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.
Lets look at some of Jim’s quotes in the whisky bible by looking at this thread of Becky’s Twitter Feed. Click on this linkBecky Paskin’s Initial Tweet to see the full thread.
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.
It’s Wednesday and you may be wondering where this week’s whisky review has gone. Well, I’m amazed to tell you that I’ve run out of whisky to review. I’ve been at work since 24th April (that is not a typo!) and while I’d built a considerable backlog of whisky reviews, this has now run out. I guess I didn’t realise that I’d still be offshore in August. By time I got off this vessel, I’ve done 110 days away from home and 105 without touching dry land.
I think this gives me a good excuse for running out of reviews.
And now, I realise after such an abstinence that probably drinking one dram will leave me in a state that will leave me unable to write a review. So there may be a small hiatus before the reviews start again. Don’t worry, they will start again as soon as possible.
Just because I’ve been at sea doesn’t mean that I haven’t been able to advance my whisky journey. I’ve been keeping an eye on the whisky world and have thought through a couple of articles that should be of interest. I have also been continuing to gather more whisky for tasting and sharing, including my first Scotch Malt Whisky Society full size bottlings which were purchased at auction for reasonable money.
I’ve also bought a couple of historical drams from Cheaper By The Dram, which includes the first Highland Park edition that was released as a single malt and a dram from the long deceased Glenury Royal distillery. This has led me on to thinking about the theory of older whisky being superior than contemporary whiskies. This I think needs investigating and I may require some volunteers to either prove or disprove this concept.
As you may have seen on my Facebook page, Scotty’s drams has also been listed in whisky broker Mark Littler’s blog as one of the Whisky Blogs to keep track of, as well as my Instagram page. I’m grateful to Mark for his recognition, so I must be doing something right. You can see the entries by clicking on these links –Scotty’s Drams Instagram Page Reviewand Scotty’s Drams Page Review
All in all, despite being a busy summer for me work wise, it still has been successful in several ways.
Lastly, I cannot end this article without hoping that all of you had a good summer under the current circumstances the global community finds itself. The Coronavirus pandemic has caused great disruption to life as we know it and I hope you have all kept safe. It was my intention to have a Scotty’s Drams meet up at the tail end of the year but I do not think that this will be possible but keep 3 days free for sometime in the next year.
As you may have seen on my other social media channels, the storage locker that I keep the majority of my collection in suffered flooding to knee level on 11/08/2020. Unfortunately the facility flood prevention barrier was overcome. I have not been able to get access to the site but needless to say it is not looking good for some of my rarer drams. While I did have shelving, some of my boxes were on pallets.
It may be some time before I am able to review again, but will try and keep things going on Scotty’s Drams.
As one door closes, another opens and this may give me the opportunity to start with a new focus.
We all know that whisky is an excellent drink to use for a celebration and in Scotland it is very commonly used as such. Events such as the birth of a child have a social celebration known as a ‘Head Wetting’ which is where the birth is celebrated by the father going out with friends for a night out to commemorate the new born. I wonder how many heads are sore the next day when a crying baby may be the last thing that you’d appreciate with a hangover!
An alternative route to celebrate an occasion is to perhaps seek out a special whisky and open the bottle and have a more restrained night (in or out). This was the route I initially took when my daughter was born. 10 years prior I had paid a visit to Glenmorangie distillery and bought two of the Truffle Oak finishes for £150 each. The partner I had at the time and myself were considering the possibility of a child and I thought one of the bottles would be appropriate for a head wetting. However, it was not to be, and the bottles went into the back of my drinks cabinet waiting for that special occasion.
Fast forward 10 years, and my wife and I were blessed with a beautiful baby daughter and the subject of a head wetting came up. I thought about the Truffle Oak Glenmorangie bottles, and how I would love to try one. This was also about the time I had decided to start collecting bottles more seriously so I could perhaps have a little nest egg for the little one when she was older. A quick look on the internet for retail and auction prices for these bottles showed that I was not going to be opening the Glenmorangie, but instead picked a Bruichladdich Yellow Submarine instead. These were the days when you could pick up a retail one for under £200 and auction prices were even lower. It was my first time tasting this bottling, and I suppose the fact that I used it as my head wetting whisky makes it that little bit more special, and not just the fact that it has a tie in with my day job.
Now that we are thinking of picking a whisky to celebrate a pivotal moment in our lives such as a childbirth or a similar occasion, I have been looking for a decent bottle that marked my date or year of birth. I do have a couple from my year of birth, but the vintage bottlings for me just aren’t the same, so I am constantly on the look out for a whisky that was distilled or bottled on my actual day of birth, but this is like looking for a needle in a haystack. So, I have to make do with bottles that were either distilled or bottled on one of my birthdays, and I have been a little more successful in this endeavour.
It was a visit to the GlenDronach distillery in early summer last year that achieved my first bottle – I was driving and couldn’t drink, so had to sit out the end of the tour tasting, but the guide then pointed out that their hand filled bottle was distilled on what I quickly worked out to be my 19th Birthday. This 26 year old bottle was quickly snapped up and I even got a wee sample to try. Driving away from the distillery I had calculated that I had shot my bolt a bit early. My birthday was in 4 days time, the date the whisky turned 27 years old. I managed to sneak away to get another bottle which was bottled and distilled on my birthday. I would imagine there are very few bottles like that available and it joins the Glenmorangie Truffle Oaks in my remote storage where I can’t be tempted to open it.
It was a Facebook messenger conversation a couple of months ago that made me think of this once more. One of my former work colleagues had asked me about the possibility of getting a bottle of whisky that had the date of his son’s birthday on it. Now, I made him aware that the chances of me being able to find one were as likely as trying to find a drop of wine in the North Sea (not quite what I said, but a lot more acceptable for public consumption!) but I’d have a go. An initial search on the internet was unsuccessful, but I told him to leave it with me and I’d have a go. Challenge accepted!
I’m now going to be writing this article so you can see what I tried and how I was eventually successful. Just to warn you, it took a month and while I did achieve my aim, it was not without it’s frustrations.
A simple Google search will just throw up too many random results. You will easily find the vintage year, and you might even be lucky enough to get the correct month, but if this is going to be a momento of a birth, it isn’t close enough. The vast majority of vintage whisky just has a year on it, so to achieve the correct date we will have to look at three main types of bottlings to secure a victory – Hand Fills, Single Casks and Special Editions. Because most bottles are filled with whisky that is the result of a marriage of casks, you will never be able to achieve a date of distillation. I think that this is important, as the date of the birth will coincide with the date of the whisky creation, which for me gives a more powerful symbolism to the bottle.
To find hand fill bottles with a specific date, the easiest way to achieve this if you ever want to have a bottle of whisky bottled on the date of your offspring’s birth is to get a friend to visit a distillery and purchase a handfilled bottle on the day that your child is born. I would suggest it may not be polite for you to do this when your significant other is going through labour and may create considerable friction in your relationship. There is no way that I would try that, although I was close enough to a distillery on the date of my daughter’s birth!
With hand filled bottles, I would suggest that there is a slight drawback to know that somebody else bottled it, so loses it’s personal touch to the special event that you are trying to commemorate, but that all depends on how special you want this to be. By far the easiest bottles to find are those from single casks, where it is easier to find a larger availability of dates, and certainly easier to search for.
If you think a single cask bottle would be appropriate, then you have to ask yourself will it be drunk? Of course, it depends on whether or not you are giving it to somebody or keeping it for yourself. But to help you search I found it is easier to look at distilleries that are consistently producing good single cask produce. What you may find that if you can get a date that is within a couple of days of your requirements, it is a case of being patient. Sometimes distilleries go through a run of bottling single casks. I found this to be true of GlenAllachie as one of my early targets to source a bottle for my colleague, but could only get within 2 or three days and not the actual date – close but no cigar.
Since these bottles were unlikely to be found at retail, I decided to hit the auctions. The simplest way to search was to look for a particular vintage year. If there was too many results, I found I got mixed returns by using different date formats in the search boxes of the auctioneers. You have to be persistent in trying everything. You also need to be smart about filtering your search results – being Aberdonian I always search for the low prices first as why would you want to pay more than you had to?
To cut a long story short, eventually I got a hit on a bottle from the Arran Distillery. This took me about 3 weeks searching every now and again when I had a spare moment. Initially I found a bottling from the day before the required date, but when I realised the date I needed was a Friday, then I found other bottles of the same whisky from the following week so then I was certain there would likely be similar bottling on the date required. Some further persistence paid off and within a couple of hours found the bottle I needed.
Let’s just say I hadn’t found THE bottle, but only had identified the edition I needed to find in the auctions or rare whisky shops. But if you have been paying attention to what I write, you will know that if something has been in an auction once, then it will turn up eventually in the future. You hope that it is not an in-demand bottle or that you don’t get somebody else bidding against you which will possibly force the price up. And it is here you have to make a difficult decision – how much do you pay for the bottle you are searching for? How important is the significance of the date?
Well, I took the common sense approach – I looked closely at the bottle – it had condition warnings about the state of the outer packaging, and what wasn’t noted was slight damage to the front label. The next thing you have to consider is how many of them were produced?.l Because this was a wine cask finish in a single cask, just over three hundred were available on the date I required. Researching the prices of other auctions revealed a hammer price between £85 and £150, but I didn’t do a thorough search, as it was only to give me an idea. Using my usual auction strategies, I obtained the bottle for a hammer price of £65 which adding the usual fees and P&P came to £85.
Whilst this is not a whisky that was distilled on the date required, given that this was over 14 years ago and the amount of releases since then, it was going to be like searching the world for a specific grain of sand. We can choose to look at it from the sense that the bottled product was created on the same day, and hopefully that has enough significance for the recipient whether it gets opened or kept in a cupboard for a wee while longer.
Of course, when thinking of celebrating significant birthdays, if you are close enough to a distillery that does hand fill, I would suggest taking a trip there with the intended recipient to commemorate not only the day, but a proper day out making memories. In the case of my colleague, this is what I suggested happens for his child’s 18th and 21st birthdays. Will these bottles be worth anything financially? Only if somebody else wants the same date, Indeed my GlenDronach handfill is making about £60-£70 more than I paid for it at auction, but then factor in the fees, then no, it’s not making a lot more, but time will tell. There will be a demand for vintage whisky in the future, but whether or not sherried whiskies are popular in the future remains to be seen. Vintage GlenDronach frequently does well at auction so not too worried.
I haven’t mentioned much about the third type of bottle – special editions. These will be rarer and therefore harder to find, especially for a specific date. And we know what this is likely to do for prices but regardless we have to know what the prices are so we aren’t overpaying.
Lastly, sometimes it is just down to luck. You just need to keep your eyes open when looking around distilleries, especially for single cask releases. Independent bottlers are also often good for detailing dates such as Signatory vintage. It is just a case of looking around.
Of course, you could always have a cask filled on that very date, but that’s an entirely different kettle of fish, and I’d advise you to look at my articles on cask purchase before proceeding down a very expensive route if you hope to taste it.
I hope this has given you a few pointers. Funnily enough as I was writing this article, somebody contacted me about this very issue, although they were looking for vintage Macallan. Talk about good timing! Cone time I will be looking for a vintage whisky for my daughters birth date, but as she’s not even four yet, there may be some time to go yet before anything is released.
In the United Kingdom, we are now into our third week of lockdown due to the Coronavirus. This has caused a mild difficulty for me writing Scotty’s Drams; some of it you may notice and some of it you may not. For those of you who follow my blog through WordPress and not the other social media channels I use will have noticed that sometimes I re-publish pages. There is a good reason for this – the majority of my blog has been written on my phone, but occasionally I choose to type it on a laptop. This is because I can publish an article a lot quicker. For some reason what was on my phone and on my laptop wasn’t matching up and was causing a bit of an issue. It has caused some of the previous blogs to disappear, and I’ve had to republish.
The other slight technical difficulty is trying to monitor the passage of time. Being on lockdown has very much been similar to working offshore where the only way you know the passage of time is either looking at the calendar or by the menu for the day. So this means I am writing my weekend article on a Friday again, as the week has blasted past without me realising I have to put some thoughts down.
Anyway, despite the boredom of lockdown, I have still found myself tied up with various things, and this has meant that I have not written a Saturday Article. I could, but I feel that this would be of lower than normal quality, which is a path that I do not want to go down. However, I have made my third video, which I will give a link below that teaches us how to drink whisky in a very rudimentary way, but covers all the basics – especially the last point! I will do a more serious video later. All I can say is that I am glad I was able to nail the video quickly, as it could have ended up a bit messy! For those on you who do not follow Scotty’s Drams on Facebook, the link to the video is here.
Moving away to something a bit more positive, I often quote from Winston Churchill. Of course, being Scottish I am not a big fan of Winston’s politics or his ideas of empire, but the man also knew how to speak with many famous quotes and orations. One of my favourites was the one he made about how a pessimist sees the difficulties in opportunities and how an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. Using modern technology has been great to communicate our love of whisky along with being able to share it, with events on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. Being a less than sociable person, I have shied away from these, as they are a bit too impersonal, and if I can’t meet or speak to people in person I’d often not bother joining in – I’d rather enjoy whisky in the immediate company of people. As is so many times the case in the whisky community it is each to their own preferences, and if you can get something out of this, I’d encourage you to take part.
Lastly, a couple of weeks ago I hinted that perhaps Scotty’s drams could have a gathering. Of course current events totally blow the chance of that happening right out of the water this year, but I am thinking of perhaps in early spring next year? Let me know your thoughts so I can get an idea of numbers and to what you’d find more beneficial – a city meet up for a night, or a couple of nights in Speyside region, perhaps taking in a distillery tour? Mull it over and let me know so I can formulate a loose plan,
Sorry for the low content of whisky thought this week, but next week will be better. Maybe.