The whisky world is abuzz with the announcement of Jim Murray’s Whisky of the Year, which this year was given to Crown Royal’s Northern Harvest Rye. Certainly, it takes a certain strong level of confidence to name a $30 whisky, without an age statement, the best whisky in the world – it’s contrary to much of what we see these days.
Jim Murray is one of the foremost whisky writers in the world, annually tasting over 1,000 whiskies in the process of writing his annual Whisky Bible, bringing about craze and competition for his top picks – this year, a Canadian. While the publicity is probably good for Canadian whisky – some things haven’t been good. Jim Murray’s love for Alberta Premium has probably not been good for Canadian whisky – I have tasted over 5 different batches of Alberta Premium, and been indifferent to it. Many, excited for a whisky rated 96.5/100, flock to the whisky as their defining experience of Canadian whisky – to walk away disappointed. I can say, with many other laymen and experts, that Alberta Premium wouldn’t be in our top list of Canadian whiskies at all. If that’s your experience with Northern Harvest Rye, don’t give up on Canadian whisky – there’s lots of great whisky to discover.
However, I like this year’s award for a few reasons:
- It does indicate that not all that is good and exciting in whisky is from a limited, rare, expensive release – a fact that many need to know and embrace. Many, if not most, of the rare, expensive releases simply aren’t worth the money.
- It points to the fact that there are good, affordable whiskies out there – once again, a fact that many need to know and embrace. For that, I respect Murray’s boldness in choosing to name a whisky such as Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye his whisky of the year.
Here, really, is what people need to know. There’s no best whisky in the world. Every palate is different, often surprisingly so. Jim Murray, expert and experienced though he is, is one man. If you are ever tasting a number of fabulous whiskies with friends, opinions largely vary as to which is the favorite whisky – suprisingly so. If any of us were to taste all the whiskies Jim Murray did this year, the chance of any of us picking the same whisky as him to be our top is miniscule. So, yes, it’s an achievement, and shows that the whisky has the stamp of approval of a very experienced taster, but it doesn’t mean at all that you’ll love it. I know many who love the whisky (I do), and also know of many who have picked it up in a rush after the award and been dissapointed.
If you are looking for a good whisky to purchase, look at a number of different awards and scoring systems. Sites like tastings.com and ultimate-beverage.com use a panel of blind judging to do their assessments, which should suit general palates better (though their scores are inflated), and sites like whiskyadvocate.com I have found to have a good source of reliable reviews. Also, sites like whiskyanalysis.com provide some interesting perspective on what whisky writers say about a given whisky. Ultimately, with some time and experience, you can figure out what you like and whose reviews you trust – and this is the way to discovering the best whisky. There doesn’t have to just be one – there are definitely a few breathtaking whiskies around.
As for Crown Royal, I was delighted and surprised to see such a good whisky that was accessible and cheap when I reviewed Northern Harvest Rye. I hope the quality stays consistent, that the price doesn’t increase because of hype – connoisseurs and explorers all need a good, cheap, accessible whisky.