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  1. #1
    Bourbonian of the Year 2009 and Virtuoso
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    Jim Murray's Bourbon Notes

    I, like many here, read Jim Murray's, Chuck Cowdery's, and other writers opinions and stories of our favorite beverage with much interest. But I have noticed that my opinion of a bourbon and Jim Murray's opinion to be opposite of one another more often than similar. The first time I noticed this was when WT RR was reducing the proof to 90 and Jim Murray gave it a good review. I personally think RR 90 is an OK bourbon. So the other night while enjoying one of my (many) favorite bourbons.....Pappy 20, I thought I'd go through his 2005 Bible and compare tasting notes. He places Pappy 20 into the acceptable category while stating Thedford Colonial is top notch. I know different batches and bottlings can be the cause of some discrepancies.....but not like this. These are just two examples.....that were repeated often during this unscientific comparison. In many cases I agreed with his tasting notes and odservations, but his assignment of a numerical "quality" rating didn't jive with where I would place the bourbon. I recall Chuck is generally against such numerical rankings when discussing whiskey, and after studying this for a while, I think I agree.

    Conversely, I also read Robert Parkers The Wine Advocate, and have generally found I am in agreement with his notes AND numerical quality ranking.

    Has anyone else correlated their opinions with Jim Murry's?

    Randy
    Last edited by doubleblank; 03-22-2006 at 11:42.

  2. #2
    Bourbonian of the Year 2003 and Super Moderator
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    I think Cowdery is spot on, and I like the Regans. I find that Pacults finding are similiar to my own but I do not have the flowery descriptors that he uses. Just looking at the tasting notes in American Still Life I wonder if he is a better writer than taster. It is more disconcerting to me personally if my own findings don't parallel those of some of the esteemed tasters here than of any that have authored a book.

    At the end of the day the best thing some of those guys have done is they figured out a way to be paid to do what the rest of us pay to do.
    ___Bobby Cox___
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    May you have wonderful things thought of to do...

  3. #3
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    Not to be a contrarian (my chances of sampling that 1919 may be ... um.. evaporating ) but I think Murray is actually generally very accurate. I think though (like all tasters, not least Parker) his scoring reflects a specific set of likes and dislikes. E.g. (I have his 2005 Bible here) he finds the 20 year old Pappy simply too dry. I find even the 15 year old ORVW, although I recognise its importance to many, also dry and I rarely drank it straight, it will be a component of the blends I bring for those Manhattans! Also, Murray likes blends, e.g. he gives a very high rating to VO and some other Canadian whiskies because of the skill with which they deliver a light but tasty palate. He also likes a very punchy flavourful type of bourbon, he admires e.g. most Heaven Hills (of that name, which tend to be in the opinion of some here not amongst the best they make). Murray really does know his whiskey, he makes comments (e.g. about how some malt whisky is aged in top quality sherry casks) that no other taster makes. He knows the fine points and merits of blending. He admires regional and very assertive tastes that others might find a little rough or uncouth. So it is all a question of one's basic framework. Parker has been knocked for tasting wines out of (a food) context and therefore favouring the sweeter more approachable ones, even to the point of changing wine making methods especially amongt the French.

    Gary

  4. #4
    Bourbonian of the Year 2009 and Virtuoso
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    Actually Robert Parker is mostly criticized for favoring bigger, bolder flavors than more nuanced wines that might work better with certain foods. This would make him like Jim Murray in that way. I find Jim Murray's notes and observations to often be fairly consistent with mine....its that his likes and dislikes differ from mine. As you stated, he has given certain whiskies high scores that I (and many on this board) don't particularly care for. And he has a dislike for drier whiskeys....a trait of many older bourbons. I enjoy reading his articles and don't question his knowledge of the spirits business, but his likes and dislikes are often opposed to mine. IOW, I find his notes helpful and his scoring useless to me. In contrast, I find Robert Parker's notes and scoreing helpful. But I could use either Parker's or Murray's notes without the scoring for help in determining whether I might try something they review.

    As a resource for opinions, etc on available bourbons, this board is tops.

    Randy

  5. #5
    Bourbonian of the Year 2011
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    I agree Randy. In my view the level of knowledge here is above most consumer writers, foreign ones anyway, because that knowledge is constantly updated and also benefits from the group input.

    But books have their place and in general I find my likes consistent with Murray's. E.g. I always thought the Schenley whiskies were very good and here I meet someone who agrees and gives them scores in the 90's! I agree too scores have limited use and the purpose of these systems is not always clear, as Chuck Cowdery has also pointed out. But everyone wants to know how something "rates", it is a human inclination and these writers know that.

    Gary

  6. #6
    I enjoy Murray's notes a lot, and find tidbits of information -- and, not infrequently, flavor descriptions for tastes I couldn't match up -- in those notes. But, like Randy, I shake my head often at his ratings and general appreciations.
    And, as Bobby says, there are a number of folks here I consider much more informed about bourbon specifically than any of the 'gurus' (aside from Chuck, of course!).
    Tim

  7. #7
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    I've seen Murray give low scores to some whiskeys I thought were pretty good, but I don't recall trying something he rated highly and thinking it was bad. So, if he rates something highly I'm inclined to believe it's good stuff, but just because he doesn't rate something highly doesn't (in my view) mean it's NOT good.

  8. #8
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
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    I have a lot of issues about tasting notes in general and especially ratings, as most of you know. Tasting is just so subjective. The comments made about Parker illustrate the problem. What is he supposed to do? Not like what he likes? Create a 'persona' that tries to anticipate what the average drinker will like, even though that isn't necessarily what he likes?

    This is why (for all the good it does) I caution new bourbon drinkers about products like Pappy. I'm not sure I like the term "acquired taste," but a 20-year-old bourbon isn't objectively 'better' than a four-year-old, it's just different.

    As for Murray, I call him the hardest working man in the whiskey-writing business. I don't know how he is able to taste as much as he does, but I think he's like Parker, who I'm told can taste and write his notes about a particular bottle in less than a minute. I do it differently, but I'm not saying I'm right and they're wrong. Again, just different.

    When I started to write about this stuff, my interest was mostly in the history and culture and business. I had to be dragged kicking and screaming into writing and publishing tasting notes. I think they have some value, especially if you can put something into a context for someone, so they can perhaps compare something they have tasted to something they have not. To talk about a lot of wood versus not much wood, or sweet versus dry, spicy versus not so much. Those things are pretty objective, but some of the stuff is so fanciful ("emphatic mint toffee" is my favorite) I wonder how anyone is supposed to make use of it.

    As for Randy's original comments, isn't it the same with film reviewers, music reviewers or anything else. Sometimes you find someone whose tastes are so perfectly opposite your own that anything they like, you know you will hate, and vice versa. That's as useful, in its way, as finding a reviewer with whom you always agree.

  9. #9
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    My interest in tasting notes is on the wane and has been so for many years.

    The trouble with these is that they are so fickle. Occasionally they are spot on but many times you struggle to understand that the whiskey being described is the same one as the one you have tasted yourself. This reaches an especially ridiculous level when you agree that the whiskey in question is good and yet you cannot find one single description that fits your own tasting experience!

    Like Chuck, I also have problems with stuff like "emphatic mint toffee". If excesses like these become too dominant, I simply stop reading. I can´t take a writer like that seriously.

    I´d much rather read about the history and culture that surrounds the whiskey industry.

    True, I buy Murray´s whiskey bible but this is mostly to get a grip on what is available, especially in the Scotch world.
    Delighted to see you if you can find me!

  10. #10
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    We all have our own view of this. Personally I find a detailed description based on simile or metaphor referring to the tastes or odors of other drinks, or of foods or other objects, informative to learn what a drink might taste like. This approach is better than formulas such as "rich and full" or "dark-tasting" which do not tell anything about the actual flavor of a product. Once I recall a certain wine writer discursing on Irish whiskey. The whiskey was said to be true and clear (or words to that effect) as tasted in the pristine air of Ireland. The writer implied that tasting it in the air of other places, especially that of dirty cities, would not give the same result. This is a poetic description but told me little about how the product actually tasted. I know how Chuck feels about "emphatic mint toffee" but I don't see why that is over-the-top or inappropriate as a simile. We all have had hard or soft toffee (or the variant, butterscotch, or the U.S. salt water taffees). Even if I had not tried a mint-flavoured version, I think I could imagine it. The flavor of some bourbon can be toffee-like (e.g. Elmer T. Lee) and the mint is a reference to the taste of rye. In fact for me this description works well for some bottlings of EC 12 year old or the older Heaven Hill-branded bourbons.

    This type of vocabulary was borrowed from that of wine writers. I realise not everyone goes in for this way of understanding drinks but to me it is natural to describe whisky by analogy to the tastes or odours of certain foods, flowers or other objects. Chuck himself gives an excellent summary of the main analogues in his book, Bourbon, Straight, based e.g., on the smell of flowers, taste of nuts, taste of fruits and so forth. I know he says too it is bootless to explore WHAT types of flowers or fruits and while I agree with that for some purposes, it remains true that some whiskies remind me of old roses, or peaches.... I am always curious how people who do not like to view whisky or other drinks in this way explain (even to themselves) why they prefer one drink over another.

    In the current Whisky magazine, Jim Murray has an article in which he says that some people say a whisky reminds them of the warmed oil used for miniature railway sets. While I have never owned such a thing, somehow I know what that means.

    Gary
    Last edited by Gillman; 03-23-2006 at 07:57.

 

 

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