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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Jim Murray

Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2021 winner announced

Jim Murray has spoken. The 2021 World Whisky of the Year is Alberta Premium Cask Strength Rye! If only it was available in the UK. Autumn is a very exciting…

Jim Murray has spoken. The 2021 World Whisky of the Year is Alberta Premium Cask Strength Rye! If only it was available in the UK.

Autumn is a very exciting time in the whisky world because everyone knows it’s when Jim Murray publishes a new version of the Whisky Bible. And with it comes the Whisky Bible Awards, where arguably the world’s most famous whisky writer announces his favourite drams of the year. And whether you’re a fan or not, his selections always provoke debate. This year is sure to be no different.

The theme of the 2021 edition (which will be arriving at MoM Towers very soon) is new releases, new distilleries and letting the past be the past: “But the one thing that tasting 1,250 whiskies a year for this book has reinforced in my mind, is that for people to really enjoy whisky of whatever type, then they have to let go of the past and learn to swim,” Murray says. 

But what you really want to know is which expressions make up the big four. For those who are new to all this, Murray doesn’t just announce a World Whisky of the Year, but a top three and single cask winner. So, here they are:

The 2021 World Whisky of the Year: Alberta Premium Cask Strength Rye! (Sadly not available in the UK. Boo!)

Second place: Stagg Jr Barrel Proof (64.2%)

Third place: Paul John Mithuna

Single Cask: Glen Grant 1956 Mr George Centenary Edition Gordon & MacPhail

Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2021 winner

The 2021 Edition will be available here very soon

It’s a huge victory for the Canadian rye whisky, which scored an incredible 97.5 out of a 100, and marks the first time it has won the coveted top prize. The Alberta distillery has long supplied high quality rye to such lauded American brands as Whistlepig but has only recently began bottling such magnificent whiskys under its own label. Made from a mix of malted and unmalted rye, Alberta Premium Cask Strength draws its water from the Rocky Mountains and was bottled at a massive 65.1% ABV. It’s also received the Double Gold Medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, so I’d chalk that up as being a pretty good year.

Murray, who tasted 1,252 new drams for the 2021 edition of the Whisky Bible, described the expression as being a “truly world-class whisky from possibly the world’s most underrated distillery. How can something be so immense yet equally delicate? For any whisky lover on the planet looking for huge but nearly perfectly balanced experience, then here you go. And with rye at its most rampantly beautiful, this is something to truly worship.” Alberta Premium was named Canadian Whisky of the Year in Murray’s 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009 Whisky Bibles, so his love for the Canadian distillery is already well-established.

Fans of the Whisky Bible will have noted that, for the first time in five years, the US has been knocked off the World Whisky of the Year top spot. Kentucky distiller the Sazerac Company made have swept the board in 2020 with a unique 1-2-3, but the “mind-blowing” Stagg Jr Barrel Proof, had to settle for the runner-up spot in 2021. 

Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2021 winner

Being named in Murray’s top list is a coveted award for whisky brands

Arguably the most eye-catching podium entry of all is Mithuna, however. The Paul John expression, a distillery in the tiny Indian state of Goa, is the first South Asian whisky to have taken a top three gong in more than a decade. Jim Murray says sampling its sensational chocolate-and-spices complexity is: “Like after you have just made love…and you are unable to speak or move while your senses get back into some kind of normality”. Sexy!

All this means it’s another relatively barren year for Scotch as far as Murray’s awards go, although his love for Glen Grant clearly remains undiminished. The brand won three of the six categories Scotch whisky can compete in, including Scotch Whisky of the Year, Scotch Single Malt of the Year (Multiple Casks) and Scotch Single Malt of the Year (Single Cask). The category’s most significant win, however, was on the single cask side of things where the old and rare Glen Grant Mr George stole the show, which was dubbed Mr George Centenary Edition in honour of George Urquhart, creator of Gordon & MacPhail’s wonderful Connoisseurs Choice range.

The last time a Canadian won World Whisky of the Year was in 2016 when Murray selected Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye. Not only did it spark renewed interest in the category, but caused the demand for the bottle to be so high that police in Toronto were called as drinkers fought over the last bottles still on the shelf. Hopefully, we don’t see a repeat of such antics this year. We’ve got plenty of lovely Candian whisky right here that you don’t have to fight over.

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1792 Full Proof is Jim Murray’s World Whisky of the Year 2020

Kentucky has come out on top in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2020, with 1792 Full Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon from the Barton 1792 distillery scooping the World Whisky of the…

Kentucky has come out on top in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2020, with 1792 Full Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon from the Barton 1792 distillery scooping the World Whisky of the Year accolade. 

1792 Full Proof  is a non-chill-filtered expression, bottled at 62.5% ABV. It’s hugely full-flavoured, bursting with toffee penny, burnt sugar and nutmeg notes – but as a limited-run, is sadly sold out (we’re trying to get more in – keep you posted!).

Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2020 1792 Full Proof

Mr Murray’s top drop

Second place went to William Larue Weller 125.7 proof, an updated version of the winning 2019 expression, with third place nabbed by Thomas Handy Sazerac Rye 127.2 proof.

1792 Full Proof is made at Barton 1792 Distillery, while William Larue Weller and Thomas Handy are both made at Buffalo Trace. All three are owned by Sazerac. 

“To not only be named World Whisky of the Year but also to have our whiskeys named second and third finest is astonishing,” said Mark Brown, Sazerac president. “We could not be happier or more motivated to continue to strive for perfection in the American whiskeys we make.”

Murray chose his 2020 winners from 1,250 new drams. Sectional winners include: the Taiwanese Nantou Distillery Omar Cask Strength Bourbon Cask (Single Cask of the Year); Glen Grant Aged 18 Years Rare Edition (Scotch of the Year); Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost & Rare (Blended Scotch of the Year); Penderyn Single Cask no.M75-32 (European Whisky of the Year); and Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt (Japanese Whisky of the Year).

Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2020 Scotch Glen Grant

Behold, Jim’s Scotch of the Year!

“There will be eyebrows raised and claims of favouritism which, of course, is never the case with the Whisky Bible: I call it exactly as I see it,” Murray said. “Once I knew the top three were from the same company, I spent two extra days running through my top ten whiskies once more…and the results came out exactly the same!

“For the 1792 Distillery to win World Whisky of the Year is extraordinary because when I first went there some 25 years ago, the then-owners had no interest in high-end whiskey. The oldest they produced was a six-year-old, which I thought was one of the most complex on the market but still under-cooked. I implored them then to bring out something much older.” He added that the team has “turned a potentially great distillery into something truly magnificent”.

Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2020 is due to arrive at MoM Towers imminently! 

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Jim Murray and Glen Grant: A love affair

Creating world class Scotch means staying true to your roots, Jim Murray believes. It’s an approach that Glen Grant’s master distiller Dennis Malcolm knows a thing or two about. We…

Creating world class Scotch means staying true to your roots, Jim Murray believes. It’s an approach that Glen Grant’s master distiller Dennis Malcolm knows a thing or two about. We spoke to both in London to find out more.

Once again, Glen Grant 18 Year Old has been awarded the prize of Scotch Whisky of the Year in the 2019 edition of 2019 edition of Murray’s Whisky Bible. For the third year in a row, in fact.

It’s no small feat. Over 5,000 whiskies, a thousand of which were new entrants, were rated by Murray. In the end, only the 2017 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection release of William Larue Weller ranked higher to scoop the coveted accolade of World Whisky of the Year. In an official statement, Murray declared: “Once more the stunning Glen Grant 18 Year Old single malt carried the banner for Scotland, displaying Speyside Whisky in its most sparkling light.”

Glen Grant

Jim Murray

Providing the world with a refined whisky is what Glen Grant has been all about since 1840, when brothers John and James Grant founded the site in Rothes in Speyside. Some will tell you the secret to its style is the innovative tall slender stills, others will point to the revolutionary purifiers that James ‘The Major’ Grant, son of founder James Grant, was one of the first to introduce to the Scotch whisky industry over a century ago.

Malcolm appreciates the influence of both, but is keen to underline the importance of approach, “it’s consistent quality from the whole process, from the production right through. I used to jokingly say to people, when you mill it and mash it and ferment it, it’s almost a generic process!” he explains, “the secret is in your stills and your casks, that’s your big influencers, but you’ve got to be consistent with everything you’re doing.”

It’s this steadiness that resonates with Murray. “Glen Grant is the best distillery in Scotland and it is the most consistent. What I can tell you, is that if you tasted Glen Grant from a 1952 distilling or whatever, there’s no difference to now. It’s one of the few distilleries where the DNA has not changed”, Murray told us, “I can’t think of any other distillery that is as true now as it was in the past. And it’s one of the reasons I love it so much, and that makes it virtually unique in Scotch.”

Glen Grant 18 Year Old

Master distiller Dennis Malcolm

Nobody typifies the consistency at Glen Grant like the multi-award winning Malcolm. He was actually born in the grounds of Glen Grant in 1946 and has worked for the distillery in various capacities for over five decades. “My grandfather worked at Glen Grant and worked for the son of the founder, then my father worked there and then I left school at the age of 15 and went to be a cooper”, Malcolm recalls, “I wanted to create casks. That’s helped me along my career but I’ve always said ‘I know what casks are all about.’ Casks are like people, they all mature at different stages.”

It’s because of this background that he knows what Glen Grant whisky should be better than anybody. When I ask Malcolm how he knows when a spirit has that crucial Glen Grant profile, he says: “We look at it before we put it into the cask and what we want is a new, fine, fruity, estery Glen Grant new spirit. So the spirit at Glen Grant is monitored and passed fit for casking in the still house. That’s when we do it.”

Every part of the Glen Grant distillation process is about retaining a consistent quality. “We have a standardised system so it’s easy to operate. It’s broken into four pairs of stills, so one batch does a six hour process from mashing into distilling,” Malcolm explains, “when the spirit comes off, the first one pair, two pair, three pair, four pair, goes into separate receivers and it’s checked individually. I think attention to detail is the secret of consistent quality.”

Glen Grant 18 Year Old

The legendary Glen Grant stills

Murray concurs, revealing that when he trains blenders around the world it’s by following this approach. “So they can always make sure that they’ve got control. Because if you take your eye off it and you don’t have control that’s when suddenly something goes wrong,” he says, “now it’s this attention to detail that separates the great distilleries from the good distilleries and Glen Grant is just a great distillery, it just is.”

Talking to Malcolm and Murray, it’s clear how passionate they are that part of Glen Grant’s triumph is that it retained its identity and didn’t change simply to satisfy the market. “You’ve got to hold your ground. You have to be careful it doesn’t just become a fashion item for that one year. So what I try to do is protect the DNA of Glen Grant,” Malcolm says, “if the financial people want to save some money, they would say ‘use the casks four times there because you’re using a million pounds for bloomin’ casks every year!’ and that would put another million pounds on the bottom line. But I say: ‘hey, wait a minute, the only reason we’re here is because of our consistent quality so we need to keep that’.”

The Campari Group, who acquired Glen Grant whisky distillery in 2006 for €115m, were obviously wise enough to heed Malcolm’s advice. Under its ownership, the 12 Year Old and 18 Year Old whiskies were added to the core range in 2016, alongside The Major’s Reserve and the 10 Year Old. It’s notable to Murray that these were additions, and not replacements.

Glen Grant 18 Year Old

Glen Grant Distillery

“There was another really brilliant Speyside whisky that used to be ten years of age and it doesn’t exist anymore now because the company that owns it decided that ten years was too young. Not because ten years was too young for the whisky, it was too young in marketing terms,” Murray says. “Because the main guys that they were fighting against were 12 year olds. So they obliterated this fantastic whisky and bought it out as a 12 year old which was brainless! Utterly brainless! They had just destroyed a great whisky.”

So, after all that work, how did it feel to be honoured with the title of Scotch Whisky of the Year? “Well, you can’t really print what I said when I heard it for a start!” Malcolm jokes, “I really liked it because I was going back in time with this one, back to our roots. I thought, ‘well maybe it hasn’t always got to be new decorations all the time’, you know you decorate a house in different colours every year?”.

But what makes Glen Grant 18 Year Old stand out among all other Scotch whiskies for Murray? Well, one reason, he explained, is that it’s so complex that it takes him longer to nose then any other whisky: “You just watch every nuance come through because there’s a half hour journey in every single glass. You never get it on one nose.” Murray told us that the tasting note in the Whisky Bible is actually the shortened version: “You think ‘this could go over two pages, this is ridiculous’, because it is that complex. That’s why it gets number two in the world.”

Glen Grant

In all its glory: The Glen Grant 18 Year Old

Murray is particularly impressed by this depth of character given it’s what he describes as a “purely naked whisky.” He explains that, “because it’s 100% bourbon cask. There’s no sherry or anything in there that can go over the top and hide something, it’s all there to be seen. Which makes it very special.” Malcolm agrees: “There’s no sherry there, there’s no colour correction there, it’s just natural single malt Glen Grant.”

It’s clear that Murray feels a very strong connection to the Glen Grant distillery and its whisky: “I’ve tasted Glen Grants from before the Second World War, I’ve tasted a lot of Glen Grant over many, many years. Everything about it is natural and it’s just utterly true to its roots, it is the true Speyside.” Glen Grant 18 Year Old is his go-to whisky when he’s at home. “If I’m travelling around and I’m knackered, I just curl up with a glass of this, over half an hour and suddenly I just feel human again, it’s just absolutely amazing.”

It’s fascinating watching Murray be so intensely passionate about a Scotch whisky, because he’s acutely aware of his and the bible’s reputation. “People say to me ‘oh Jim, you don’t like Scotch’ and I say ‘don’t I, really?! Have you ever seen what I’ve written about the 18 year old Glen Grant?’” he explains defiantly. “Scotland makes some of the best whisky in the world, because there’s things like Glen Grant 18 that can just absolutely seduce you.”

Having enjoyed a dram or two myself that night, I’m inclined to agree.

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Master of Malt’s most read stories of 2018

As 2018 draws to a close, we reflect on the news and features that caught your eye the most this year. Well, we’ve reached the end of another year. The…

As 2018 draws to a close, we reflect on the news and features that caught your eye the most this year.

Well, we’ve reached the end of another year. The Earth has put in another hell of a shift in its orbit around the Sun. Now is the time where we reflect on all that happened in 2018.

It has been another 12 months filled with standout stories, all manner of incidents, and of course highs and lows. Among the articles you read most on our award-winning blog were round-ups of great booze, limited-edition whisky launches, and a sorry tale of a collapsing warehouse. We shed a tear for all that bourbon.

Without further delay, these are the top 10 stories that you read, shared and talked about the most in 2018.

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William Larue Weller takes top spot in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2019

America wins World Whisky of the Year again in the new edition of Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible but the big story is the rise of English and Welsh whiskies with…

America wins World Whisky of the Year again in the new edition of Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible but the big story is the rise of English and Welsh whiskies with a special section devoted to them.

The new edition of the world’s bestselling whisky book is out, and I’m afraid it’s bad news for the Scots with the title of World Whisky of the Year going to William Larue Weller (2017 Release) – the third consecutive American champion. Jim Murray commented on “its unique brilliance” and said it was the “the most delicious lesson in whiskey structure imaginable”.

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Colonel EH Taylor Four Grain 12yo top in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2018

The “sheer undiluted beauty” of Colonel EH Taylor Four Grain Bottled in Bond Aged 12 Years has nabbed it the title of world’s best whisky in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible…

The “sheer undiluted beauty” of Colonel EH Taylor Four Grain Bottled in Bond Aged 12 Years has nabbed it the title of world’s best whisky in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2018.

Just as it says on the tin, the expression is made using a quartet of grains – corn, rye, wheat and malted barley – and scored 97.5 out of 100 in Murray’s nose-taste-finish-balance assessment system.

“Nothing could match the astonishing beauty of its surprisingly delicate weight and complexity combined,” Murray said of the whiskey. “It was though time stood still in the tasting room; I just knew…”

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Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2017 Winners

Jim Murray has announced the winners in this year’s Whisky Bible, with a rye claiming top spot for the second year running and a Scotch whisky in the top three…

Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2017

Jim Murray has announced the winners in this year’s Whisky Bible, with a rye claiming top spot for the second year running and a Scotch whisky in the top three for the first time since 2014.

Following on from Crown Royal’s Northern Harvest Canadian rye, it’s an American rye whiskey that’s been named World Whisky of the Year in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible this time around: Booker’s ‘Big Time Batch’, aged for 13 years, 1 month and 12 days. Laid down by the legendary Booker Noe himself in 2003, shortly before his death, his son continued to watch over the casks and they were finally released earlier this year. Booker’s first ever rye, it was already described by Beam as an “extremely rare, limited edition offering, made from a very limited number of barrels” and will now become an even more sought-after bottling.

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Tasmanian Whisky – Everything You Need to Know! (Part 6: Nant Distillery)

This week we’ll be looking at Nant – one of the most critically acclaimed distilleries on Tasmania, with high profile fans including legendary whisky commentator Jim Murray. It began in…

Nant distillery

This week we’ll be looking at Nant – one of the most critically acclaimed distilleries on Tasmania, with high profile fans including legendary whisky commentator Jim Murray.

It began in 2004, when Brisbane-based property developer Keith Batt purchased the Nant Estate, just an hour from Hobart. This ancient estate was built in around 1821, and since the 2004 purchase, it has been lovingly and carefully restored with an investment of some $5 million. The result is arrestingly beautiful; a stunning estate surrounded by breathtakingly scenic countryside.

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#WhiskySanta Gives Away The World’s Finest Whisky

Since I began granting one Christmas wish per day, there’s been one product in particular that’s been rather popular on your wishlists. Some chap in a panama hat with fluorescent…

Whisky Santa Pug Yamazaki Sherry 2013

Since I began granting one Christmas wish per day, there’s been one product in particular that’s been rather popular on your wishlists. Some chap in a panama hat with fluorescent eyes said it was rather good or something. Not much call for panama hats at the North Pole, you know. Still, if there’s one thing I’ve learned travelling all around the globe every year it’s that it takes all sorts!

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Old Pulteney 40 Year Old!

Prepare your faces for glee and/or delight, for we bring glad tidings all the way from Caithness (the north-eastern tip of the Scottish mainland – presumably very wet and cold)….

Prepare your faces for glee and/or delight, for we bring glad tidings all the way from Caithness (the north-eastern tip of the Scottish mainland – presumably very wet and cold). We’ve had word from the Old Pulteney distillery that today (well, 11pm last night, to be precise, but today for most of us) we can, at last, announce the launch of the oldest official single malt the distillery has ever produced…

Earlier in the year, Pulteney 21 year old was named World Whisky of the Year in Jim Murray’s 2012 Whisky Bible. It’s a pretty astonishing single malt, all things considered, but what else would you expect from the northernmost distillery on the Scottish mainland. That far north, the weather and the terroir play a huge part in the flavour of maturing spirit; a windswept seafront seasons the whisky and gives it real provenance. There’s also the effect of the unusually shaped spirit still, the U-shape and bulbous neck of which account for a particularly oily spirit. Dave Broom calls Old Pulteney “eccentric”, and I think we’re inclined to agree…

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