Jim Murray Names Booker’s Rye Top World Whiskey
By Richard Thomas
In world whisk(e)y circles, the autumn has a number of particular annual rites associated with it. One is the big bourbon release season in the United States, but another is the publication of the Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible.
If you release a “best of” list of any description, people are going to quibble with it, a simple fact that I know better than most people and from (obvious) personal experience. Even so, recent editions of Whisky Bible have raised complaints that went far beyond quibbling, mostly coming from Europe where single malt Scotch fans were outraged over the repeated snubbing they felt the drink of their ardent devotion was getting from a man who used to be one of its foremost apostles.
In 2013 Murray put the spotlight on Japanese whisky, Yamazaki Sherry Cask in particular, and then in 2014 he put it on American whiskeys via the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. In so doing, he crowded Scotch whiskies out of his Top 3 listing, something the Scotch fans cried was unfair and unjustified.
Then came last year’s edition, which brought a lot more people into the chorus of critics. His choice for the top world whiskey that year was Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye, a whiskey that was regarded as rather ordinary by very nearly everyone who was not named Jim Murray. After spending past years defending Murray’s choices as having merit, 2015 was when I broke ranks and joined the opposition. Northern Harvest Rye and other choices were too much of a stretch, and the charge of courting controversy to drive book sales had more strength than at any time in the past.
I’m certain that charge (and others) will be repeated this year, but on shakier grounds. For once, I find myself not just finding merit in Murray’s choice for best world whiskey, but in full agreement. The year isn’t over yet, but Booker’s Rye is my clear favorite to name as Best New Whiskey 2016 come January. Although some in the U.S. grumbled that the whiskey was woefully expensive, most of those who actually tried Booker’s Rye gave it very high marks.
Beyond that, I find most of Murray’s other choices unremarkable. The exception is Glen Grant 18 Year Old as the second-best whiskey overall, and the top Scotch Whiskey and Scotch Single Malt. The expression has received mixed reviews so far, with Murray’s superlative rating being by far and away it’s best endorsement. One could easily see Murray putting this particular single malt in his Top 3 as yet another snub, and I’m sure some will.
Yet that is one (admittedly high profile) choice amid a slate that, on the whole, is perfectly reasonable. After years of courting controversy, this year’s Whisky Bible looks rather reasonable. It’s enough to make one wonder if last year’s storm of criticism might have struck home.