Whisky Connosr
Menu
Shop

Discussions

Seattle, Jan 15 — Tasting with Jim Murray

1 19

@EvaRees
EvaRees started a discussion

By total coincidence, I came across a fantastically under-publicized whisky tasting this Sunday in Seattle (Ballard) with Jim Murray.

I don't know about you, but I'd sure love to meet the man behind The Whisky Bible, and taste his selection of 16 drams. Though the venue is not releasing the official list, apparently some whiskies which are not available stateside will be featured. I wish I knew more about the event, but I decided to bite the bullet and got myself a reservation.

Here's all the info I found: us.wherevernow.com seattlemet.com/blogs/sauced/…

If you'll attend, consider sending me a private message so we can introduce ourselves at the event.

12 years ago

19 replies

@Victor
Victor replied

A great opportunity.

12 years ago 0

@SquidgyAsh
SquidgyAsh replied

JEALOUS!!! Especially since I moved from Seattle to Australia!! I could be over there drinking with Jim Murray!!! Awwww

12 years ago 0

@EvaRees
EvaRees replied

Well… I actually have quite a bit to say about this event with Jim Murray, but I'll share some details about the tasting first. We were served up 14 tastes over 7 hours (yes, this ran way over the initial timeline). Each taste was blind. We first nosed the glass, then warmed it up in our cupped hands, nosed again, and finally tasted 3 times. He revealed and discussed each sample before moving on to the next glass. I made notes on the group discussion, since I found it rather hard to produce my own notes with everyone shouting out their thoughts on the whisky. I am quite suggestible in that regard.

First up was Tomintoul 16 year old 40% abv— The nose was dry, dusty almost like cardboard. Murray finds the cardboard nose to be associated with caramel coloring. Some dried orange peel, pollen and possibly coconut on the nose. Once we warmed it up the nose took on a bit of mint, and fruit. On the palate it had quite a sweet start, moving to a dry finish. Something bitter and ashy in the back which bothered me. Again Murray brought up the added coloring as the culprit for the bitterness. The general guess was that this is a 10-12 year old, from Speyside.

2nd was Penderyn Madeira 5 year old 46% abv— Initial nose on the rather cold glass was distinct for me: lime, melted butter, grass, some vanilla. Some others noted popcorn. Almost a tequila thing going on. After warming it up a lot of that sharp citrus died down to become squashed yellow raisins. I guessed there would be a wine finish, something was poking through aggressively. The nose now was sweet, if not a bit cloying. The palate brought much more spice than we expected. Lots of oiliness. The nose kept getting thicker with time and warmth. Guesses abounded that this was a young Lowland whisky.

Glenmorangie Original 10 year old 40% abv next — Nose initially dry and delicate, notable spice, and a floral center. After warming, the nose revealed oak. The palate was a dose of huge malt, bitter cocoa, wood. A very spicy whisky, the group noted. The sweetness increases with each subsequent taste. Short finish. This was popular with the group, most guessed it was 15+ Highlands.

To mix things up (remember that these were blind tastings…) we had a Amrut 5 year old 46% abv — Initial nose showing licorice, oddly artificial candies, salt. With warmth, a bit more spice. On the palate, a candy sweetness, less artificial. Full gamut of flavors, the group likes it. Significant spice, oak, a bit of floral around the edges. Licorice again. The guesses here were 16-20 year old, even direct guesses that this was Glenmorangie Signet. We discussed the light color and deceptive youth — the hotter climate makes the whisky mature faster, according to Murray.

Next An Cnoc 12 year old 40% abv — Before warming, the nose was almost inaccessible, later the nose is light, yet gives away the ex-bourbon barrel. Fruity, cinnamon. The palate is juicy, a very direct barley flavor. Our mouths are suddenly dry and we are all salivating. Citrus appears on the finish, and completes the "lemon fresh clean!" drinking experience. With time and warmth peach is appearing on the nose. Jim assures us that this one is popular with the ladies (the present representatives were split 3 like : 2 dislike). We're guessing young, Lowlands.

For contrast An Cnoc 16 year old 46% abv — Again, a light nose which needed to be coaxed out with warmth. Quite a u-turn after the previous tasting, no one noted any resemblance at this point. Clearly a heavier whisky: mulled fruit, candied fruit, distinct pineapple on the nose. Somewhere, flowers. We're puckering after tasting, a bit sour and again that acerbic feeling. On the 2nd taste the initial flavor is almost new make, but fades in a flash. Results in group is guessing the age 8-12 years. It's a simple dram in terms of overall story, but complete. We're surprised it's older, but showing a much younger side of it's personality. Jim Murray explains that using a higher percentage of 3rd fill barrels will create these results.

Grants Flagship Family Reserve (yes, the basic one) Blended 7 year old 40% abv — The nose finds the group debating whether or not this is still Scotch. We warm it up, and now we're finding a breakfasting smell: maple syrup, fried bacon, sweetness, golden syrup, acacia honey. A faint wisp of smoke. The palate is complex, medium body. Dry oak is notable, and spice. No standout flavors, everything is under control here. Murray is loving this one, and calls it soothing, satisfying and seductive, and something about 23 year old girls... We find evidence of the caramel color with a lingering bitterness at the tail of the palate into the finish. Smoke on the finish, if only a touch.

On to Jameson 40% abv — Tons of alcohol burn initially, I can't get away from it. Synthetic nose, very young is the guess? Unexpectedly sweet, soft palate. Is there grain? Wheat I'm guessing. Some are comparing it to the Penderyn earlier. Room is totally split on the popularity of this one. With warmth, the burn is still on the nose, but under it tea, maybe even chai, cherry. The palate on subsequent tastes brings up birthday cake, marzipan. Warmth and time is making the palate bigger. Quite soft, but it's hitting the tongue hard. The finish is full of sweetness: vanilla, cherries. There's some of that bitterness again, overall a very hard core that's displeasing a lot of people. The giveaway that there was grain spirit in this led our conversation up to the reveal, but no one guessed Irish.

9th up is Colonel E.H. Taylor Jr. Single Barrel Bourbon, aged 11 years 7 mos. 50% abv — It's clearly bourbon, no doubts. Banana, cherry on the nose. With warmth much more woody, sweet, vanilla. We are expecting something spicy. The palate delivers just that: very hot, spicy, cinnamon up front. Throughout our tastes this is changing from moment to moment. A long finish. Lots to talk about here. Mr. Murray shares his opinion that bourbon now is better than ever, and an avg. single barrel of bourbon is far superior to an avg. barrel of SMW. Long and hot, spicy. We are thinking Buffalo Trace & specifically Ancient Age.

Following that is Flagship Buffalo Trace 40% abv — We've got it as still bourbon. Lots of vanilla here, but a very dry nose, even warmed up. Missing the typically cherries. I register a guess as Black Maple Hill. This is an atypical bourbon. On the palate: Oranges, kumquats. A unshakeable mustiness. Oak is significant. The finish is short. Not a lot of complexity here, it's blurred by the wood. Murray says this is unusual for this bottle, and is suggesting that the blend is not quite standard. The only bottle of the night which is a tad off — not that it tastes bad, but not displaying it's typical character.

11th glass is Jim Beam Rye 40% abv — Not popular, straight away from the nose. Pickles, anise, cauliflower soup. Compared to everything else in the evening, notable absence of alcohol of the nose, it's glassy. An entirely different sweetness from anything before. The palate is sour, with a very slender sweetness. Rye is coming up the in guesses, particularly 100% rye Alberta Premium from Canada. More spiciness than the nose suggests. Clear youth.

Amrut Cask Strength 5 year old 61.8(!!)% abv — The nose is hard to access without warming, and coming from Bourbons and Rye. With warmth there are sugar cookies, but also a murky, grassy note. Mint, which Murray calls "the signature of oak." The palate is hot, harsh, an assault. Lots of jokes. Oily. Lots of malty tang. Finish is long, with chocolate. Group is calling the finish a tsunami, with waves and waves of different flavors coming in.

Now on to Jura Prophecy 46% abv — Bacon, salt and smoke on the unwarmed nose, with spice and peat. Some are comparing it to McCarthy's, but the saltiness and color aren't right. The bacon fades with warmth, 1st scotch we've tried that lacks that "crisp" nose. With warmth we are getting kippers. Quite delicious, tasty nose, the room is pleased. Palate falls in line with expectations, but a richer toffee core, there's that distant bitterness from the coloring. The peat is very interesting on the palate. Long, comforting finish, relaxing. Guesses are Islay. I was surprised at the reveal because I always find a lot of chocolate with the Prophecy, but none this time.

Last of the night is Ardbeg 10 year old 46% abv — Light peat on the nose, much much fresher than the Jura. I'm getting a ton of oceany, seaweed going on. I want to guess Talisker, but the color is clearly caramel free so it can't be. With warmth more seaweed, a bit of spice, and peat is intensifying. The palate is ocean-citrus-tang. Smoke. Murray: "F'ing Brilliant!" Sugars are just right. Starts zesty, then sweet peat, and a chili finish.

Oh boy... So those are the "facts." I definitely have more I'd like to share in terms of personal observation, and about Jim Murray. More to come.

12 years ago 5Who liked this?

@Victor
Victor replied

Excellent narration, EvaRees. Thank you for the report! It is tricky to blind taste...no preconceptions to blind the mind to what is actually encountered.

12 years ago 2Who liked this?

@SquidgyAsh
SquidgyAsh replied

@EvaRees Awesome descriptions! It sounds like you had a blast with Jim. I'm quite jealous! Your narration really makes me want to do some blind tastings myself now. :D

12 years ago 0

@EvaRees
EvaRees replied

Not going to earn myself any fans with this one, but:

Mr. Murray leads a very controlled tasting, as with most celebrities, he's somewhat of an eccentric. He started out sharing that he never tastes whisky with water, especially not for his Whisky Bible tasting notes. He believes it is only proper to taste it as it is produced, and as it is in the bottle. Before a tasting, he recommends bland food, and a black coffee to neutralize the palate. He did mention later on in our tasting that if he ever mixes whisky with anything, it is coconut water! I won't soon forget that. He is fairly averse to cask finishes, and has little good to say about them.

One of the major hopes I had for this tasting was to watch a professional whisky taster in action. I wanted to sit on his shoulder and have access to his thoughts as he tasted, and to try and follow along. I anticipated learning about why certain flavors are present, what they are related to, and how to listen to what our whisky was saying. Of course, for satisfaction and pleasure I wanted to taste some exceptional whiskies, surely something new to me, and walk away with another bottle for the wishlist. I did my homework, and it was fairly clear from a quick review of his Whisky Bible reviews that Jim Murray and I don't necessarily share the same taste preferences, but I doubted that this would be a sticking point.

I guess I'll just spit out the worst part first. Reader, you don't know me from Adam, and I will admit preemptively to being an outspoken, opinionated person. Whatever I say is my opinion, and I recommend you get to know me before you assess the validity of my statements. I'm not sure if it's the decade I spent living in LA, but I have a lot of loathing for this particular kind of celebrity: name-dropping, snidely critical of fellows in his field, dishing out backhanded compliments and thinly-veiled insults. He likes to be in the spotlight, take credit — that is clear, and we all came for "the Jim Murray show" so I should scarcely feel slighted.

He is, however, a brilliant man with a remarkable relationship with whisky. He did give us a peek into his flavor library for notes in the whiskies we were tasting, but mostly took a backseat and let us yell out what we were finding in our glasses. He would interject some very useful insights (ie: bitterness at the finish of a whisky can often be associated with caramel coloring, etc.). He allowed this event to run 7 hours, vs. the advertised 4, and I am grateful. It would have been a terrible rush otherwise.

Personally, I didn't care for the large majority of whiskies we sampled. They were not fascinating, or adventurous bottlings. In fact, a large swath of the pours were very basic, and not highly regarded whiskies. There was a great deal of shock value going on: "Wow, you thought this was so special, but look! It's Grant's basic Blended!" He repeated several times that he was aiming to "blow our minds," well I suppose my mind is blown that I find Jameson terrible… or is it blown that I made so much effort just to drink Buffalo Trace?

The simple fact that I didn't like all but one or two of the 14 tastes is no reason to pan an event, but I felt strangely disrespected. The gathering was focused on the industry, with many bartenders present. What value does this exercise have to that community? When a fellow attendee asked why his comments at the event about the tastings varied so much from his comments in the Whisky Bible, he claimed that "each bottle has it's own characteristics." I feel this is absolutely true, but overall he came across as disingenuous, and not truly invested in our experience. As I'm sure it's part of his act, he went around and found ways to insult several attendees (for the record, I was not among those), and took blanket potshots at various distilleries. The latter, in particular, is not in my opinion the mark of a professional.

I was quite excited to attend, and I considered it a special event. Had the whisky presented been more captivating, or if Murray had been a bit less arrogant I may have felt differently. I suppose it was an insult from multiple angles. I spent most of the event trying to find an upside, forgiving the cult of personality and the odd presentation of bottom shelf whiskies, but in the last hour I just crumbled. The very last tasting, an Ardbeg 10yr, came with a rehearsed story about how Jim can directly take credit for helping the distillery turn around from near-closure. Too much propaganda for me, and without a Corryvrecken to dull the pain I couldn't do it.

Advance apologies if my 2 cents isn't welcome.

12 years ago 8Who liked this?

@Victor
Victor replied

@EvaRees, the tasting sounds a bit rugged and draining. Thank you for sharing.

12 years ago 0

@Victor
Victor replied

...and, you earn at least one fan here. I want to hear the straight poop.

12 years ago 3Who liked this?

@systemdown
systemdown replied

@EvaRees Thanks for the wrap-up - IMHO you have every right to feel the way you do, fancy a tasting with Jim Murray to be so unspectacular on so many counts? The list of whiskies sampled definitely leaves a lot to be desired..

12 years ago 0

@SquidgyAsh
SquidgyAsh replied

Wow. Just wow. I thought that some of the whiskies were supposed to be some rarer ones? The list is a pretty basic list of whiskies so I can't blame you abit for feeling let down. And to have him make disparaging remarks about other atendees, distillers and reviewers leaves much to be desired. Thanks for giving us the heads up. It definitely makes me rethink going to a tasting where he is at now.

12 years ago 0

@Victor
Victor replied

A few more thoughts about Jim Murray. Jim Murray is a gadfly, an iconoclast, and more than a bit of a self-proclaimed whisky activist. No doubt there are more than a few things, people, and institutions in the whisky establishment which he genuinely disrespects, and in which he takes pride in skewering.

Like the Russian mystic Gurdieff, who tormented and mocked his followers in order to make them think for themselves (if only to eventually reach the conclusion that they did not wish to be tormented or mocked, or to follow the authority of another), he is more concerned about stimulating awareness than in making friends or leaving an audience feeling good about their tasting, their relationship with whisky, or him.

I would probably also have found that tasting to have been largely onerous and somewhat lacking in satisfaction, as you did. It is always good, though, to keep in mind who it is with whom one is dealing. The tasters came to the tasting with their own wishes for it. Mr. Murray has a different set of priorities. Yes, no doubt it would have been a lot more fun if you had enjoyed more of the whiskies which were tasted. You pay your money and you'd like to enjoy your whiskies. Mr. Murray had a different plan.

12 years ago 2Who liked this?

@SquidgyAsh
SquidgyAsh replied

That's a really good answer Victor and something for us all to keep in mind.

12 years ago 1Who liked this?

@Lars
Lars replied

@EvaRees I also would have jumped at the chance to go to this tasting but after reading what you tasted I too would have been slightly disappointed in the lineup, and Jim Murray's behavior. Thank you very much for providing a review of the event and your honest opinions. That after all is what this site is all about.

12 years ago 0

@Abunadhman
Abunadhman replied

I'm a long way from Seattle but I would suggest that Mr. Murray has constructed this tasting 'In Situ' and with an eye for economy. I can't believe he would bring such 'bottom shelf' Whiskies from the UK. when all the attending dramas are considered; more than likely a discount liquor store, just around the corner was used for these samples.

Did any of the bottles have Customs stickers UK or US clearance?

12 years ago 0

@bwmccoy
bwmccoy replied

First of all, I want to thank @EvaRees for posting about the tasting as well as sending me an e-mail on Saturday alerting me to the event. In discussing with my wife whether we would both attend or not, she suggested that I attend and she would pay for it as an early birthday present. Unfortunately, by the time we made that decision on Saturday, I couldn't get in touch with the organizer to see if any spots were still open. This was Saturday night, so I left a message. By Sunday afternoon, when I hadn't received a callback and after I had tried several times to call again but no one answered, I finally got in touch with someone at 3pm. The person informed me that they had 2 spots available and that the event started in 2 hours at 5pm. The person on the phone also explained that since we would be tasting 14 whiskies, Jim Murray required attendees have someone drop them off / pick them up or use a taxi. (I was also instructed that Jim Murray required no one wear cologne, after-shave or "smelly" lotions.) I live about 30 minutes outside of Seattle and we had 4 inches of snow on the ground, so this further complicated the decision whether I would attend or not, but my wife being the lovely person that she is said she would take me and depending on the weather at the time, would plan on picking me up. (I forgot to ask when the event was scheduled to end.) So I went.

I won't go into details of the event because @EvaRees did an amazing job of capturing both the actual details of the events as well as the "feel" of the event. My main purpose in replying to this post is two fold. One, I want to confirm and backup everything @EvaRees stated in her posts. (@EvaRees, you have nothing to apologize for.) My second reason for posting is that I am the one who should be apologizing. I have never met @EvaRees in person, even though we have been discussing organizing a get together of the Seattle chapter of the Connosr members (all 3 of us), so I wasn't really sure which of the 5 females attending the Jim Murray event was @EvaRees. However, I want to publicly apologize to @EvaRees for not introducing myself at the event. Not to make excuses, but my plan was to do so after the event, but with the event running so late and with my wife waiting in the truck for almost an hour, I thought it was best to run out of there as soon as it ended.

@EvaRees, I am sorry and I hope that you will accept my apology. Like the rest of the evening, things did not go as planned.

If I could just add a couple of thoughts to @EvaRees' excellent notes (by the way, did you have a tape recorder? How did you keep such complete notes? Wow! Remind me to never show you the notes I took.) :-)

I was shocked that we weren't allowed to swallow the whisky. After each of the 3 "tastings" per whisky, we were instructed to spit it out. Granted, we were tasting 14 whiskies, but it was over a 7 hour period and we were instructed prior to the event to get a ride or take a taxi. (I will also admit that I didn't mind spitting out some of the whiskies.) To make it even more strange, Jim Murray would gave us "permission" to swallow 3 or 4 of them. I'm over the legal drinking age and I paid $150 to attend the tasting, do I really need Jim Murray's permission to swallow the whisky? It truly was a strange and interesting evening.

Having said all of that, I wasn't completely disappointed with the event. I did learn a different method for nosing and tasting whisky. I applied my version of it at home last night and did get some different results with whisky in my cabinet that I had nosed and tasted using my old methods. I also have to admit, I was entertained by Jim Murray, by his stories and his antics, even though some of his act was rude and borish. All in all, it was mind-blowing, but probably not in the way Jim Murray intended.

I think I need a drink...

12 years ago 3Who liked this?

@EvaRees
EvaRees replied

@bwmccoy Oh that truly is a missed opportunity to meet! I was sitting with my husband at the very back of the venue, I have short red hair. Thank you for the gracious apologies, and mostly I'd like to recognize your dear wife's tremendous efforts! Who knew we would be there for 7 hours...

I appreciate your perspective, and I think I've since simmered down a bit about Mr. Murray's performance. I did gather enough info before the event to not be totally surprised, but it still wore me out by the end of the night. An oddly managed tasting, to be sure; one that did not live up to my expectations. The bottom line is that I will not be forgetting it soon, and I also did my own retasting at home following the technique he illustrated and found it worthwhile — works a dream with excellent whisky!

12 years ago 0

@two_bitcowboy

Hi all,

My wife and I attended Jim's tasting last night as the kick-off to the Victoria Whisky Festival. We enjoyed a 3.5-hour evening with 13 whiskies. Here, the entire menu of festival events are "no perfume / no cologne" venues, which I sincerely appreciate.

I'll share our experiences from Jim's night and the balance of the Fest after we return home.

12 years ago 0

@Wodha
Wodha replied

I missed it! Thanks to EvaRees for the excellent coverage. Before reading your notes I would've jumped at the chance to attend this nosing with Mr. Murray as I am a old fan. But now maybe it's good I didn't. I think I might have a better whisky experience spending the admission fee on whiskies of my own choosing. I've been fortunate enough to have tasted everything in the list noted. I would have been more interested to attend an event hosted by Mr Murray. But as in meeting your favorite musician or writer in person it's usually better to have never done so and only admired them from afar.

12 years ago 1Who liked this?

@two_bitcowboy

So a little more about Jim Murray, and other highlights from the Victoria Whisky Festival.

Within three days I read a Fox News op-ed piece about celebrity endorsements in advertising, heard Hulk Hogan and Troy Aikman do a really cheesy radio ad for a rent-then-buy furniture company, and attended Jim Murray's tasting at the VWF. Is there a correlation?

Well, as the writer of the op-ed sort of asked, do you think Hulk and Troy will actually rent a big-screen tv to watch the Superbowl? Have either of them written a popular book on the topic?

JIm does taste whisky and he does write an authoritative book on the subject. I am neither a celebrity nor a whisky critic, and I am not "selling" Jim Murray. But he does come with an established set of credentials when it comes to tasting whisky.

As far as his tasting event, I saw similarities between EvaRees and bwmccoy's observations. In advance of jotting down the list of whiskies we tasted, I'll simply add that Jim (and others at the Festival) said Customs played a role in determining which whiskies would be offered. Some expressions simply didn't "get in." Anyway, here's what we tried, blind, and in this order:

Amrut Intermediate Sherry Cask (India)

Ka Va Lan Fino Sherry Cask (Taiwan)

Alberta Premium (Canada)

Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban

Highland Park 25

Amrut Fusion (India)

Black Grouse blend

Laphroaig Quarter Cask

Knob Creek

Ardbeg 10

Thomas Handy Sazerac Rye

Old Pulteney 21

George T. Stagg

The closing paragraph in my notebook reads:

"Along this journey Jim offered anecdotes. His experiences as a whisky writer, blender, speaker, publisher, and father came out. He joked with us, made us laugh. He laughed. He's human."

The only single malt Scotch I hadn't had before Jim's class was Old Pulteney 21, I don't like bourbon, and I don't have a burning desire to brag about having tasted Indian or Chinese whisky. I offer this to say that the poured whiskies weren't--for me--what the night was about. I learned a great deal about JIm's "method" and I could appreciate the ooohs and aaaahs as those who love bourbon offered their thoughts about those whiskies. What I took away from the class helped me through the following two days of Masterclasses and a 4-hour-long Consumer Tasting without getting the least bit tipsy or suffering on the mornings after.

Here are but a few of the 59 new-to-me whiskies I enjoyed at the Victoria Whisky Festival:

Arran New Make Machrie Moor peated at 50 ppm and distilled in 09/2011, the yet-to-be-released Octomore 4.2 Comus 5 year old peated at 167 ppm and finished in Chateau d'Yquem Sauternes casks, Edradour 2003 Chateau d'Yquem Sauternes Cask 8 year old, Kinclaith 1969 40 year old bottled by Signatory, a yet-to-be-released Kilchoman 3/4/5 years old bottled at cask strength, and my personal "Best of the Fest" dram: Glenfarclas 15, which I was happy to remind George Grant as he poured my taste that we can't get it in the USA.

My kudos to Lawrence and the rest of the Victoria Whisky Festival gang for hosting such a fabulous event. Driving 2,300 miles round-trip, experiencing "unusual" snows and cold temps, and even the 8-foot swells--both directions--on the ferry between Port Angeles and Victoria didn't dampen the great Fest. I'd leave tomorrow to do it all again!

Cheers,

Bob

12 years ago 1Who liked this?

Liked by:

@Pudge72