Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Book Review: Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2010

I ordered a signed copy of this book a few months back and it has proved to be a valuable resource, in particular at the whisky party I threw this fall (  With Michael Jackson dead and gone, Jim Murray is probably the world's most known and important whisky writer.  Unlike Jackson's Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch (which I plan to review later), this book encompasses the entire whisky world, and includes reviews of whiskies made in such odd places as Spain.  Each section has a short intro/overview of the whisky making region it will cover, including updates about it, e.g he details how a Canadian distiller called Glenora fought the "might of the Scotch Whisky Association,"  who was challenging it's right to have "Glen" in it's name because it sounds too much like a scotch (the Scotch Whisky Association obviously lost).  The sections themselves are simply alphabetical lists of whiskies from that region of the world.  Murray reviews and scores them with 100 point system.  He explains the need for even half points in his scale as whisky is "the most complex drink in the world" and therefore in need of a detailed system for rating it.  He rates balance, nose, taste, and finish to come up with the score and writes about each.  Here is a sample of his accessible style, when describing the nose of George Dickel no. 12: "So floral and perfumy that I actually sneezed!" 

The book also contains his award winners for the year.  Sazerac 18 year Rye was his "World Whisky of the Year," and George T. Stagg the "Bourbon of the Year."  Both of these are from Buffalo Trace distillery's Antique Collection, which comes out each fall.  I have actually had the pleasure of a shot of the Sazerac 18, and I can tell you it was one of the finest whiskies I've ever sipped.  Murray loves Buffalo Trace.  Of their flagship label, Buffalo Trace, he writes "as an everyday bourbon there is little to match this one."  He does note that some of the Pappy Van Winkle line, also from Buffalo Trace, are over-oaked.  His scotch of the year was Ardbeg Supernova. 

One minor complaint about the book:  he describes Pappy Van Winkle 15 as a "classic corn rye whisky," with "waves of juicy rye lap(ping) kindly on the palate," but my understanding is that Pappy is a wheated bourbon.  Maybe he is tasting rye anyhow, who knows.  That aside, it's a fine book.  The Whisky Bible is meant to be a pocket reference, something you bring in the store to help you choose your next bottle, or set next to your glass to read some tasting notes as you have that first pour of the bottle you got for Christmas.  The fun of it in the end is cross referencing your taste in whisky against Murray's.  I understand the 2011 version is a slightly different format, at least in terms of the shape/size of the book, and that a blended scotch took home the award for World Whisky of the year this time.  Murray is open to all types of whisky being potentially great, and it's simply astonishing how much whisky this man has tasted.  He did his homework so you wouldn't have to.  Don't you wish you had that type of homework, though?

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