The second Cask Tales book review is of a tome that likely graces more whisky lovers’ shelves than any other: Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible. Murray, who claims to have been the world’s first full-time whisky writer, has been producing his Whisky Bible since 2004. The 2012 Bible is the ninth edition, and work on the tenth is doubtless well underway. It’s certainly a comprehensive work, with the more than 4,500 whiskies including 1,210 sampled for the first time. I was particularly impressed by the effort to sample different batches of whiskies: for example, no fewer than 15 batches of the Penderyn Madeira finish are reviewed.
If you’ve bought (or even just thought of) a whisky, the chances are that you’ll find it in here, no matter its provenance. Murray assigns each whisky a score using the same categories that we do here at Cask Tales, though typically accords generous marks (more generous for the Bible than in his private tasting notes, he says). His capsule reviews vary in size. Typically, each category is allotted a short sentence – some whiskies get less, but many get a good deal more.
Murray is an influential figure among the whisky literati. His whisky of the year typically flies off the shelves within hours of its announcement, even if previously little-known. The announcement that the Old Pulteney 21 had been awarded the accolade for 2012 quickly became the most-shared item on the BBC News website! He is also egalitarian in his approach, never falling prey to the temptation to score more highly because of age or any sort of nativist parochialism. Old Pulteney may have been the most recent whisky of the year, but the second- and third-prize winners were from the United States; among the four whiskies to claim the top numerical score is a blended Scotch whisky.
Murray’s prose style can be a little idiosyncratic. He has a jarring predilection for employing the language of human sexuality in describing whisky, often in jarringly unexpected ways. Whyte & Mackay‘s Thirty Year Old is ‘heavy booted but all rather sexy…’; a Glenfarclas family cask release is ‘a fruity Lothario, seducing every taste bud in sight [and] taking it by force if it has to…’ It makes for entertaining reading, but quickly seems slightly odd!
Interestingly, Cask Tales ratings don’t accord particularly closely with Mr. Murray’s: as the above chart shows, there is next to no correlation between the two. As often as not I find myself reading a review and thinking, ‘Really?’ or shaking my head at what I feel is an unwarranted slight. That’s no bad thing, though: after all, there’s not much that can be better for the continuing health of the whisky industry than the fostering of strong opinions. Murray is very much our kind of whisky aficionado, too – not sectarian in his enjoyment or promotion of whisky, he has been one of the leading voices attempting to popularise Japanese whisky, a goal with which we’re right on board! He also has an unerring nose for sniffing out unjustly uncelebrated gems.
Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible is not the last word on whisky (nothing could be), but it is an invaluable resource for the avid fan. Keep it on your shelf. Pull it down when you sip and sniff a glass, and see if you agree. Flick through it for ideas and suggestions. It’ll enrich your enjoyment of whisky – and what more could we ask for from a whisky book?