The Online Trial Of Jim Murray
How the mighty have fallen or may fall. Certainly there is a large fall from grace in the case of whisky writer Jim Murray, author of the Whisky Bible. This tome has been released on an annual basis since 2003 and many look to it as a guide to what’s good to drink in the wide world of whisky. The 2021 release has become a bit controversial, thanks to fellow whisky writer Becky Paskin calling out some of what can be considered lewd or sexual comments. Apparently comments like this have been made throughout the past 25 years, but according to Becky this edition she managed to count 34 questionable sexual statements. She made a post on social media saying how she felt it was unacceptable and now was the time to call time on it.
Indeed, it seems this is the time to call time on questionable behaviour. This summer has seen protests about Black Lives Matter in response to police brutality in the United States though in the UK this has mutated to also question the reverence paid to people who were involved in the slave trade of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. This was followed by protests and vandalism throughout the UK, with the statue of slave trader Edward Colston being thrown into Bristol Harbour.
While none of this is particularly dirty, there seems to be a general sexualisation of whisky, which to be honest I have to say is becoming more and more unacceptable as time goes on. It is juvenile humour at best and venturing into creepy old man territory at the other end of the scale. As a male, even I find it a bit distasteful. I don’t want to have images of a man in his mid sixties speaking about sex come into my mind when I am having a dram.
Jim himself, from what I have read on social media feeds almost seems dismissive in his defence of his comments, going as far to accuse the subject being pushed by those jealous of his writing and talent. But in my mind, this dismissal could well be Jim’s downfall.
Becky Paskin is not just another run of the mill whiskyphile or blogger such as myself. She was the editor of a great website scotchwhisky.com, a great resource for those researching whisky and industry news. She’s also a whisky journalist, consultant, presenter and currently is a co-founder of OurWhisky which aims to provide education about the industry while recognising the modern face of the drink. Becky is also a Keeper of the Quaich, so you can safely say that she would seem to have an excellent grasp of the industry. You can almost feel that Jim Murray’s accusation of jealousy may have been founded by the fact the person calling him out is a woman. Would have been any different if the whistle blower was male?
I don’t know either person, but to read what has been said by both of them, it would seem that Jim has become a dinosaur from a previous age. I think the fact that 50% of potential readers of his books would be female should give enough motivation to be careful in what he may be saying; many women wouldn’t be particularly happy in reading the various smutty comments that are in his latest publication. It may also have passed him by that a growing proportion of talent in the industry have XX chromosomes, with many distillers, blenders, brand ambassadors, distillery guides being of the fairer sex. I learnt something from this debacle that Penderyn Welsh Whisky is made by an all female distilling team. Just goes to show that what is between your legs doesn’t and shouldn’t affect how you progress in the industry.
What is more enlightening is the amount of female responses to Becky’s post, applauding her stand and letting their own struggles being known. Jim’s response to saying in the previous 20 odd years that he had not received a single complaint. Dismissal like this does not excuse any ill considered comments. Most people will just read, move on and get on with their day, but when it is consistent and throughout a publication then one has to ask what is the mindset to the author, especially when it adds nothing to the primary content which in this case is whisky. Have we forgot that many people don’t report sexual crime because they don’t want the fuss but once others start, then they feel encouraged and enabled to speak about their experiences. It may be unfortunate that Jim might also be facing the wrath of people affected by the actions of others and not just what has been written in his publications. He isn’t the first person to make questionable comments offensive to women in the industry, but he’s certainly being made the poster boy for the whisky world equivalent of #MeToo.
Let’s face it, while Jim and many others may not see this as sexist and the one or two others who think it is a storm in a Glencairn glass, comments like this don’t give whisky a very positive image. It is at the best giving the impression as a drink exclusive for men in fusty members clubs full of fusty old boys networks. At worst, it is slimy and creepy and I feel it gives the rest of us men a bad name. Surely if Jim feels that whisky is a drink that can be sexually sensual, I’d have thought he’d have the common sense not to be so overt about it. I don’t want the mental image of a man on virtual vinegar strokes every time he has an experience of a sherry butt while I am reading. I know if I want to read that sort of text I’ll be reaching for a specialist magazine on the newsagent top shelves and going straight to readers letters, not buying a Whisky Guide Book.
In my opinion it could be Jim’s apparent insouciance about the whole matter that might be what takes the house of cards tumbling down. There are a growing number of retailers and associations distancing themselves from the Whisky Bible, so far that that include Beam Suntory, Glenfiddich, The Whisky Exchange and the Scotch Whisky Association. The thing is that what company would want to be in this book only to have one of Jim’s ill judged comments being alongside their product? What would that say about the producer if they do not challenge it? Beam Suntory had something strong to say, especially as they produced Jim’s top world whisky of the year – see Beam Suntory Response. Not making a stand in this case could be seen as condoning it and I am sure they are aware of the growing number of women whisky drinkers even if Jim himself isn’t.
Of course, people have a choice whether or not to read the Whisky Bible, something that Murray correctly asserts, and he won’t lose any sleep if they don’t. Pretty arrogant assertion given the tidal wave of reaction that is building against him. The issue is that for beginners that his book can be seen as a very informative book and I think it had been quite a useful tool for those trying to suss out what whisky maybe worth drinking. It would be quite a let down to see comments in this vein within a book that is supposed to be serious reference material. I don’t wish to comment on Mr Murray’s nosing talent or his methodology in sampling whiskies, as I am sure that he has a talent. However, he isn’t the only one with such ability and after the purchase of two whisky bibles, I no longer feel the need to buy another. So much is repeated anyway. For me personally it is a hard read and I just ended up looking at the whiskies I had on my collection to see what he thought. The Malt Whisky Yearbook is a more engaging read. With the controversy about this year’s whisky bible, I think many others will think the same.
One other thing I did see on Twitter in relation to other issues brought up by ‘Murraygate’ was a comment by Alex (Twitter – @dailydrambyalex), which goes along the line that many sexist people don’t realise that they are actually being sexist, solely because they have an outdated version of what is sexist in their heads. The same can be said for racism where people will not actively be racist by discriminating people but they will still tell jokes about the Irish or other ethnic minorities. Perhaps that this is where Jim thinks he is and there is traction in that, but there really is no excuse.
It seems that as the Whisky Bible is self published, Jim can therefore publish what he wants. From some of his comments he does not seem to be the least bit apologetic and for me this is his final downfall. I can excuse that somebody may be a bit of a dinosaur, but the correct thing to do in a world that has moved on is to apologise and change. I’d have more respect for him in that. But is seems that his dismissal of the complaints are signs that he doesn’t think he’s done anything wrong, won’t apologise and more importantly won’t change.
When Jim claims that the current movement against the Whisky Bible is an attack on free speech and free thought amongst other ramblings. It is a classic toys out of the pram argument that neglects that with free speech comes great responsibility. While I care not for his ‘humour’ I don’t see it as particularly vulgar – having worked offshore for over 20 years I’ve heard, seen and experienced much worse. However, that was never intended to be for public consumption. The Whisky Bible is for public consumption, and one can only deduce that he is using this humour along the lines as any publicity is good publicity as he waits for a bite on the hook of outrage. From what I have read, Mr Murray is well aware he is not popular in many whisky circles, but I wonder if he genuinely believes people are jealous or if he just can’t see how odious some of his comments can be. Indeed his responses seem to smack of an out of control ego skidding on the oil slick of self importance.
I’m a nothing in whisky. Just one of those people with an opinion, an internet connection and sometimes time to kill to write something about whisky. I’m well aware a good many of my followers across my social media streams are female and it’s important to make everybody feel equal, included and not uncomfortable, even with the odd bit of risqué school boy humour but I think that’s limited to my title for my Monkey Shoulder review. If Jim ever reads this I’m quite positive I’ll be dismissed, but I don’t care. He’ll realise right thinking men know what he has written is wrong.
Sexism has probably been rife in the whisky industry since Helen Cumming started Cardow (Cardhu) distillery in 1811 with little changing. We now know better. Perhaps Jim could read the more popular edition of the Bible and learn a little bit of humility. As people reject his stance and his books, companies distance themselves from him, it could be one of the only things that save his reputation. However, while I can only guess his personality from what he has responded online, I doubt his ego will allow him to back track. By time his bank balance does, it may be too late.
Winston Churchill once said that “Over a long political career I’ve been forced to eat many words. On the whole I found it a wholesome diet”. One wonders if Jim Murray would rather go on hunger strike than apologise. I don’t think he’ll be missed in the smorgasbord of other whisky literature.
Yours in (non-sexy) Spirits
This is written as a hobby, and I appreciate your likes and shares, either on WordPress, or why not visit one of my other social media channels. Lets spread the whisky love!
Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.
All Photos – Screen grabs taken from Twitter and The Times. Included under permissible use. Other photos are Authors Own.