Jim Murray's Whisky Bible criticised for "sexist and vulgar" reviews

21 September, 2020

Whisky writer Becky Paskin has criticised Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible for “sexist and vulgar” language that allows the objectification of women in whisky.

Murray has published the whisky guide on an annual basis ever since 2003. The 2021 edition has just hit shelves, featuring tasting notes on around 4,500 whiskies.

Paskin has been through the book and found “34 references to whisky being ‘sexy’ and many more crudely comparing drinking whisky to having sex with women”.

She said it is time for brands to stop celebrating after being named among Murray’s top 50 whiskies of the year.

“Why does the whisky industry still hold Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible in such high regard when his reviews are so sexist and vulgar?” said Paskin in a series of social media posts that garnered almost universal support from industry colleagues.

She pointed to a review of Penderyn, which is made by an all-female team of distillers and blenders. Murray wrote: “If this was a woman, I’d want to make love to it every night. And in the morning. And afternoon, if I could find the time... and energy...”

He later summed up Penderyn Single Cask with this phrase: “This celebrates maltiness in the same way a sex addict revels in a threesome.”

Paskin, who co-founded Our Whisky with Georgie Bell to promote inclusivity within the industry, said: “Despite sexist and explicit language being a mainstay of Murray’s reviews, his ‘bible’ is still held in high regard by brands and whisky lovers when it’s published every year.

“Much of the industry has been working hard to change whisky’s reputation as a ‘man’s drink’, but condoning, even celebrating, a book that contains language like this erases much of that progress and allows the objectification of women in whisky.

“Women working in the industry continue to be asked if we even like whisky, with ambassadors and female whisky makers often enduring leering comments during whisky tastings and festivals. This. Has. To. Stop.

“Any brand celebrating their placement in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible should be ashamed.”

She also highlighted a review of Canadian Club Chronicles, Water of Windsor, among others. “Have I had this much fun with a sexy 41-year-old Canadian before? Well, yes I have. But it was a few years back now and it wasn’t a whisky. Was the fun we had better? Probably not.”

Forbes contributor Felipe Schrieberg has now urged readers to boycott The Whisky Bible.

Murray provided a stinging rebuke to his critics.

“This is not a matter of alleged sexism on the trumped up charges against me – which have clearly been concocted for very clear purposes. This is an attack on the very essence of what it is to be a critic in any sphere, be it music, art, sport, wine or whisky. In other words: an attack on free thought and free speech,” he said in a statement.

“We are entering very dangerous territory when people try to control the thoughts of others and wilfully distort the truth for their own ends. This is now a battle between free speech and humourless puritanism. I am not alone in finding this very sinister.

“I am not sexist; the Whisky Bible is not sexist, has never been sexist and I will not bow to this faux outrage. I have always fought the bully and I will do so here. Debate has been replaced by the baying of the mob, common sense and decency by straitjacketed dogma. Frankly, these people appal me because what they are doing is undermining society itself.

“How, in God’s name, can, for instance, likening a whisky to an orgasm be remotely construed as sexist? Last I heard, male, females, transgender people, everyone is capable of an orgasm. I am a professional writer and use a language that adults – for the Whisky Bible is designed for adults – can relate to. I paint pictures of a whisky. And if that, on the rare occasion, is the picture or sensation that formulates in my mind, then I say so. As I have every right to.

“Rather than write interesting, illuminating and compelling articles about whisky, other writers would rather engage in ‘cancel culture’ to down the world’s most successful author on the subject.

“Some one million people have bought the Whisky Bible since it first came out in 2003 – and in that time I have not received a single letter, email or text complaining of its content. Not one. Suddenly, though…this. Several people writing exactly the same thing on the same day. Strange that.

“I am famed for my ability to nose a whisky. And I can tell you that I can smell a huge rat with this entire manufactured and revolting affair.

“I have dedicated 30 years of my life, longer than anyone else on this planet, fighting for whisky and the whisky underdog, so people will discover great whiskies from wherever they may be in the world. This has put quite a few people’s noses out of joint. These outrageous and concocted allegations will not derail me in my life’s quest. My championing of great whisky will continue. My freedom of speech will continue. Whether these latter day Cromwellians like it or not.”

The latest edition of The Whisky Bible named Alberta Premium Cask Strength, a Canadian rye whisky that draws its water from the Rocky Mountains, the World Whisky of the Year.

Kentucky distiller the Sazerac Company swept the board in 2020 with a unique 1-2-3, but it has to settle for the runner-up spot in 2021 with the "mind-blowing" Stagg Jr Barrel Proof.

Penderyn chief executive Stephen Davies was delighted with the write-up the Welsh firm received. Its Rhiannon bottling led the way with the Welsh Whisky of the Year award, and many other popular Penderyn bottlings earned Murray’s lucrative seal of approval. 

“It’s an incredible honour to receive a Liquid Gold award from Jim Murray,” said Davies. “Eighteen awards, however, is nothing short of spectacular.

“It is a fitting testament to the remarkable work our teams have put in during 2020. This has not been an easy year for anyone, let alone the hard-working whisky lovers of Wales. Penderyn has pushed through months of lockdown uncertainty to continue producing a delicious range of spirits that are continuing to pick up international praise.

“It’s been a year in which we’ve pivoted towards virtual tastings, too. Plenty has changed over the past nine months – though Penderyn as a brand is committed to continue growing stronger and stronger.

“Jim Murray’s accolades are worth celebrating – what a way to ring in 2021.”

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