Part 2 of our exclusive interview with Jim Murray following the launch The Whisky Bible 2018. For part 2 we asked some broader questions on the whisk(e)y industry today. And, what else tickles Jim Murray’s whistle other than liquid gold?
The Whisky Barrel Chats to The Whisky Bible: Part 2 – Whisk(e)y and Other Things
The Whisky Barrel: You famously visited Talisker Distillery as a teenager which set you on a spirited path. Does a glass of Talisker still bring back that same vivid memory and sense of excitement? What distillery or whisk(e)y comes close to that same feeling today?
Jim Murray: I’m afraid not. The Talisker produced in the 1970s and today are two very different animals. Not least the peppery spices are now very much reduced from the olden days. This is a malt that isn’t helped if anyone adds caramel to it. I think you have to go abroad where jobsworth Health and Safety officials haven’t strangled the character out of many of distilleries. When I first visited Talisker I can still vividly remember the pungent aromas from each and every different section of the plant. Today, most of those aromas are piped out. Hit some far flung distillery and you can still sometimes get a similar feeling of Talisker from over 40 years ago…though perhaps without the dramatic island backdrop.
TWB: Not a day seems to pass by without a new distillery opening somewhere in the world. What does the Scotch whisky industry need to do to maintain its kudos? Can you see a day where the industry relies solely on its provenance?
JM: The Scotch whisky industry can help itself enormously by concentrating on core brands and making sure they get them right, rather than spending massive amounts of time and budget on experimentation. Many newer distilleries have already worked out that getting a source of wood straight from Kentucky helps enormously and staying away from sherry and French wine barrels can save a lot of sulphury pain. Some Scottish distillers remain in denial of any problems, which does both the individual distillery and the reputation of scotch no favours whatsoever. Thankfully there are still some truly world class Scotch distilleries out there like Glen Grant, Ardbeg, Clynelish Laphraoig, Gen Elgin, Springbank, Knockdhu and others which will ensure that at its highest level Scotch will always have the ability to blow you away with its beauty.
TWB: Do you have a soft spot for any of these newly opened distilleries? Do you have high hopes that one may produce a Whisky Bible winner one day?
JM: I am truly in awe of the people who put their lives on the line to create a new distillery. You have to go through a lot of pain before you begin to feel any pleasure. It would not surprise me in the slightest if one the new kids on the block pulls off the top prize. You have only to look at St George’s in England, Penderyn in Wales and Kavalan in Taiwan – to name but three – to experience truly world class whisky.
TWB: The past decade has seen huge growth and emergence in online merchants, such as The Whisky Barrel, online auctions and whisky writers. Do you see a future for The Whisky Bible online one day?
JM: Yes, there is every chance we will be online one day. Behind the scenes we are quietly working on a number of projects taking the Whisky Bible into the brave new world, but I’d rather keep all that under my hat for now.
TWB: You’ve been seen to be less enthused by Scotch Whisky, or rather more enthused by other world whiskies, recently. Rather than quality produced, has Scotch whisky been the victim of its own success? Do you think this may be cyclical and the Scotch whisky industry will regain its crown?
JM: I don’t think Scotch has been a victim of its own success. I think it has been a victim of its own arrogance. When its own trade body refuses to accept a major problem like sulphur in casks as exactly that – a problem – and passes it off as just another flavour in the scotch whisky lexicon, you know they are in trouble.
Has anyone ever asked them why their pot stills are made of copper? In case they don’t know, it is to get rid of the sulphur compounds in the making of the spirit. But then, according to them, it is perfectly acceptable to add it back in via the cask. Instead of saying: “sorry folks, we fucked up and are trying to put it right” they try to tell us it is perfectly acceptable. It isn’t and the sooner they admit to this kind of thing, the sooner people will regain confidence in their product.
TWB: This is the 15th version of The Whisky Bible picking ‘Worlds Whiskies of The Year’. Forgetting points given, which one still sticks out as the most memorable? When did you last try it? Still as memorable today?
JM: So difficult, that. They are all incredibly memorable: I can still describe you each and every whisk(e)y which has picked up the title. About a month ago I had some of the very batch of the Northern Harvest Rye that won the 2016 Crown and it absolutely sent a shiver down my spine and made my hairs stand on end…it was that stunning. Of course people say they didn’t taste that batch and have never got that same experience. I was lucky that I did, as were the distillers!
TWB: Finally, in between sampling whiskies, what other spirits whet Jim Murray’s whistle?
JM: Obviously I have to give my palate – and brain – a rest from time to time. So, socially, I tend to drink either outstanding red wines or British real ale of 3.5% – 4% abv…good old fashioned session bitters like Hook Norton, Harvey’s, Robinson’s, Batham…actually the old Victorian breweries which have defiantly withstood the test of time. The American craft beers tend to be a bit too heavy duty for my liking. But, of course, I am pretty well versed in rum – both as a taster and blender – and you’ll never see me saying no to sampling that, or romping through a distillery or warehouse somewhere….
Well, for Jim Murray there is a wealth of exciting, interesting and damn fine whisk(e)y in production. He is notable in his frustration towards the Scotch Whisky industry but he hasn’t totally turned his back. Indeed, there are many high scoring scotch whiskies among the 2018 Whisky Bible – notably our very own Dumbarton 30 year old celebrating The Whisky Barrel 10th Anniversary scoring 96.5 points (we have no shame here!). Even more noteworthy is the Glen Grant 18 year that took the runners-up spot. He is also very optimistic about the large number of new distilleries opening in Scotland and hope for their success. The Whisky Bible online…maybe one day soon. For now, Jim could be found in the local with a fine pint of real British ale.
Our sincere thanks to Jim and the Whisky Bible team for taking the time to answer our questions. Here’s to 2019…