As the name implies, this book is the bible on whisky reviews and info. Aside from ranking over 3000 whiskies (with hundreds added every year), each year’s edition contains information on the evolution of the rules governing whisky production as well as changes in naming conventions. Also, there is excellent front-matter on the changes in ownership at different distilleries.
The book does an excellent job at bypassing stereotypes and giving (relatively) unbiased opinions of whiskies from all over the world. By scoring each whisky’s balance and complexity, nose, finish, and taste out of 25, each whisky is given an overall additive score out of 100. As Murray himself admits, there is a bit of a “Richter Scale” effect, as whiskies rated 70 and 75 may be relatively similar, but two whiskies rated 95 and 96 are considerably different.
In reading through the ratings, I was pleasantly surprised to find that some unexpected whiskies were given excellent ratings. Before I discuss some of the more interesting ratings, let me state a the numbers from some of the more widely available varieties that I have tried in the past, in no particular order. The Glenlivet 12 (83) and Glenfiddich Special Reserve (80) are given moderate ratings, while Glenmorangie 10 (94) and The Balvennie 10 (90) are two of the higher-rated whiskies. Oban (84) gets a moderate rating while Dalwhinnie 15 (95) is one of the top-rated whiskies in the book.
Canadian whiskies are even more varies, but some of our home-grown products receive top marks. The old standard Canadian Club Premium (78) and the corresponding 12 year (79) receive poor marks, while their Reserve 10 year is given a rating of 93. I must admit to trying the former two, but not the latter, as I didn’t expect much of a difference. I’ll have to get back to the liquor store and give it a try. Another standout is Alberta Premium (95), which according to Murray is “one of the great, most wonderfully consistent whiskies of the world that is genuinely a Canadian rye and a must-have for those searching for the real thing.” I’ve always avoided the stuff because of the cheap price (less than CC Premium), associating that with poor quality, but I’ll have to give it a shot.
On of my low-budget favourites, The Famous Grouse, gets an 83, while Johnnie Walker Black gets a 89. The top-rated whisky? George T. Stagg bourbons and Old Malt Cask Ardbeg 1975 aged 25 years, with ratings of 97.
Overall I am quite surprised, as I was introduced into the whisky world with the snobbery that is standard among most self-professed connoisseurs. If the name didn’t start with “Glen” or the label contain the words “single” and “scotch,” it wasn’t worth a moment’s glance. I think I’ll have to rethink my philosophy a bit, and try out some of the more locally available (and highly regarded) varieties.
If you’re looking for your own copy of the book, you can pick it up for around $20 at Amazon or your favourite bookstore.