks also because his attitude belittles how many whisky geeks would like to think about themselves: as one happy community with the bigger names merely more exalted versions of themselves. Look, for example, at the particular ways in which the late Michael Jackson is sanctified—it’s always his warmth and relatability that are cited more than his critical views, and he’s always presented precisely as the anti-Murray.

What I’m getting at obliquely is that the antipathy towards Murray actually masks the fact that whisky geeks might need Murray more than he needs us. He serves as a way of negatively articulating what we would like to see ourselves as. More obviously, he gives us an opportunity to state our virtue. Think, for example, of the number of times each year you read or hear someone’s account of how they were asked by less knowledgeable people about Murray’s awards and they set them straight. He’s also a convenient scapegoat on whose person we exhaust almost all of our critical energies (saving a little bit for Blair Bowman every spring). If he didn’t exist we’d have to invent him. We’d have to, as otherwise we might be in danger of noticing that many of the people we hold up as alternatives also have feet of clay.

So we should stop attacking him. Instead, for fulfilling these roles for us we should say “thank you!” to Jim Murray.

45 thoughts on “In Praise of Jim Murray

  1. Even more shocking is that the Supernova didn’t even win Best No Age Statement Scotch. It was the runner up to anCnoc Rutter, and I imagine anCnoc will run that accolade into the ground over the next decade or so.

    Like

      • I fully stand by my belief that Murray picks whiskies at random just to screw with people he knows will get mad.

        And when the Bible’s published I’ll be surprised if the review for Rutter doesn’t end “.. and whisps of bog smoke carry the lemon peel away like leaves in autumn. Rutter? I hardly knew her.”

        Like

  2. It’s certainly an interesting piece in its argument that the whisky world (or even just ‘whisky geekdom”) somehow needs Jim Murray when his book constantly convinces me otherwise. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, but when you put JW Blue half a point above Red and then say Black Grouse blows the doors off both, I find the book utterly useless as a reference. If he didn’t exist we’d have to invent him? No, he’d spring fully-formed as the god of whisky from his own forehead (or that of his dust jacket writer), much as I believe he actually tries to do. Although Michael Jackson was no saint, Murray assigns him the title “colossus” (of beer and, it’s implied ONLY beer), but only so as to reserve the whisky title for himself. Everyone else is in someone’s pocket, but the only way for Jim Murray to be put there is, of course, to buy his book. The comparison to Driscoll is apt, if only because both will say whatever it takes to sell their product. Murray can find sulphur disasters on one hand and 90-class product among base-model stock on the other with a regularity that, if true, should put the rest of the whisky world to eternal shame for its blindness (even as the marketing people at JW are left with the mystery of how to justify selling Blue Label for eight or more times the price of Red).

    Yet for all the justified smacking around that Murray DOES takes, the point is well made that he probably takes more than his share so as to save other “whisky gods”, both professional and amateur, from more criticism. Many of these people are in a position of “positive at best, neutral at worst” in terms of THEIR criticism of the industry and, as such, really do have a quasi-promotional/marketing role with whisky producers, something that Dominic Roskrow identified years ago (http://thewhiskytastingclub.co.uk/Blogs/domblog/2011/06/20/new-vs-old-media/). Personally, I’ve given up on the pros, not because they don’t know (and can’t find) far more about (and in) a glass of whisky than I ever will, but because I don’t know what I’m not being told to serve the murky agenda(s) of whisky politics; the motivation for non-critical bias is just too pronounced. They serve “whisky” in general, but only serve the whisky consumer to a variable, and ultimately unknown, degree. The main difference between Murray and the rest is that, in his “rebel” persona, he takes the others to task to a largely unreciprocated extent, so as to promote, not just whisky, but his “pivotal” importance to it through the controversy he intentionally generates. As this relates to the value of amateur whisky writing, yes, it’s compromising to whatever degree those amateur writers voluntarily avoid being critical of the industry and/or the other “whisky gods” beyond Murray when logic or inclination would dictate such criticism is merited. Does real or simulated “universal” distaste for Murray save the whisky world from speaking its mind and burning bridges instead of making connections? Let the finger pointing begin.

    Like

    • Yes, I think that the one thing that can be said of Murray is that he is at least critical of the industry and its products, whereas the amateurs/bloggers – or “bribe units” in Whisky Sponge’s memorable phrase – like (or claim to like) everything they’re given, presumably to ensure and secure supply in between the latest PR post or grateful tweet.

      Like

    • Re Driscoll, of course his job is to sell product but I believe he holds his integrity above selling product. That is to say I don’t believe he is pushing to sell anything that is bad. Quite frankly I’ve emailed him many times where he replied given what I like he recommends not buying it. I think he gets a lot of unfair grief and my personal experience with him is that he would rather maintain trust and maintain the relationship and NOT sell something rather than the converse. My two cents.

      Like

      • Driscoll may indeed be more frank in personal conversation but I don’t think what you’re describing applies to their general email blasts which usually include a lot of dubious marketing claims (“the Pappy Van Winkle of Ireland” comes to mind) and occasionally borderline dishonest ones (various low price claims). But I only invoked him here because after initially trying to position himself as a fellow whisky geek he pivoted to vilifying them/us as part of his sales pitch to the larger market.

        Like

      • On Dave Driscoll, I’ve had little faith in his integrity since his excusing the K&L blog from being a news source and booze companies in general from telling the public the truth by issuing the folowing blanket pardon (as detailed in MAO’s “Jumping the Driscoll”):

        “The K&L Spirits Journal is not a journalistic news source. It has never been, never claimed to be, nor will it ever be. This is mainly because there is no such thing as booze journalism as far as absolute truth is concerned. There is only booze romanticism or booze antagonism. The president can be held accountable for lying to the general public, but booze companies cannot be, nor should they be. Unlike publicly elected officials, it’s not their job to tell you the truth. It’s their job to sell you something. As consumers, it’s our job to decide whether or not to give them our money.”

        Whether pusing something good or bad, it’s largely immaterial, because selling means you don’t owe anyone the truth anyway – and it certainly never means having to say you’re sorry.

        Like

  3. Most of the community’s more beloved professional whisky writers — who contribute to annual awards and competitions — have provided consultancy services to distilleries or serve as spokespieces (spokesperson + mouthpiece, I guess?) to corporations who own collections of distilleries, but I hear no one outside of a few #WhiskyDicks criticizing them of that. But as you point out Murray is always fair game.

    I hope Jim Murray never goes away because his writing style is hilarious. It’s supposed to be comedy, right? The actual content is vague and not helpful to those wondering what something actually smells or tastes like. And who talks about how awesome he is while reviewing someone else’s product? It’s definitely a funny angle that he got to first, at least in the whisky community.

    The only thing that is aggravating to me is the number of international news sources (formerly journals and newspapers) who used to strive to be more than press release dumpsters that now help publicize his book every year because “OMG, whisky is hot right now, right? Clicks!”. “Yamazaki Sherry Cask is the best whisky of the year”? Yes, according to a single hermit in a hat. That’s not news. That’s not special interest. That’s an advertisement.

    Like

    • Wait—he talks about how awesome he is while reviewing someone else’s product? That’s kinda funny. For the first time ever, I’m slightly interested in reading his stuff.

      For me, he’s always just been some guy that whiskyfolks ocassionally complain about. Much like people who get their news from The Daily Show or SNL’s Weekend Update, anything I know about him comes from reading between the lines of articles like this or—even better—the satire on Whisky Sponge.

      Like

      • Yep, he seems to feel that it’s important to point out that he’s the very reason folks are drinking a specific sort of whisk(e)y or distillery. Whether it’s true in real life or not, it’s true in Murray Life so he must be lauded within his own review. His name-dropping skills are also unmatched.

        Like

      • Oh, there’s lots TO complain about – Murray’s a huge, obvious, and legitimate example of much of the “marketing gone amok” problem that dominates whisky today – but he’s far from the entirety of the problem, and people who are just itching to say something nice about the industry WHILE they hold their tongue during its ever-expanding of bouts of bullshit are, collectively, far more of the problem. The number of writers who, through their lack of criticism, effectively counsel consumer tolerance of the needless reduction of production information through NAS labeling, for example, is mind boggling given that the best industry spokespeople can do to justify removing age statements is THEIR need for “flexibility” (read “ability to degrade product at will”) and some silliness about “running out of numbers”.

        Like

  4. Michael and Jeff’s points about the differential treatment of Murray’s failings and those of other writers (professional or amateur) is precisely the point of my piece.

    Despite the title, I’m not really writing in praise of Jim Murray—this is something that I perhaps didn’t get across as clearly as I should have: the title is meant ironically, “let’s praise him because he actually does something for us”; ironic because that “something” is what I’m really critiquing. As I say at the end, all the outrage aimed at Murray seems to function as an alibi for all the lack of outrage aimed in other directions. And Murray’s lack of interest in the whisky geek world (doubtless stemming entirely from his rampant ego) also exposes in a way that we are willing to overlook the problematic activities of people who are networked well in that world, from Broom to Maclean to Roskrow. As I said in private conversation with someone else earlier today, Jim Murray works well as a whipping boy; it just happens to be the case that he’s also a whipping boy who deserves his whipping.

    Like

  5. What also must be said in Murray’s “favour” is that that the man knows how to market himself. He’s a bold skeptic of the existence of bad publicity and is willing to stick by his opinions, whatever they may be. If people actually listen to his choices, than he’s a genius with an eye for winners, a shopkeeper’s delight to be prominently displayed on the shelf. If people rail against him as a hack and a joker, his name is only passed around further and deeper ingrained in our minds. I don’t think that he particularly cares what he’s known for, but he sure does love being known, and is able to precisely say the things that put him on everyone’s tongue. This article and countless others are proof that Jim Murray has a remarkable ability to market himself and stay relevant in an ever-shifting whisky world, benefitting immensely whatever people think if him.

    Like

    • Sure, but from a consumer’s – rather than an industry, or even a “Murray”- perspective – the ability to “market” oneself, undeniable as it is in this case, is of little benefit if what is said isn’t the truth or some approximation of it. Beyond the degree that he is “known”, I would argue that, having tried some of the whiskies, he’s also way off base for inexplicable reasons on many reviews. In short, although Murray’s entitled to his opinion, his appraisal of whisky points many in the wrong direction in terms of quality as a reference, and I think his work is of dubious value to whisky as a whole. Commercial success, in and of itself, is not a virtue and discussion is not entirely a reflection on relevance. All that said, I do respect the point you’re making.

      Like

      • I think that concerning “the truth or some approximation of it”, the question must be asked, does Jim Murray care about the truth? My best guess is that Jim Murray cares about Jim Murray, and Jim Murray will say whatever Jim Murray damn well pleases. It doesn’t matter to him if what comes out of his mouth is illogical or contradictory, it matters that it comes out of his mouth. And to 99.99% of the drinking public, that doesn’t matter to them either, as they trip over each other to get the latest Glenardbazaki. I hate to critique such a good Voltaire allusion, but MAO’s point about us needing to invent Jim Murray if he didn’t exist comes a little bit too late, as we have, in essence, already invented him, and he might as well be God. In 199whenever the WBible was first published, Jim Murray was a man with a book, and soon after liquor retailers and sections of the drinking public chose to vote with their dollars and follow his leading, creating a positive feedback loop that inevitably led to his present status which can only be described as ubiquity. So whether or not he’s way off base or inexplicable in his decisions, the idea and role of Jim Murray will exist as long as people want someone else to do the thinking for them. It’s just unfortunate that the man doing the thinking recently thought that Ballantine’s 17 was the single best whisky in the world.

        Like

        • I think you’re right about Jim Murray not caring a damn about the truth – but we could both be wrong about that and he just has some weird ideas about relative quality. As for consumers not caring about the truth, or not caring about whether they are being steered away from it, I’m not sure that I agree that necessarily follows. I think many people pick up his book thinking that they’ve just made a great one-stop purchase that handles all of their whisky education/recommendation needs, and certainly Murray’s marketing tries to help convince them, and the media, of that – as you indicate, it’s book with great appeal for those who, out of inexperience or inclination, are easily directed. Among those that I’ve talked to about the book, however, the ones who have gained some practical experience often like Murray’s colourful writing style and his tasting notes, but find the scores to be overly optimistic and/or inexplicable. Without slamming Murray for the sake of doing so, I’ve yet to hear from anyone who holds Murray in the unchallenged awe in which he likes to present himself. Even Dominic Roskrow’s “Jim Murray is the world’s best whisky writer” is far cry from saying “Jim Murray is the world’s leading authority on whisky”, although many interested in selling Whisky Bibles, including Murray, would like you to make that leap.

          I don’t think that those who are critical of Murray are really responsible for helping make him into the media monster he is either, simply on the basis that “all press is good press” – although some may have contributed to his popularity by withholding such criticism in the past (and present). In the end, I think what will wreck Murray’s currently snowballing “appeal” is just honest appraisal: yes, he’s a guy with a popular book, but the book has problems in terms of both internal and external consistency, and its authority is largely self proclaimed or proclaimed by those who take his word for it. As a “bible”, it is indeed a matter of faith and that is ultimately its weakness in this case – I have to believe in it for it to have any power over me, because it has no power in itself.

          Like

      • Is whiskyfun.com doing a disservice to the public with its 7000+ whisky ratings? I disagree with many of these ratings and find it hypocritical to run a banner claiming that the best whisky doesn’t exist; if it doesn’t then why meticulously keep score for over ten years?

        Certainly to score a whisky a 97 means that it’s better than a whisky that scores 96. A bit much to score whiskies yourself and then cry foul when someone else does the same and then announces their best score to the press.

        Like

        • I don’t personally think that Serge’s marks are a disservice to consumers because, while I don’t necessarily agree with them mark-for-mark, they are internally consistent enough for me to handicap his scores so as to get some idea what a “91” whisky for him would likely mean for me in terms of quality, while I find no such consistency in the Whisky Bible.

          The other point, about Serge proclaiming scored “favourite expressions” for each distillery, but having a problem about a whisky being proclaimed “the best” by someone else is a good one though and, yes, I found it to be both a little confusing and hypocritical.

          Like

          • In Serge’s defense, there’s a difference between indicating one’s favourite whisky and noting the subjectivity of the choice and proclaiming something as the best whisky as a matter of fact. At least, that’s true in theory. As to whether that’s true in practice I’m not as sure. Both because Serge’s reputation effectively gives his rankings more weight than he says should be given to them, and because I think more people are capable of taking Murray’s pronouncements with a pinch of salt than the anti-Murray faction usually allows. In some ways these kinds of battles are about who anyone would like to be making pronouncements “on their behalf”. Which brings me back to the point about the relationships different experts have or have cultivated with the whisky geek community. If Murray were not so antagonistic towards the community there might be fewer people willing to pick up pitchforks every year.

            I will also say that Murray’s big awards are usually solid or defendable. And in many cases he seems to be using these awards to support causes. And if you agree with thrust of those causes—raising the profile of “world” whisky (Amrut), raising the profile of bourbon (his BTAC love affair), raising the profile of non-sexy distilleries (Old Pulteney), making malt drinkers take blends seriously (Ballantine’s), trying to give the Scotch industry a kick in the pants for complacency (this year)—you might be more willing to overlook the self-promotional aspect. Of course, many would say that these choices are themselves not necessarily principled ones but compromised ethically in some way or the other.

            The bigger problem with the Bible, as Jeff indicates, is its complete lack of coherence elsewhere. Scores seem random or inconsistent. Sulphur is found in malts where nobody else can find them but other malts that seem to have obvious sulphur notes get high scores. With all his many sins if the Whisky Bible was in fact a coherent text it would be easier to stomach his one-man cult of personality. Because it is the case, as Jeff also indicates, that there’s a clearly a need for a book like it—whisky is a very large, confusing and expensive market and there’s no reason consumers shouldn’t want a buying guide to it just as they do for any other product. But it doesn’t seem possible for such a guide to be created by any one person, no matter how formidable their tasting abilities. Murray’s choice is a cynical one: he’ll make a guide anyway, proclaim it the best, and by sheer force of personality and controversy cement his claims. The industry that gave him gravitas by hiring him over and over again as a consultant—whether to “purchase” high scores/awards or not—is in large part to blame for all this too.

            Like

  6. Overall nice piece MAO. Let it be said however that the collective outrage over Jim Murray doesn’t seem to stem from *what* he says, but from the fact that he’s given so much credibility by the press and industry so people pay attention to him. Ironically when those same people express their outrage, the mythos only grows which each passing edition of the whisky bible.

    Having chatted with the man regularly at fairs and tastings over the years, I am comfortable to say that his 35+ years of tasting experience is rivaled only by the size of his ego. To give credit where credit is due though, that ego in many instances is justified: he more often than not knows what he’s talking about. Sure, Serge or Dave Broom may have tasted another whisky that they deem better than the Yamazaki Sherry 2013 but the point is moot: they haven’t turned these annual opinions into a publishing business that curries favour with not just the press but retailers.

    And that’s where Jim Murray’s real power lies: with the retailers in need of shelf talkers, ratings and awards to promote the product on their shelves. By catering to this need Jim has effectively done an end run around the industry. Pan him when he talks shit about sulphured sherry casks because your brand is a sherried whisky. Print his name on your bottles and splash his face all over your website when your whisky wins one of his well publicized awards. Snicker about him behind his back either way, his books and award winners still sell by the truckload.

    Serge, Broom, Roskrow and others all depend on the affection and esteem of the “whisky community” for their status. But Jim Murray does not and it seems to have been a wise move: by ignoring the often self-adulating and self-congratulatory #whiskyfabric to focus on preaching to the ‘ignorant’ masses who make up the bulk of the whisky industry’s customers, Murray has become a juggernaut in the whisky world, to the loud lament of the ‘knowledgeable’ whisky enthusiasts who chatter away on social media.

    Go to any bar these days carrying a dozen or more whiskies. There’s a good chance the bartender will have copy of the Whisky Bible lying around but I doubt he’ll have heard of Dave Broom or the Malt Maniacs.

    Like

    • You’re right in that the collective outrage does stem from the credibility that Murray’s afforded, but that, in turn, DOES stem from what he says; if the Whisky Bible wasn’t the flawed product that it is, I don’t think that most of his present critics would have a issue with it, or him – and his being a smart businessman doesn’t correct the problem. The fact that the bartender has heard of Jim Murray but not Dave Broom or anyone else may say something about Murray’s success, but it isn’t much of a credential in terms of knowing anything about whisky, and that point’s far from moot. If all the bartender knows is what Jim Murray tells him, he should get out more or at least sample JW’s Blue and Red Labels head-to-head – and God knows what those dozen whiskies behind the bar might look like.

      The chasm between Murray and many of the other people who have sampled a lot of whisky is, at least to some degree, also of Murray’s making. What’s more, the antagonism serves him well image-wise in that it makes him a rebel and an underdog preaching a separate and persecuted “whisky gospel”, using a defense of “sour grapes” against his critics rather than dealing with all the stickiness of actually interacting with people who won’t automatically defer to him as the self-proclaimed “colossus of whisky”. You put quotation marks around the descriptions “ignorant” and “knowledgeable” as if to call them into question but, more often than not, there’s no quotation marks needed; the more someone knows about whisky, the less faith they’re likely to have in the Whisky Bible.

      Like

  7. Umm, where is the outrage that everyone is commenting on?

    I don’t mean that as a rhetorical question. Are there communal diatribes against this guy that I’m missing? A link or two would be great so I can appreciate this discussion. I know who the guy is, but I must’ve missed the big pile is stinking rancor that is out there someplace.

    Like

    • I think the three blogs given at the top of MAO’s post are decent examples, as are Klimek’s write-up and MAO’s “dick” reference (and the comments attached, where applicable). Also worth noting is Oliver’s “Where Is The Rampant Sulphur, Mr. Murray?” (http://www.dramming.com/2013/01/31/where-is-the-rampant-sulphur-mr-murray/), and “Bible Lessons” (http://www.dramming.com/2010/02/22/bible-lessons/) and EWB’s “I like Jim Murray 41.5/100” (http://www.edinburghwhiskyblog.com/2009/10/07/i-like-jim-murray-415100/).

      You do have a point in that the whisky world doesn’t normally obsess over Murray’s “status” and he only usually comes to prominence when his new list/edition comes out. On that note, “outrage” may also be too strong a word in terms of the criticism leveled at a figure which many can’t take as seriously as he takes himself, but the fault is mine in discussing that criticism in the terms in which Duchy presented it. Is it rancor, resentment or just criticism? You be the judge.

      Like

    • Outrage may be too strong a word, possibly—my own frame of reference for the responses to the latest cycle of this phenomenon is the Malt Maniacs & Friends Facebook page. See also the comments on the Dr. Whisky post.

      It definitely is the case that no other writer attracts the kind of criticism or rancour that Murray does. My sense was that most people who follow these discussions already know what the problems with Murray and his methods and his personality are. My piece is addressed not to casual whisky drinkers (the majority of Murray’s audience), but to the much smaller whisky geekverse (the majority of Murray’s detractors). I didn’t want to engage in another round of Murray-bashing, not because I think bashing him is unfair (though I did want to give him credit for what he does do that’s worth recognizing) but because it seemed more interesting to me to try and tease out some other dynamics that I think the Murray-bashing reveals when read against the grain.

      Like

  8. I wish I’d taken a picture of the shelf-talker that read “….Bill Murray’s Whisky Bible”. It might still be hanging up, actually. It would be a decent foil to discussions such as this!

    Like

  9. “So we should stop attacking him. Instead, for fulfilling these roles for us we should say ‘thank you!’ to Jim Murray.”

    Oh please…can’t we just ignore him?

    Like

  10. I think that anyone who believes that one can judge anything subjective on a scale of 1-100 and also come up with a “best in the world” is just asking to be taken for a ride, and that is exactly what Jim Murray is doing. He is making fun of the rating system and the concept of best in the world.

    Like

    • If there’s any validity to scoring at all (as opposed to just writing tasting notes?), there’s no conflict between scoring whiskies and proclaiming “the best in the world” for any given year – in fact, the assumption of the first demands the discovery of the second. The main difference between Murray’s approach and those of others is that his awards are declared by a scoring panel of one.

      I’d agree that Mr. Murray is taking his readership for a ride, but that doesn’t mean that his book amounts to any sophisticated attempt at satire regarding whisky critics or people justifiably wanting an experienced opinion before making a purchase. As “the colossus of whisky” writing “the gospel of whisky”, Murray presents his opinions as things to be taken quite seriously, and at the expense of the reputation of Michael Jackson (who, apparently, only knew about beer) and other writers who are “in the pocket of the industry”.

      Like

  11. I’d posted this on the Sponge’s recent article a couple of days ago but it’s still in moderation. Perhaps he’s very busy, perhaps he’s sick of the discussion but while it’s still visible to me on his site (as the commenter), here is what I said and asked:

    “Sponge: I’m a fan but I have to ask if you get similarly exercised about abuses to the 100 point rating scale when you see Davin de Kergommeaux giving Alberta Dark Rye 92 points or Lot 40 94 points; or when you see Whisky Advocate giving Millstone 12, 1999 93 points (and giving it an award in 2012); or when you see Mark Gillespie (who has chimed in enthusiastically above) giving Johnnie Walker Gold Label 95 points; or…I could go on.

    Why do these people (and others) get a pass from the Whisky Geek community for the same over-inflation, and gimmicky awards that Murray is pilloried for? “

    Like

    • It’s an interesting point, and I agree with it, but, then again, why does almost the entire whisky community grant itself a pass on the fact – not the opinion – that NAS is a great big fat lie about the very nature of whisky? The idea that the impact of age with whisky is somehow label dependent – “age matters here, but it doesn’t matter over there, depending on the needs of marketing” – simply transcends the very laws of physics, but the number of people who will publicly acknowledge it is probably less than a dozen.

      Experts will play quality assessment games about NAS products (“yes, this could be better”), but the point of that is to keep the virtues/vices of NAS IN the realm of the eye of the beholder, and so in the realm of debate and NOT actual resolution, and it’s all intentionally a very far cry from acknowledging that NAS is utter bullshit and should be rejected on that basis alone. Many of the people who know whisky best are either industry apologists on NAS or simply look the other way on this issue and, as a result, it’s very difficult to take any of them seriously on the subject of whisky; if they seriously don’t know, or won’t say, that age matters to all whisky because the industry says differently, who cares if they find a hint of jasmine?

      Compared to the above, abuses of the 100-point scale are small potatoes, but we’ll focus on small potatoes ’till the cows come home because it’s the far easier thing to do.

      Like

      • Jeff: I do admire your ability to turn everything into a discussion of NAS…

        I kid, I kid. Seriously, I think most whisky bloggers (at least the ones I pay attention to) are on the same side of the NAS debate as you, as are many of those who post on the MM&F Facebook page—there seem to be daily arguments about it there. So I don’t think almost the entire whisky community grants itself a pass on that. Murray-hatred, on the other hand, is far closer to being universal among whisky geeks and that is a phenomenon we actually have far more control of. When it comes to NAS I think there may be a certain amount of skepticism about the degree to which the industry has any interest in what the small fraction of whisky geeks (including minor bloggers like myself) have to say—they know our reach is tiny. There are some people whose voices go further but many of them seem to be content with, on the one hand, taking principled positions against NAS but, on the other, continuing to be cosy with the industry or with well-known writers who refuse to take any principled position at all.

        On that note, I was disappointed to see Curt recently give Dominic Roskrow a platform to come and puff himself up while dodging any questions of substance. Roskrow is a joke—this is the guy who when writing for Whisky Advocate couldn’t tell two Amruts apart while giving one of them an award; and who continued to write for the magazine while setting up his indie bottling concern (which I guess is kaput, as there was no mention of it in the interview). Why do we have to treat these people as though they are actually people of substance?

        Like

        • Ha! Jeff is definitely a warrior with a cause, and it’s great to see him stay the course, even if it does require him deploying a tangent or two. I will say I too am disappointed with Curt. Being an Albertan, and having attended a few of his scotch club meetings I will say he’s as passionate as Jeff but seems to have erred on the side of caution when it comes to his access to the “industry” as of late; notably his reversal on reviewing NAS malts and fluff pieces like the Roskrow interview.

          It was very clear that Curt wishes for his ability to have material for his writing and to pull in industry names both for his blogging and scotch clubbing not to be put in jeopardy. He leads with this promising line: “We’re going to pull no punches and tackle a lot of tough industry questions.” yet definitely doesn’t challenge Roskrow on a lot of his questionable answers. Then he proceeds in the comments to level this charge: ” it’s gonna be pretty f**king difficult to get people to come here and contribute – whether it’s via interviews, writings or comments – if they get nothing but contempt and insults in return.” The feedback was not denigrating nor insulting. It was pointed, as the interview could’ve been.

          Therein lies the quandary many bloggers face; do I call a spade a spade (respectfully) and potentially face ostracization from the business or do I cozy up to them to allow me greater access to the personalities, the whiskies and the information. Curt has made it very clear that he’s in it for his own personal goals foremost. Which is obviously OK, it’s his club and his blog and who am I to say how he should run either. I’m just glad he’s made it known, as I previously thought he was a consumer advocate, and governed himself accordingly. Evidently not. It’s one of the reasons I no longer attend the scotch club.

          Like

        • I thought the interview was useful in terms of what positions Roskrow would and wouldn’t stake out and, if it was in any way fluffy, that was ultimately because of the fact that Roskrow “isn’t at war with the industry”. That was certainly no surprise in itself, but he’s in good, and widespread, company and both are matter of record. If I’d interviewed him, it would have been much more pointed but also much shorter, and I think there was value in letting Dom speak in Dom’s terms and letting readers judge accordingly. I disagreed with Curt over whether anyone was too hard on Roskrow, just as I did over the issue of NAS reviews, but Curt did at least formerly reject NAS reviews for months and he’s still not personally buying NAS, which is something a lot of bloggers can’t say. If Curt hasn’t done, or isn’t doing, enough for consumer interests, I’m not sure who that’s in comparison to.

          I think that the sound and round drubbing that Jim Murray takes isn’t really as punishment for the whisky crimes he commits (which are NOT unique and which is, in itself, a VERY omitted fact in attacks on Murray), but rather more as a reflection on the notoriety and pride with which he commits them; Murray is singled out partly because he takes such effective pains to single himself out. People resent the fact that he’s now the self-promoted whisky poster boy to a larger world that, by definition, isn’t in a position to understand how wrong-headed that is, so they (and to some degree wrongly) don’t mind making Murray whisky’s whipping boy as well.

          We can control our resentment of Jim Murray, or at least be more even handed about it (and who could object to that in principle anyway), but I could only wish that there was some annual NAS event that parallels the late fall controversy over Jim. There are a lot of people who wouldn’t mourn the passing of NAS tomorrow, but the number actually denouncing it as a lie and calling for, and working toward, its end today remains proportionally very few. Yet, to me, it all boils down to an issue of commentator credibility: if people don’t know something so basic as whether age matters to the character of whisky, or if they’re so compromised on the question that they can’t say so, worrying about issues beyond Whisky 101 is premature at best. Skepticism over whether the industry cares what bloggers say can, quite frankly, be damned; bloggers constantly write REAMS over things they know aren’t going to change the industry. The point of the best blogging isn’t to say what’s practical about whisky (that’s marketing); it’s to say what’s true about whisky (that’s journalism). The issue isn’t whether people will denounce and resist NAS nonsense because it is or isn’t somehow expedient to do so; the real issue is whether they’ll denounce and resist it simply because it’s wrong not to do so.

          NAS is every bit as much a lie about the nature of whisky as saying that Glenfiddich is located on Islay, and I wouldn’t trust anyone who tried to tell me, or who wouldn’t denounce, either piece of misinformation, much less consider them as any kind of authority on whisky.

          Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s