Cancelled and ruined for comparing fine malts to sensual lovers: Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible sold a million copies and the industry hung on his every word – until Becky Paskin posted a single Instagram message
- Author of the Whisky Bible Jim Murray was ‘cancelled’ by the ‘woke brigade’
- The 64-year-old’s world fell apart after he compared fine malts to sensual lovers
- He is fighting back with a group for cancel culture victims called War on Woke
- His new uncensored 2022 Whisky Bible champions free speech and feminism
Jim Murray, the author of the million-selling Whisky Bible, has spent the past 14 months sifting through the wreckage of his life.
Last year, he was ‘cancelled’ by the ‘woke brigade’ and, overnight, almost everything he once had was gone. His reputation, the legacy of decades of obsessive work, his staff, income stream, financial security and future plans.
All sparked by a single message posted on social media by someone he didn’t know and had never met, who insisted his writing was sexist and vulgar.
‘It was surreal. Everything fell apart,’ he says. ‘Everyone abandoned me. It took me months to even work out what had happened, but now I see it’s bullying — horrible, unfiltered bullying — and I’m fighting back.’
Jim Murray, the author of the million-selling Whisky Bible, has spent the past 14 months sifting through the wreckage of his life after being ‘cancelled’ by the ‘woke brigade’
First, with a new, uncensored and unbowed 2022 Whisky Bible, complete with an angry foreword championing free speech and feminism.
Next, he has plans to contact all fellow cancel culture victims and set up an organisation called WOW — aka War On Woke.
‘Because we are victims,’ he says. ‘You’re not allowed to say this. You’ve got to say that. You’ve got to think this. You must say that.’
For more than 20 years, former journalist Jim Murray, now 64, was the undisputed king of whisky.
His annual bible features more than 4,000 whiskies and has done much to set the agenda in the whisky industry, while his ‘Liquid Gold Awards’ have made (and unmade) fortunes for distilleries who waited eagerly for the results each year.
Indeed, his dogged enthusiasm for everything ‘whisky’ has helped transform the industry into a £60 billion global business.
For the five months of every year during which he writes the book, he’s sat at home in Northamptonshire with just his 12-year-old parrot Percy for company.
Becky Paskin (pictured), a former editor of scotchwhisky.com and co-founder of OurWhisky, called Mr Murray the ‘Donald Trump’ of the whisky world and later said ‘this is whisky’s #MeToo movement’.
There, he tastes up to 25 samples a day, ‘translating them in a hypnotic trance’ with extraordinarily florid notes, in which he likens their taste, texture and feel to everything from ‘low-calorie Fruit Pastilles’ to ‘expensive silk undies’ — to the delight of both readers and distillers, male and female.
For the rest of the year, he travelled constantly — to distilleries, shows, tastings, recording TV and radio shows.
That was until September 2020 when, out of the blue, Becky Paskin — a former editor of scotchwhisky.com and co-founder of OurWhisky (launched in 2018 ‘to champion diversity and inclusion in the whisky industry’), took to Instagram.
Her allegation was that because 34 of Jim’s 4,300-plus tasting notes in the forthcoming 2021 edition of his bible referred to whisky being ‘sexy’ and that also, in a few more, he ‘objectifies women’, by comparing drinking whisky to having sex, both he and his bible were sexist and a disgrace to the industry.
She called him the ‘Donald Trump’ of the whisky world and later said ‘this is whisky’s #MeToo movement’. She urged distillers to stop promoting the book, or they’d be guilty of condoning his sexist and vulgar behaviour.
‘Any brand celebrating their placement in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible should be ashamed,’ she wrote. She also cited a selection of Jim’s sauciest notes from the 2021 edition, starting with his review of a Canadian Club ‘heritage’ brand.
‘Have I had this much fun with a sexy 41-year-old Canadian before?’ Murray wrote. ‘Well, yes I have. But it was a few years back and it wasn’t a whisky. Was the fun we had better? Probably not.’
She also drew attention to his ‘disgusting’ comments about Penderyn, the Welsh distiller producing single malts from a village on the edge of the Brecon Beacons, which has an all-woman distilling team.
‘If this was a woman, I’d want to make love to it every night,’ he writes of their whisky. ‘And in the morning. And afternoon, if I could find the time . . . and energy . . .’
‘If whisky could be sexed, this would be a woman,’ he writes of the Glenmorangie Artisan Cask.
Jim Murray said of this tipple (left): ‘It pouts, seduces and wins your heart’. Meanwhile he called this whisky (right) ‘a sexy 41-year-old’
‘Every time I encounter Morangie Artisan, it pops up with a new look, a different perfume. And mood. It appears not to be able to make up its mind. But does it know how to pout, seduce and win your heart . . .? Oh yes.’
And of the Glenfarclas Family Casks, he notes: ‘The malt for the woman of your life, first to enjoy her to seduce and/or be seduced by, and then to share together.’
The result was catastrophic.
Within hours of Becky’s post on Instagram, the distilleries — including Glenfiddich, the biggest malt whisky brand, and Beam Suntory, one of the world’s biggest premium spirits companies — started distancing themselves, and whisky shops sent back his bibles and cancelled future orders.
The first that Jim — who does not have a social media presence — knew about it, was a frantic call from his assistant.
‘They’re accusing you of being sexist’, he said. ‘It’s gone viral. It’s taken off. You’ve been cancelled.’
Jim was flabbergasted. ‘I write to help people understand whisky and appreciate whisky, but also to entertain and make people laugh,’ he says.
(When contacted by the Mail yesterday, Becky declined to comment further.)
Even harder was the fact he’d had decades-long friendships with many of the distillery owners.
For years, they’d been telling him how much they’d loved his bouncy reviews.
One female executive from a well-known distillery had emailed him only a week before to tell him how she adored his writing.
However, she was one of the first to cancel him and refuse access to their whisky samples to review.
‘As all those statements rolled in, one after another, I watched my whole world collapse around me, and nobody — not one senior exec — called. Everyone jumped off the ship,’ he says. ‘They were like sheep. Very frightened sheep.’
The odd thing was that very few of the offending tasting notes were new. They’d been in previous bibles — Jim usually adds about 1,200 tasting notes each year — and no one had minded.
‘There had never been a single complaint.’
In the 2017 edition, he had likened a single-malt Scotch to ‘a 40-year-old woman who has kept her figure and looks, and now only satin stands in the way between you and so much beauty and experience . . . and believe me: she’s spicy.’
He insists they were just fun, spontaneous thoughts, translated to bring his descriptions to life.
The reason that the occasional reference to sex crept in was not because he is a sexist monster, he says, but due to the very nature of his very strict approach to tasting — aka the ‘Murray Method’.
‘It’s about sensuality — the smell, taste and touch of the whisky in your mouth,’ he says. ‘And that sometimes trips into sexuality.’
Which means that, occasionally, a particularly sexy whisky will unlock a memory of a special time in his life and prompt a shout out to old lovers — such as the much-loved Canadian lady — who he says were always happy to feature.
I hardly dare ask about his reference to Penderyn Single Cask: ‘This celebrates maltiness in the same way a sex addict revels in a threesome.’
‘Hasn’t everybody?’ he roars in response before adding: ‘Look, I’m an entertainer. A critic, writing to inform and entertain. Readers don’t want any of that ‘this smells of lavender growing 2 ft from cow dung’ rubbish.’
He points out that motoring writers describe cars as ‘sexy’, sports commentators describe football as sexy — and don’t get him started on the innuendoes on The Great British Bake Off.
‘None of them are cancelled!’ he says. ‘But I’m a white, middle-aged, middle class man, so I can’t say anything.’
It is 30 years since Jim gave up his job as a Fleet Street journalist — along with his wife who was upset at their sudden impecunity — to pursue a calling as Britain’s first whisky writer.
He had been obsessively smelling anything and everything — ‘food, wine, shoes’ — since he was a child, and was captivated by whisky at his first taste from the barrel at the Talisker Distillery when he was 17.
‘It changed everything. After that, I tasted every whisky I could find.’
He’s obsessive, focused, singular, talented and, some say, egotistical. And with his Whisky Bible came power. To win the coveted Whisky of the Year, or even a mention in the Liquid Gold Awards, could transform a business.
Nevertheless, he is at pains to say he is a staunch feminist and egalitarian, and has gone to great measures to defend and advance women in the notoriously male whisky world.
For example, he says he campaigned to stop whisky producers using scantily clad girls to attract punters to their stands at trade fairs.
He also says he ended the habit of only making entry-level whiskies available to women at tastings and has striven to ‘make the industry more welcoming’.
‘I’m massively pro women!’ he says, pointing out that he used female blenders in his early books and insisted that women’s [tasting] noses are often better than those of men.
But that didn’t stop a social media pile-on.
So as well as sexist ogre, he is — according to myriad anonymous accusers — a groper. He was drunk at tastings.
A racist, too, and guilty of taking bribes from the distilleries. All very serious allegations if true.
None of which have been proved and all of which he denies furiously.
‘I stay insanely sober at tastings,’ he insists. ‘I’ve probably only been drunk about twice in my life. But there’s no filter, no protection, nothing to stop them. They can say anything. It’s a lynch mob.’
And no one dared come to his aid.
For while some distillery staff have sent messages of support and not all have broken contact, no one came forward to back him in public.
Not even his friends.
‘They’re trying to stay beneath the radar so they don’t get wiped out by the woke brigade,’ he says.
For Jim it has been the most profound and upsetting experience of his life.
‘I couldn’t think, I couldn’t sleep, I lost energy, I put on weight and, financially, I’m pretty much wiped out — I’ll have to sell things,’ he says.
But it has also opened his eyes to today’s increasingly woke world.
‘We’ve got brainwashing going on everywhere. There’s a massive anxiety — will they ever see sense? It took me a long time to work out what to do next — to fight back for freedom of speech.’
Which, for him, meant business as usual — five months locked up working on the 2022 bible, tasting every whisky he could and refusing to censor whatever racy tasting comment popped into his head.
‘I’m a communicator and an entertainer. I invented whisky writing — and I’m good at it.’
His latest bible — sporting a picture of a very bullish Jim aloft a whisky barrel on the cover — was released last month.
It was a massive gamble but it looks as if it might just pay off.
Because, despite all the hoo-ha and trolling, his Whisky Bible has sold quicker than ever this year, and now he needs to order a second print run.
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