Murray, one of the world’s most recognised and influential whisky experts today, started his career in 1992 tasting thousands of whiskies, rating them and sharing his tasting notes in this book. He is still indefatigable, producing an edition each year, visiting distilleries across the world and introducing new whiskies to readers. In the latest edition (2015), Murray has added a whopping 1,145 new whiskies to the list.
From the East
Japan’s Yamazaki sherry cask whisky 2013 (97.5 points) took a surprising first place in this edition as World Whisky of the Year and ever since, Japanese whiskies have soared to new highs worldwide in terms of popularity. “People are going nuts about Japanese whisky,” Murray agrees. Yamazaki’s price doubled and stocks sold out in three days. But Murray believes their victory was well-deserved. “The Japanese are romantics, giving amazing attention to detail. This whisky was made like the whiskies of the 1970s once were.” The turnaround happened a few years ago when the Japanese discarded the practice of sulphuring the Oloroso sherry butts (a common anti-bacterial measure) used for ageing whisky when they found the process impacted the whisky’s flavours. “When I first tasted the Yamazaki sherry cask whisky, I was staggered at the purity, distinctness and balance of sweetness,” says Murray.
Often labelled controversial and outspoken for some of his choices, Murray nonetheless has stuck to his guns and awarded several New World whiskies top scores over recent years. In fact, Scotch whisky didn’t feature in the top five of 2015, upsetting many Scotch whisky manufacturers, something Murray describes as a ‘wake-up call’ for the Scotch whisky industry. Amrut Fusion, which shocked the world by placing third in 2010, retained a stellar 97 points, placing it in the ‘Liquid Gold’ category among some of the top-rated whiskies.
The passion with which the team at Amrut has worked to produce world beating whiskies is something that still impresses Murray. “I’ve given awards to people I dislike, and many I do like don’t make good enough whisky. So it’s rare to find people (like the Jagdales) who are genuine, likeable and also win awards!” he smiles. As for his unpopularity with those who don’t win, he shrugs, saying, “Rumours are spread on the Internet of my taking money for awards, but I’ve realised getting your whisky into the Whisky Bible means all bets are off — that’s why I’ve upset so many people. But I’m batting for the public alone, nothing influences me.”
These days, there’s little excuse for making bad whiskies, he adds, describing his unique judging process. “I lock myself up for my tastings. Then it’s me, my whiskies and nothing else. In fact, I buy my whiskies incognito and pay enormous storage costs for my samples. I don’t make a penny from buying awarded whiskies though I know their prices will double once the Whisky Bible’s out. Nor do I taste 60 whiskies a day, as some competitions do. I know it’s not possible or fair to judge that way. I pause between tastings, cleanse my palate with some cheese and start again. My waistline has paid the price,” he chuckles.
With tastes evolving and
whisky lovers willing to experiment, “the days of Scotch whiskies as king and emperor are over. There’s no place for arrogance or complacency. The 2010 award to Amrut gave them confidence, and they’re now exploring new markets, forging ahead. Other Indian single malts will follow.”
Murray’s Top Whiskies of 2015
1. Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry 2013 (Japanese)
2. William Larue Weller Whisky (Bourbon)
3. Sazarac Rye 18 year