Every year Jim Murray puts out a new edition of his “Whisky Bible”, and every year I end up having to explain to someone why Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible can’t be trusted.
Jim Murray is famous for two things: drinking whiskey, and writing about drinking whiskey. Every year he puts out a book talking about what whiskey he drank, and how he liked all of it. The first thing I need to state, and I want to be very clear, is that Murray is an expert on whiskey. He knows what he is talking about, and he certainly knows more about whiskey than I, or any of my readers do. So should you buy his book? Probably. Should you trust his list of the best whiskeys? Probably not.
One Guy’s Preference
The first, and most obvious thing to state, is that Murray is one guy, with one mind. Science is getting more and more clear on this every day, but what we know for sure is that taste is computed by the brain, we don’t know how, and every single person perceives every taste differently.
What Jim Murray likes has no relation to what your palate will interpret. His book serves as a great reference, and it’s full of great information, but using it to define the “best” whiskeys in the world is absurd (almost as absurd as his photoshopped gold eyes on the 2015 cover).
Peated Scotch is Polarizing
While it might seem like apples to apples to compare Scotch to Bourbon, it’s really not quite so simple. A decent percentage of all Scotch Whisky is peated, and peated whisky is polarizing. If you don’t like a peated whisky, then all peated Scotches you drink will taste like a burnt log, and you will claim all Bourbons are superior.
Clearly this is a problem, one which Murray tries to address by rating different whiskeys in different categories. The problem is that he still includes “overall” winners each year, and those are what the media report on.
And let’s be honest, Jim: If you could take just one bottle of whiskey with you to a desert island, it’s not going to be a bottle of Crown Royal.
Most Importantly: His Goal is to Sell Books
This is the #1 reason why you can’t trust the Whisky bible. Jim Murray wants to sell his book, not once, but every year. If his list of the “world’s best whisky” was the same every year, there would be no reason to buy a new book.
I’m not looking down on him, in any way. It’s just smart marketing, and he really wants to get paid to drink whiskey for a living. So he will print whatever he thinks will sell, and when you put a Canadian whiskey as the best whiskey in the world (without a single Scotch in the top 5), that will get you instant free press.
As a marketer, well done, Jim.
As a whiskey man, that’s some shady shit.
To wrap this all up, if you like whiskey, and you want a coffee table book with reference to over 4,600 different types of it, then pick this book up. That is, unless you already own one from another year.
As a final note, the Whisky Bible has been out for 13 years now, so let’s do the math:
If he tasted all 4,600 whiskeys this year alone, that means he drank more than 12 whiskey’s every single day, which isn’t a good start. Either he’s taking a single sip, then writing a full review, or he’s drinking 12 glasses of whiskey, every day. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism say that “low risk drinking” is defined as “no more than 14 drinks per week, for men”.
So either he’s writing reviews, without really drinking the whisky, or he’s a raging alcoholic. Either way, certainly not someone a defense lawyer would want to put on a stand as an expert witness.
The other option is he is only drinking a few of these whiskeys each year, and just adding those reviews to the ones from previous years. But I have two problems with this:
- Is it really fair to compare a whiskey you just tasted, to the description of something you tasted years in the past?
- In 2013 his book had over 4,700 reviews. So he’s clearly shedding some reviews, perhaps just the ones he no longer agrees with, as his taste changes. But if his taste changes, it’s even more unfair to rate a recently tasted whiskey with one from years in the past.