My chat with Jim Murray last night about whisky ratingsAugust 14th, 2009
Jim and I have mutual respect for each other. And, for the most part, we generally agree with each other when it comes to whiskies we like and whiskies we don’t like.
But there’s one area where we diverge. It our ratings of young whiskies. And when I say “young” I mean whiskies (and whiskeys) anywhere from new make spirit (not even whisky yet) to whiskies up to 8 years old. (I’m excluding bourbon and rye whiskey from this discussion, focusing more on single malt whisky.) Jim is clearly more generous than I am.
I brought up the topic with him last night after dinner (and over a beer). You see, we’re both here in Kentucky visiting Buffalo Trace distillery and attending Elmer T. Lee’s birthday party later today. We had dinner at the distillery last night with key distillery personnel and a few other writers.
So, Jim and I had a good chat about this. We actually agreed more than we disagreed about the topic.
We both agreed that some whiskies actually mature at a younger age (some at a very young age) and reach their peak before getting anywhere close to 10 years old. A lot of it is because of the climate. And sometimes it’s the distilling process.
Take Amrut, from India, for example. They put their whisky out at 4-5 years old. Stranahan’s here in Colorado is but a few years old. Penderyn, from Wales, is also only several years old. We both agree that these whiskies will be peaking well before 10 year of age.
We also agree that these whiskies are balanced, and balance is very important to us. But what I don’t see–that Jim does–is the depth and complexity in these whiskies like I see in a great 21 year old Springbank or one of those classic old Broras. Or the Parker’s Heritage Collection 27 year old, for that matter.
Yet, Jim rates these young whiskies roughly the same (within a few points) as many more mature examples, like the ones I mention above. In fact, I believe in the most recent Whisky Bible, he rated Kilchoman spirit in the mid-90s, and that’s not even a whisky yet.
He sees depth and maturity in these whiskies that I don’t. Just because a whisky is peaking at 4 years old, doesn’t mean to me that it is just as complex as an 18 or 21 year old whisky.
Jim also told me that his respect and admiration for young whiskies stems from back when he first started getting into malt whiskies, back in the ’70s, when he said most of the whiskies available were 8 years old or less. I didn’t start to appreciate whisky until the 1980s, and there were plenty of older whiskies available by that time. So maybe our roots have a bearing in all this?
By the end of the evening, we agreed to disagree on this one point. With mutual respect. As it should be. And since Jim has reviewed far more whiskies than I have, I’m happy to defer to Jim and just say that he see’s something in these young whiskies that my “less experienced” palate doesn’t. That’s fine with me.
It is also another reminder to you to find a whisky reviewer that you feel comfortable with, and whose tastes line up best with yours, regardless of who that person may be.
What do you think about all of this?
I’ll be with Jim all day again. The topic might come up again later on tonight. If it does, I’ll add more to this thread.