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February 27, 2024

For whisky evangelist Jim Murray, whisky tasting is a serious business

Phorum Dalal

No food, no sex and no hair products. Jim Murray, an acclaimed whisky critic and writer of Whisky Bible, takes his job very seriously. Doesn’t let anyone or anything influence his tasting and judging sessions.
A mixed crowd has gathered at the Pullman Hotel, Aerocity, anxiously waiting for Jim Murray, writer of the annual, prestigious Whisky Bible, which lists and ranks thousands of whiskies from across the globe. He has sold more than three-quarters of a million copies in over 30 countries and has been inducted into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame (An honour is given by the global spirits industry).
Participants at the tasting session
Participants at the tasting session
The sought-after writer, consultant blender and full-time whisky critic, was invited to India last month, by Sommelier Nikhil Agarwal’s All Things Nice, to conduct whisky tasting workshops here. India is a whisky crazy nation that consumes 48 per cent of whisky produced in the world and the fastest-growing market of the spirit. “Ever attended a whisky tasting?” asked Murray to the Delhi participants of his tasting session.
Many hands went up. “Did they ask you to add a little water and ice to open up the notes?” Murray probed. The hands were still up. He laughed. “Your true journey to tasting whisky begins here,” he said. “It will be just you and the spirit. No ice, no water.”
Murray is very particular about how to drink and appreciate whisky. “Unlike wine, we don’t swirl the glass, but hold it at arm’s length and bring it close to each nostril three times before taking a sip,” he said.
Jim Murray conducting the tasting session
Jim Murray conducting the tasting session
Post the session, Murray, wearing a Panama hat, got talking about his journey in the world of whiskies and the current trends in the market.
“Let’s whizz back in a time machine, and you will be pretty shocked to know that there were no whisky shows back in 1992,” says Murray. In his early years in whisky writing, he visited 200 whisky distilleries in Czech Republic, Canada, Ireland, Scotland, New Zealand, Japan and other countries, before releasing Jim Murray’s Complete Book of Whisky in 1997.
It was the first of its kind and had managed to upset a lot of people, as some of the top whiskies of that time had earned a low score. “They were not used to being kicked,” says Murray. But just like in a World Cup, Murray put all of the world’s whiskies, be it Scottish, Irish or Japanese, on the same ground and judged them on the same parameters. “And of course, there were winners and losers.” And some unhappy losers did not take the verdict well.

Murray swears by fair play. “The responsibility of judging something is huge,” says Murray. He, after all, is accountable to whisky consumers across the globe. Hence, Murray wasn’t willing to compromise his reviews. In a bid to write and publish honest opinions, uninfluenced by anyone, he found his own publishing house called Dram Good Books in 1994.
Moreover, to ensure that his tastings aren’t affected by any other flavours, he doesn’t eat anything before drinking whiskies. “I allow myself to have water. No sex, no hair products. I just can’t afford to have a cold. It would affect the rating of a whisky, and that is not correct as my verdict affects the liquor companies directly,” says Murray.  “Everything I do is fair, so people can’t buy my opinion. They can buy it only after it is published, by buying my book,” he jokes.

2019 World Whisky of the Year:
William Larue Weller 128.2 Proof

Second Finest Whisky in the World:
Glen Grant Aged 18 Years

Third Finest Whisky in the World:
Thomas Handy Sazerac Rye 127.2 Proof

Single Cask of the Year:
Blanton’s Gold Edition Single Barrel

Spirit shopping

Discussing global whisky trends, Murray discusses people’s inhibitions towards new whiskies. While they are open to new cuisines, their risk-taking appetite decreases when it comes to buying new whiskies. “People are playing safe, and that is so sad,” says Murray. They worry that they may not like the taste and end up wasting money and the whisky. “I go through the effort of trying all the ones you don’t want to, so if someone trusts me, they should just follow my guide. They can avoid a lot of losses,” says the jovial Englishman who lives between Northamptonshire in England and Kentucky in the US.
Indian whiskies
Back in India, Amrut Whisky had made it to the top three in the 2010 Whisky Bible. “People are taken by surprise when I tell them that Amrut comes from India,” says Murray. “Indian whiskies are amazing, but they are not widely
recognised.” Amrut, however, leads the pack. It is a trailblazer. “It sometimes borders genius and sometimes it is okay to very good, but it is never
ad,” says Murray.
But which is his absolute favourite from his collection of 20,000. “I’ll take you in that time machine again, to the Island of Isle in 1984, and pick a 10-year-old Ardbeg,” he says.
Amrut Amalgam Single Malt Whisky
Amrut Amalgam Single Malt Whisky
  • What do you think of whisky cocktails?
    That is not whisky anymore. I am a purist.
  • Which is your favourite leisure drink?
    Beer and black rum.
  • What is your favourite passtime?
    Bird watching. I have spotted 291 species this year.
  • What do you think you were in your past life?
    Cricketer, opening batsman.

Kannav Chaudhary


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