Jim Murray-The Whisky Expert (Exclusive Interview)

The Whiskyman Jim Murray

Here we meet the number one Whisky expert in the world. Jim is 100% INDEPENDENT he what he likes about whisky.

Before we get down to the Questions we prepare a drink of Ballantine´s 17. Jim takes the glass of whisky and cups it with one hand and covers it with the other, why you wonder? To bring it up to body temperature, this activates the flavour. Note- you should not wear aftershave when tasting whiskies as it interferes when smelling the whisky. When smelling whisky do so at an angle, letting the rim of the glass touch just above the lip, as you sniff using one nostril. Jim never drinks a whisky without smelling it first.

Can you tell us a little about your background and how you joined the Whisky crusade?
When I was 14-years of age I wrote about sport and at 16 Brian Moore told me to the join the press instead of continuing school. So I took his advice.
I fell in love with whiskies at a young age. When I was 17 I saved up to go to Inverness to Talisker Distillery.I even worked there, I was so eager to learn. I began writing tasting notes before they ever existed. Later I was in America coaching football and in the evenings I would try whiskies (Rye Bourbon, Single Malt) and all the time I was writing notes.

I read about whisky but wine writers could write about whisky, it was rubbish. I thought about it and decided I would do it. By my mid 20’s I knew I would go into Whisky writing. The Times Newspaper ran a competition for whisky buffs, I said if I won it I would pack in my regular job. 4,000 people entered the competition. I came second by default, I should have one but our section of the exam got wrong information. But anyway coming second was good enough for me and I joined the whisky campaign. Then when I started writing I wrote to publications but they told me get lost, as the interest wasn’t there. Back in those days there was no internet, knowledge was very limited. People believed what ever they were told.

What’s the latest book you have been working on? And who is it aimed at?
The Whisky Bible 2012, suitable for everyone. I can’t tell you which is the number one whisky in the world for 2012, but the bible is out very soon, the 23rd October
In the last year I tasted 1210 different ones!

If we look at some of the key Whisky producing countries can you give us your opinion on their whiskies and latest developments there.

Its taken 20 years for the Irish for the Irish to fall back in love with Pot Stills but its finally happened. I wanted these whiskies produced many years ago Red Breast and Green Spot. These are fantastic whiskies; I like the unique character, the split personality of the whisky. It’s got a mouth feel unlike any other whisky out there.

Scotch whisky is going through an interesting time. There are fewer finishes which is good, ie “finished in this cask” This had got tiring. It will be interesting to see where Scotch whisky goes next. I think people there should learn about blends!
I’m a big fan of the Ballantine´s 17. It’s consistent like the Johnny Walker Black. For these and any good whiskies the balance is key!

The most exciting thing in American Whiskey is Buffalo Trace Single Oak. (This is a project that Buffalo Trace has been working on for over ten years.  It is intriguing, but at the same time a bit confusing.  This is Called the Buffalo Trace Single Oak Project.  It started with 96 American White Oak trees from the Missouri Ozarks.  The trees were selected for their grains, some tightly grained that comes from slow growth, and some loosely grained that comes from rapid growth.)

The Canadians are waking up to their ability, they have had a serious lack of confidence. There are great Canadian Whiskies out there. Huge potential for Canadian Whisky

I worry for Japanese whiskies because of the poor Sherry Casks they have been using.

Any other countries producing whiskies which you are a fan of? Sweden Spain?
I like the Swedish Whisky. The lack of tradition is not a problem, tradition you can create. Is the whisky good? Because this is what’s important at the end of the day.
If you got good ingredients then you can have good whisky. For these newer countries lack of tradition can be good as they got freedom. I spoke to the Swedish distillers and the Danish distillers and told them “Go for it!” For Mackmyra I told them make Rye Whisky since you live in the north!

Which whiskies would you recommend a novice should start with and what advice would you give them?
This novice thing is utter crap. It’s like we patronise people. I’ll give you an example. If someone who had never seen drama came to you and asked what play they should see. And you send them to the school play because you think they would not appreciate top class drama? Treat the novice like the regular whisky drinker, a great whisky is a great whisky.

What advice would you give to people who are tiring of the whisky they have drunk for the last 30 years?
Should they be bold or stay with something similar to their old vice?
Be bold experiment, don’t stay with the same thing for 30-years, if you do of course you’ll tire of it! Taste every whisky with an open mind and mouth!

Can you separate fact from fiction regarding some of the whisky talk out there?
Ok, I will because there is some much nonsense put out there by people without knowledge of whisky. There are people writing about whisky who have neither the knowledge nor passion. People who are writing only for the prestige of it, hoping to be famous. I have no interest in fame or seeing my name in books. I studied whiskies for 20 years before I had the audacity to write about it.  There is so much marketing crap being said!
Never put water into whisky. You’re changing the composition if you do.
Forget about novice/beginner, treat all whisky drinkers the same, have fun mix whiskies.
The more a whisky is distilled the better it is- this is rubbish, because theoretically the more you distill a whisky the more it loses its taste. Another one is when distillers say the colouring doesn’t affect taste. If you add caramel which is made from sugar of course you’ll affect the taste. This really annoys me!

I won’t ask your favourite whisky but have you a favourite type?
I’m a huge fan of Rye whisky. My predictions for Kentucky are finally coming true. I like a whisky which seduces me!

What else should we know?
Here is another example of myths.” Single malt is superior to blend” This is rubbish
A good Single Malt is a good Single Malt; a good Blend is a good Blend!
In 1991 I felt I had sufficient knowledge about whiskies. A blender said to me “Jim you should be out there letting people know about whisky.” I had to create whisky language to describe whisky because there wasn’t any there.

Some tasting notes are so pretentious, it scares people off. Sometimes I compare my notes to notes of other and think what a load of rubbish this person has written.
I’m sceptical of other who are in the trade for wrong reasons. What I write is true, and them moment I start taking backhanders is the moment I would lose all credibility. And if you haven’t got credibility you got nothing!

Price does not equal quality. Jameson Standard is a fantastic whisky. I’m not involved in prices and I judge the whisky in my glass.

Jim Murray a humble honest whisky man………a living legend!

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