Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Breaking news: Don't care for creepy or greedy hypocrites

Ahhhh Jim Murray... The man serious whisky enthusiasts and industry loves to hate!!!

I don't care....  I really don't anymore. So what, he wrote a book that has a bunch of whisky stuff in it and he always scores his whiskies 10 points higher than he should. Live and let live I always say. The man sells books, it's what he does for a living. But I can't... I just can't anymore. Something stinks about this one, and it's not the fish n' chips I had on the weekend.

Honestly I know when you are a complete newbie you don't want to plunk down $100 on a bottle of whisky when you feel like you don't have a freaking clue what the hell you are doing so why wouldn't you put down your $20 for a book called the whisky bible written by someone who calls himself a whisky expert. The cover itself will tell you: "Jim Murray's Whisky Bible is the world's leading whisky guide". Says who? There is no quote from someone attached to that? You have no idea he's a self professed whisky genius. You only know that his opinion is the only one in a population of 7.3 billion people on this huge earth that matters... Because, when you are new you believe fully what you see/read and you have to start somewhere.

On average I know 10-12 people who started that way. They paid attention to every score, every tasting note and purchased many of their bottles accordingly. I made it a point before I wrote this piece to ask them if they still used the whisky bible now.... All 11 that I asked said no and they hadn't bought one for years, one joked it's in his bathroom in case he runs out of toilet paper.

In 2013 while I attended the Canadian Whisky Awards in Victoria BC, Jim Murray was there leading a sold out tasting as well as master class. He didn't hang out with the rest of us after hours like John Glaser, Iain McCallum or Mark Gillespie did. He only made appearance if he was paid to. Again, I may not agree with that but understand. He is, after all, the Mick Jagger of whisky (not my definition... I assure you)

SO here is what is really bothering me.... On that Saturday between masterclasses, some of the Canadian Whisky Awards judges and John Hall were brought upstairs to the penthouse (where his suite was I assume) and we were asked to wait in the hallway. John Hall (Forty Creek Whisky) was to go in first and have a few publicity photos taken with him and then if he had time, some of the judges would get to meet him. Well, we waited in the hallway for 25 minutes until finally someone knocked on the door, went in and it didn't take long for them to come out apologizing profusely to Mr. Hall stating Murray would not be taking any publicity photos or meeting any of the judges. 

I didn't ask any questions because a few of the organizers had mortified looks on their faces and spent the rest of the day at my masterclasses. About 20 minutes before the main event was slated to start, Murray was in the lobby and making his way through the crowd when one of the organizers took the time to stop and introduce me and a few others to him. He held out his hand for me to shake it and spoke directly to my chest. I don't think he knew I actually had a face. But seriously... that part albeit creepy is not what bothers me because I had been warned he often said and did inappropriate things amongst the women at shows and in his classes. (Warned ahead of time.... how sad is that)

Later though, when I had the chance to talk to a few people about the situation on the top floor it came to light (and I realize this is third party information I am about to share) that Murray refused to have any photos taken with Mr. Hall because Canadian whisky was utter shite and the only decent thing ever to come out of Canada was Alberta Premium Rye... 

Can some people have a change of heart? Certainly... I personally have written about the fact that I previously would often refuse to even try any Crown Royal bottlings as a result of a predetermined opinion that their entry level was crap so the rest of it must be crap too. 

BUT... then again, I don't sell thousands of books do I?

And I think I'd like to do a little math problem here for your benefit. So, the 2016 bible boasts that it has 4500 whiskies tasted (doesn't say personally analyzed by him, btw) of which 1000 are new for this edition. Let's consider the following:

1000 whiskies, 365 days if we start on January 1... Let's not count weekends so 365 - 104 = 261. Let's also remove book signings, whisky show appearances or travel time. I will guestimate low and say he travels 10 weeks a year (since there are less countries or whisky shows that allow him entry anymore). 261 - 50 = 211 days left. I'm sure the man takes holidays and must celebrate Christmas or some other pagan ritual? So again, let's be modest and say 4 weeks. 211 - 20 = 191. The man must get sick from time to time or have other miscellaneous days to himself to do laundry and mow his grass or something? Let's subtract another three weeks. 191 - 15 = 176. Now his whiskies of 2016 preview was announced the 3rd week of November plus it appears I can buy the book now on line so that means it had to have gone to publisher before the end of October at least (give or take a few days)... So that's another 9 weeks (45 days) removed from the tasting schedule...  

So... hypothetically speaking he had 131 days in 2015 to evaluate 1000 new whiskies. 

1000 divided by 131 days = 7.6 whiskies per day

Is that doable, absolutely... but doesn't it make you wonder even if for just a few seconds how much time he actually spends with each whisky? Does he review them once? Does he have a team to help? Does he even review them?

So back to his supposed hatred for rubbish Canadian whisky... Could be some truth to that but he is known to cause controversy on purpose. 

How is it possible that a Canadian Whisky which is available in Canada, USA and the UK suddenly becomes his top pick for 2016? If you take the time to read anything on social media and/or newspapers there are plenty of speculations that Jim went home with a few Crown Royal Purple bags filled with money? There are others who say he's trying to get back into favour with Diageo...  Me personally... Again I don't know and frankly I don't care.

So here is what I do know:

A) Jim Murray is the creepiest and rudest person I have ever met in my whisky world. 

B) The average consumer will clamber, stand in line or pay way too much to buy the magical "near perfection" rated whisky of the year (which I and many others have rated somewhere between 80-85) and be disappointed

C) The whisky world will continue to revolve around this one man's opinion because nobody will speak out/hear about the atrocities he commits or the people he belittles and humiliates... why?  BECAUSE IT MAKES MONEY for everyone: Whisky shows, whisky sellers and Mr. Murray himself!

Example of his "guidelines", not all are bad but some are just ridiculous...


D) I am left tipping my hat to the biggest bunch of hypocrites on both sides rolling in the money as a result of one person's opinion about a whisky he may have spent less than 30 minutes with, if he even spent any time with it at all. 

Well played again creepy old uncle Jim, well played...



Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Top 5 questions about scotch?

There they are, poor souls... 

Puzzled faces standing and staring at the huge wall of whisky. 

I watch as he or she hesitantly picks out a bottle only to put it back on the shelf then nervously dancing from foot to foot, steps a few inches to one side and looks even more exasperated by the multitude of what lies before them! That’s when I walk over and ask “You like whisky?” Sheepishly they answer: “Yeah but I don’t really know much about it”. Ahhhhhhhh, the whisky novice. Or as many of us refer to them: THE NEWBIE. I personally love them the most sometimes because they are keen but truly free of any snobbery. 

Let's never forget: We've all been there.

Being new to whisky might be overwhelming but if the rest of us 'bozos' remembered that, we could certainly make it a much more pleasant learning experience. So why do some make it such a negative place filled with rules of must's, don't's and shall not's!?? 

I certainly wouldn't feel overly welcomed if was told everything I am doing is wrong and really, it's time we drop the "SHAN'T BE ALLOWED TO ENJOY IT WITH WATER" stupidity once and for all. 

Yes, I've left Facebaffoon pages as a result of the antiquated and ridiculous way some people treat new imbibers. Whisky, my friends has no place for the old fuddy duddy club anymore, seriously... 

So simple advice for the newbies: All you need to start are the basics. Ready?

Number one question I get asked by new whisky drinkers: What is the difference between scotch and whisky? 

Just like Champagne is a sparkling wine only made in the Champagne region of France, Scotch is whisky but it can only be made in Scotland. In general all whiskies start the same way: A mashed cereal which is fermented, distilled and aged for at least 3 years in oak barrels then bottled at a minimum of 40% alcohol by volume (what is often called ABV). What may vary are the rules and regulations of the country where the whisky is made. However, I assure you there is no such thing as an American or Japanese Scotch, nor will there EVER be...

Second most asked: What is single malt? 

Let’s stick to Scotland where the regulating body called the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) stipulates that a single malt MUST be made in Scotland, exclusively from malted barley, pot still distilled at 1 single distillery and aged a minimum of 3 years in oak barrels. 

Now every once and a while a newbie will ask: What is a double malt? There is no such thing?! I've looked high and low and talked to many people in the industry and it seems as though somebody once may have been quoted to say that a double malt is where you take two single malts from two different distilleries and blend them... Other than that... No clue where this came from. All you need to know is that it doesn't exist.

Question 3: I hear people talking about Scotch regions, what does that mean? The SWA recognizes 5: Lowland (light/unpeated), Speyside (light/fruity), Highland (medium but maritime/lightly peated), Campbeltown (salty/industrial) and Islay (heavy, medicinal/highly peated). Whereas many whisky imbibers actually recognize 6. "We" add Islands - Arran, Jura, Skye, Lewis, Mull and Orkney. Those whiskies are often defined as lightly peated and also maritime'ish in nature: Salty, seaweed, iodine, etc..

However keep in mind that distinct styles are blurring so some whisky people tilt toward using flavour profiles. In other words, if you like the following flavours, chances are you might like "this" type of whisky...

LIGHT: Honey, citrus, apples or pear type fruits and cereal notes. The lighter whiskies can be represented by some whiskies like AnCnoc, Bladnoch, Deanston or maybe a Glenkinchie. 

DELICATE: Aromas such as subtle nuts, floral, vanilla or light wood influences might be found in Dalwhinnie, Glenfiddich, Glenrothes or some Juras. 

SPEAKING OF BOLD?! Hello George...
RICH: Now we are moving into bold and warm flavours like chocolate, leather, spices or dark fruits. In this category you might find whiskies like GlenDronach, Glenfarclas, Glenmorangie or Tomatin. Personally, these are often some of my most decadent drams.

SMOKY: Reveals flavours that are linked to hot spices like ginger or cinnamon. Maybe medicinal or salty and of course organic or smoky notes. This covers a wide range of whiskies because hints of smoke can be found in the likes of a Glen Garioch whereas softer peat are found in Highland Park or Talisker. Springbank whisky which is a happy medium to smouldering beach fire found in Ardbeg, Laphroaig or Lagavulin. I REALLY love these on a cold winter night.

Keep in mind every bottling AND every person is different and because aromas/flavours are so subjective you may find all, some or none of these. The key is no matter what system you use, think of it as a guideline and work at your own pace.

#4: What does the age on the bottle mean? Again, let's stick to Scotch and the SWA policy: By law it's the age of the youngest scotch used to make the single malt but the probability is there is older whisky in the bottle. In other countries the regulations are also specific but can be much more complicated depending on the definition of the spirit in the bottle.

Question 5 - Why do some people think older scotch is better? Lots of debate about that these days. I've said for years the answer is: "IT DEPENDS"

You can have the best newmake spirit in the world but if you let it sit in an aggressive cask for too long it is going to taste like a rum soaked wooden splinter. And, even if you started with a really crappy spirit and put it in a fantastic cask - it's still going to taste like... crap. 

My argument is that it's about quality and not necessarily age. I've had many "old" 8 year olds distilled and bottled in the 60's that were fabulous and I've had a few 35+ that were utter... SHITE. 

Technology, better cask management and trends are leading to “no age statement” whiskies, often referred to as NAS. Some distilleries (not all) are doing this well. In my opinion: Tomatin Legacy, Glenlivet Founder's Reserve or Talisker Storm are some great examples of scotch matured and bottled without an age statement that are fitting of the price tag associated with it.

So feeling a bit better now newbie? Next time you go back to the wall of whiskies don’t be nervous and get ready to jump down that rabbit hole? 

It’s your trip and only yours to enjoy no matter what anyone, including me says. Because seriously... there is NO right or wrong way to be on this whisky journey.