I like Jim Murray 41.5/100

The whisky world buzzed. And behind the scenes is shrieked with annoyance. Another Whisky Bible is out and guess what? Ardbeg won the thing again. This time it’s the Supernova with the near-perfect score of 97/100.

But what does it really mean? Completely nothing. For two reasons.

First, how relevant, in the end, is one person’s opinion? Jim Murray is known for obliterating some distilleries year after year and raving about the others. Tobermory, Dufftown or Fettercairn always seem to be the victims. Don’t tell me you didn’t notice. Does it mean that no one likes Tobermory? Well I do! And Tobermory bottlings he scored in the 60′s out of 100 (in Jim’s world that’s as low as it gets) are amongst my favourites. But then, as Mark Reynier once wrote about me, I’m just an amateur and I’m not right. But how can you be right or wrong about liking something, eh?

Second, how can you attach a number to a whisky? I know this has been discussed through and through in other places, it has been thoroughly criticised by some and defended by others. John Hansell writes on his blog today all about how consistent the conditions of his samplings are and how fair he tries to be. His readers nod their heads and clap their hands. Great, John! But that’s still sticking a number on a whisky, isn’t it? Is it a car safety test or an exam at school where a set of fixed and clear criteria will determine the score? No. Whisky is so much more complex than that, so please, whisky gods who claim yourselves worthy of writing bibles, don’t tell me that what I’m enjoying right now isn’t hundreds of years of heritage, experience and passion but, in fact, it is just a 74.8/100.

A definite numeric score means you have a precise answer to a question. And whisky is all about the question, not about the answer.

A horrible, pretentious habit we have developed, rating the un-ratable. Every second whisky website and publication now has a rating system and herds of self-proclaimed experts queue up to pass their own judgement on every drop of whisky distilled in this country. I have no time for them.

Let’s just, for easier everyday communication, start rating everything. The weather today is 81.5/100 (it’s sunny but a bit nippy). My breakfast was only 67.2/100 (no butter in the fridge). I like my flatmate 93.7/100 (still not a hundred because she burned my pan). I’m 60.5/100 in bad mood today and 12.3/100 religious. I 100/100 believe in love and friendship and 0/100 in rating whisky!

Lucas

12:25 pm – A quick update after an exchange of views and links on Twitter:

Check this out, Jim strikes back (on a different issue but I like his line of deffence): http://bit.ly/eD4RA

And also, galg pointed out via Twitter that he uses Whisky Bible as a tasting notes reference and doesn’t worry too much about the scoring. Fair play. I did that in the past too and I like Jim’s tasting notes a lot, they are very professional and an entertaining read. It’s the scoring I am against.

L

Comments

  1. I agree with most of this post except the Tobermory part (yuck!).

    :D

  2. I will defend Tobermory with my life! To arms!!

  3. By way of a compromise, the 15yo is much better than the 10yo and is actually very drinkable.

  4. And, which is irrelevant but annoying, Jim totally ripped the 15.

  5. I have to admit I do agree with the tasting scores issue, but at the same time if used in combination of others we can get an average of what a range of people think about the Whisky. see for example the Malt Maniacs…

    I had my first Whisky Bible in 2005 and have bought each one, I know if Jim rates one at 80 I would not do the same as my nose is still getting broken in but it is a good guide to his preference.

    saying that a score of a hundred is better that a star rating…

  6. Interesting post, guys…for years, I did not attach scores to whiskies, and just compiled tasting notes. It wasn’t until I joined the Malt Maniacs and had to put scores on whiskies for the Malt Monitor and the awards that I finally started doing so.

    As I say each week when giving tasting notes and scores on WhiskyCast…these are my impressions only, and your tastes may be completely different.

    Mark

  7. I did a score thing once on Whiskybase, afterwards I realised it was a waste of time. Never did it again. Whisky is for drinking, dancing is for scoring

  8. Being one of those self-proclaimed number-to-whisky-stickers myself, I fully agree with your frustration about Jim Murray’s constant bias towards certain brands. But don’t make the mistake to blame it on rating whisky with numbers. Sticking numbers to whiskies is just one way of saying “I like whisky A more than whisky B”. Some people are more comfortable with numbers, some with words.

    When I stick the number 97 to a whisky, what does this mean? Nothing! When you write in a review that whisky X was one of the finest drams you ever had, waht does this mean? Nothing! It’s just one person’s subjective view. Only when 100 people give an average of 97 or praise the dram verbally, that MIGHT be an indication of an objective quality, but just only might…

    Neither should the reviewer be convinced that his verdict is the One And Only, nor should the reader consider a single review to be more than just an indication.

  9. Interesting views guys. Good to read how some of you defend the scoring!

    Oliver, don’t get me wrong mate, I’m as much self-proclaimed as you. You’re saying that numbers are just a way of saying ‘I like this better than that’. But what about liking one whisky more one day and a bit less the other? Numbers are just too definite to capture those subtelties. And words, although still not perfect, are the best tool we have in this field. In my opinion.

  10. Numbers without words are useless but IMHO they can underline them in a way.

    This is what I love about the whisky world. There is something for every taste. This discusison has made clear that not only enjoying whisky itself is a matter of taste but also “enjoying” reviews and ratings. So I think it’s just fair if there are places for number crunchers as well as for poets.

  11. Guys, I understand why many of you don’t believe in assigning a rating to a whisky. Whisky preferences are subjective.

    Still, in my most recent comment to my blog posting on this topic, I try to explain why I feel it is important for whisky writers, like me, to do this:

    http://blog.maltadvocate.com/2009/10/06/how-everyone-evaluates-whisky-and-the-concequences/#comment-11014

    I hope you find some logic here.

  12. Oliver, you are very right saying there is place for everyone around whisky.

    Expressing your likes and dislikes, also for the methodologies, is part of the fun.

  13. Hi there,

    the trouble with scoring is that some among us take it to seriously.

    In our world of progress sience and proved facts a score for something like whisky creates a false reality and a false security.

    Too many whisky drinkers especially when they are begining their journey could get the impression that there is an objective truth behind the scores.

    I think we could all agree – far from it!

    When I see the scores whskies are given all I can read out of the scoring value is how much the scorer liked the whisky. Beyond that no scoring system I heard of does not reach.

    In that there is no harm. But whisky “authorities” just should plainly state that fact. The hint that someone is a professional while others among us are mere amateurs is a piece of useless information and a bit of taking oneself too seriously.

    What good is it when the true value of a whisky (the score) is only recognizable when you are a professional? How many professionals are there and how many bottles of whisky with scores only they can fathom do they buy to keep the distilleries in question going???

    And one thing more, Tobermory or Ledaig from the early 1970s, especially 1971 and 1972 can keep pace with any Brora from the same period. IMO

  14. Great post. There are good arguments for and against rating a whisky which are well covered here and in other posts. My gripe with the bible scoring specifically is Jim’s obvious favouritism towards Ardbeg. Frankly, his very dubious conclusions regarding Ardbeg casts doubt in my mind about the credibility of the rest of his ratings, regardless of whether they are a good idea, or not.

  15. Well
    trying to take some help from malt relatives…
    In beers tasting usually the score scores “how much the beer is near to the style is declared by the brewery”.
    http://www.bjcp.org/
    e.g. I’m scoring a Strong Scotch ale i expect something in the color, aroma, etc.

    That doesnt’ mean beer has a low score is “bad”, just that has been classified in wrong way or can’t be clearly inserted in a category.

    For whiskies I guess is a little bit more complicated while there are no agreements even on basic categories and sometimes the area is an indication but not a law written in the rock (“not all Islay are peaty”).
    So for sure to provide a score it’s necessary to disclose “form” and scores he used. Of course if ardbeg will send me 50 bottles (1978 it’s ok), i will score them 100 because in my tasting form I just consider the gift amount…

  16. I couldn’t agree more. When we started http://www.aspiringgentleman.com, one of the ideas we were set on is avoiding numerical ratings in our reviews. Tasting notes are great, but whiskies are such a personal thing that ratings are pretty much meaningless. I much prefer tasting notes and commentary, as I can then relate to what I have tasted and liked, and from that can get a good idea if I’ll like the reviewed whisky. I do see the appeal of ratings in commercial media such as magazines, but their practical value is little to nil.

  17. [...] more, check out What Does John Know (and his follow up post), and Whisky Intelligence.  Meanwhile, Edinburgh Whisky casts doubt on the entire business of whisky [...]

  18. I may have heard this wrong, but doesn’t Jim Murray have a vested interest in Ardbeg?

  19. I’d rate Supernova at 2/100 and that’s being nice to that abomination of a whisky!

  20. tobermory 15yo is exceptionally good

  21. Euan,

    Please tell me….and all of us. What vested interest in Ardbeg do I have, exactly? I am very keen to find out.

    Oh, and Lucas. A question for you. If you think one person’s opinion is irrelevant, then why are you bothering to voice yours on here? After all, it’s irrelevant, isn’t it….?

    Jim

  22. What a joy to see the top boys voicing their opinions:)

    Jim,

    There are 2-4 of us writing and 4+ tasting whisky for this little venture here, which means we rarely agree about things and build on that.

    I am surprised you took time out of your busy schedule to post your replies both here and on the whiskywhiskywhisky.com forum. After Michael passing you are, whether I personally like the idea or not, the top dog in the whisky writing universe, ergo you are bound to be exposed to both praise and criticism. Comes with the job. Take it easy, we’re not trying to take your sales away (since we don’t sell anything). And, as they say, there is no bad publicity.

    Lucas

  23. Very interesting comment thread you have going here!

    I’m kind of surprised to see such passion against ratings in the original post. I can certainly understand taking issue with somebody either 1) Declaring that their scores are somehow objective or universal, or 2) Providing scores with no comments (or at least a track record of notes/preferences).

    You’re right about whisky enjoyment not being universally ratable, but I’ve always interpreted the ratings I’ve seen as being the author’s PERSONAL expression of relative enjoyment. Providing a score based on some type of scale seems like a reasonable way of expressing that. It seems like you’re trying to read more into it.

    As a whisky enthusiast, I’m interested in the opinion of other enthusiasts, have become familiar with the likes/dislikes of a number of people, and find some (not all) of their ratings useful and meaningful. I also enjoy reading tasting notes here on this site, and others that don’t do ratings. I’m not going to begrudge one or the other for expressing their opinions in different ways.

    Ok, I’m going to bed now. I want to get up in time to enjoy the fabulous 92/100 point weather we’re expected to have in the morning. That might be meaningless to you, but my fellow weather enthusiasts who are familiar with my preferences know where I’m coming from.

    Cheers,
    Jeff

  24. Eh, number crunchers :)

  25. Even worse…I’m a number cruncher and an endless rambler!

    I skipped over a few comments, and now realize I should have just wrote “ditto what Oliver said.” :-)

  26. As a military brat who lived in scotland, came back for Uni (Dundee), who is a member of both John’s MAWS (Malt advocate whiskey society) & SMWS (US chapter) & female I can say emphatically….. I love my whisky/whiskey…. I lean toward my peaty monsters on Islay but my Irish brethern @ Connmera have shown me the light smooth smokey version. I bought a bottle of 21 & 17 yr old Aberlour 10 yrs ago from a store on LI going from whiskey to a Wine bar cost me $30 bucks opend on my 40th bday…. been a nut trying to find it ever since. Smooth sweet caramel with a lovely chocolate taste… who would have Thought I would like something like that esp since I can’t stand most Macallan’s. I paid $125 a yr ago for a 17 Aberlour…. not even close. I threw out the original 21 bottle because @ the time I saw 4 bottles on the shelf & assumed this was a standard bottling…not. People have argued with me & said Aberlour never had that or it was an indie bottling of the 21 yr old. I kept the 17. 3 drams left different taste profile from this 17 yr old. Mine were cask from the 70′s or 80′s bottled mid 80′s to early 90′s. Actually purchased in 1997. (Went back to find my notes since I was not specific early on). My point…… each bottle we open & taste is our own moment of clarity, joy & horror. (Lagavulin 17 yr, Bruichladdich 1974, “Black Dhu” confused with Dallas Dhu how? First tasting in Dundee 1987 couldn’t remember full name remembered DHU. Got home to NYthat summer not cognicent on imports & bottling just knew I loved the taste. Ran to my local “Bargain” liquor store shocked how small scotch section was for single malts. Asked the shop keep re this scotch with Dhu in the name. Came out with this somewhat expensive bottle $50 called Loch Dhu. Bought it. Today I still have the damn thing. I use it to teach friends what good whisky is not & to weed out the pretentious men who don’t know sh^&t about D&^$k but know good scotch & knocks it back in a shot glass. If they swallow this stuff & ask for another I know they have NO TASTE (in anything) just my 2 cents

  27. Jim,

    I find it strange that you are asking me to tell you what your vested interest in Ardbeg is – I would have thought you would be in a better position to tell us. I hope you note that my original comment was phrased as a question. I don’t know why you just didn’t answer it.

    I did have the impression that you were involved heavily with Ardbeg, so I think what’s best is if I lay out how I came about this impression and then you can correct me if I am mistaken.

    In your Whisky Bible (2009 edition), the review for Ardbeg KIldalton (1980) begins with the statement “Many years back, when I helped get Ardbeg back on the road”. That gives me the distinct impression that you were involved with the distillery, at the very least on a consultant level.

    Further, the review for Ardbeg 17yo (earlier bottlings) opens with “OK, I had a big hand in creating this…”. So now it appears you were also involved in actually making the whisky. The review ends with “criticised by some for not being peaty enough, as the whisky’s creator all I can say is they are missing the point”. This seems to be a loss of impartiallity – you appear to be sticking up for the whisky you have created.

    In the same edition of your book, the review for Ardbeg Uigadiel which granted it status of your ‘Whisky of the Year’, it is mentioned that “the only other Scotch to come close to this is another from Ardbeg, Corryvreckan”. So now we have the two best Scotch whiskies in the world both emerging from Ardbeg distillery.

    I hope you can see how I came about my impression that you have a particular interest in Ardbeg, and that making an enquiry on an open forum following your decision to present your prestigious annual award to Ardbeg for a third year running was not an unreasonable thing to do. I don’t think it was deserving of your rather abrupt reply and certainly not of the rather rude tone it was phrased in.

    I hope you choose to reply here on EWB and give us all clarification about these points I have made.

    Euan

  28. Wow,

    I’m a huge Ardbeg fan but……….
    Euan certainly seems to have highlighted Jim’s “vested interest” towards Ardbeg.
    Kinda like Ford’s chief designer awarding the Fiesta, car of the year, can that possibly not be Bias?

    Waylander.

  29. I have been checking the Blog on a daily basis, desperate to see Jim Murray’s response to the answer he sought from Euan, “Please tell me….and all of us. What vested interest in Ardbeg do I have, exactly? I am very keen to find out.”

    Now Euan obviously went away and did this, spending time, not only compose a response, but into researching his answer. Using quotes from your current book, he pointed out your involvement in Ardbeg and has brought into question your impartiality.

    Surely you could extend him the same courtesy by answering these accusations or are we to believe Euan hit the nail on the head, the whisky bible 2009 is just a marketing tool for Ardbeg distillery……

    So back to my daily vigil….. and I fear my ultimate disappointment….. Come on Jim, how about an answer for your critics. You would have thought, being a writer you could pen a quick response and eloquently put your point across.

    A rather disgruntled, but ever hopeful,

    Waylander.

  30. Waylander, with all due respect I don’t think Euan is highlighting anything more than JM has already discussed in print.

    Namely that when Glenmorangie bought Ardbeg, JM was invited to help them review the stocks they were taking on.

    He has said he was involved in creating the style of the old 17 – spinning out the older peated vintages by mixing some of the highly peated whisky with the less peated Kildalton style.

    If anything I think JM gives higher marks to the more recent Ardbegs for which there is no evidence he had any involvement.

    Personally I preferred the older styles to the recent but I want it on record that I have no commercial involvement with Ardbeg other than paying to buy their whisky.

    Of course JM is opinionated and ploughs his own furrow. He makes no secret of his love of Ardbeg. But personally I would stop short of accusing him of having a commercial bias.

    Trial by blog is one of the least attractive features of the whisky scene today.

  31. It’s so sad and enervating to return to this thread after so long to see that nothing has really changed. We see the same discussion–with the same disagreements, along with the same posturing and unsatisfactory answers regarding ratings from industry gatekeepers–at regular intervals. To wit, John Hansell’s recent disingenuous plea for us to effectively ignore his ratings, going even so far as to tell us that 89 is the same as 92. And all the while, there on his website are the “shelf talkers” for retailers to print out. Beneath comment.

    Of course, Jim Murray is the very, very worst offender, as demonstrated in this very thread. I’m just glad my disgust for the gatekeepers doesn’t spill over into my love for whisky.

    While I’m at it, the “roundtable” discussion was even worse than the one sparked by Hansell on his blog. Guess it must be time to stop reading about whisky on the internet. I’ve learned what I can learn here.

  32. Henry, don’t be disheartened. It may be hard to spot in the short term but I have a strong feeling that the situation is changing and soon whisky lovers won’t even need people like Jim. Why? Because of what’s happening on-line.

  33. Well, Lucas, I appreciate your kind words. Yet in my opinion the blathersphere has its very own set of problems. Regardless, I already “no longer need people like Jim.” Not that I’m an authority on whisky–far from it. It’s just that I know where I need to move, both horizontally and vertically, to learn more. It’s about drinking the stuff now. Take care.

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