'Whisky Bible' Author Facing Backlash for Claims of Sexist Language
Journalists, retailers, and distilleries have denounced the book for containing language that "allows the objectification of women in whisky."
A week ago, the biggest controversy surrounding this year's edition of The Whisky Bible was the fact that there wasn't a Scottish whisky in the top three (or at least that was the Scottish Daily Record's first take on it). Its longtime author, Jim Murray, rated Alberta Premium Cask Strength Rye as the best in the world, followed by Kentucky's Stagg Jr Barrel Proof, and Mithuna, the newest single-malt from India's Paul John.
"The end of the experience is like after you have just made love and you are unable to speak or move while your senses get back into some kind of normality," Murray wrote of Mithuna. “This is a whisky to devour … while it devours you.”
Unfortunately, Murray didn't stop there. In a multi-part Twitter thread, whisky journalist Becky Paskin wrote that this year's Whisky Bible contains 34 references to a whisky being "sexy" and a lot of other sentences "crudely comparing" drinking whisky to having sex with women.
"If this was a woman, I’d want to make love to it every night," he wrote of Penderyn Celt. "And in the morning. And afternoon, if I could find the time ... and energy." Some of his other descriptions mentioned threesomes, sex addicts, and "having fun" with a "sexy 41-year-old Canadian." (And because he's gone full Beavis, another review included British slang for female genitalia.)
"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," Paskin wrote. "This. Has. To. Stop."
Paskin's efforts (and Murray's phrasing) seem to have gotten the attention of some of the industry's heaviest hitters, including Beam Suntory, which owns the top-rated Alberta Premium Cask Strength.
"While we are honored that our Alberta Premium Cask Strength rye whisky was named ‘World Whisky of the Year’ by Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2021, we are extremely disappointed by some of the language used in many of the publication’s product reviews," the company said in a statement.
"Language and behavior of this kind have been condoned for too long in the spirits industry, and we agree that it must stop. As a result, we are reevaluating all planned programming that references this recognition.”
Other brands, distilleries, retailers, and industry organizations have also spoken out against the Whisky Bible, including Bacardi, Chivas Brothers, Diageo, Glenfiddich, and Irish Distillers. The Whisky Exchange says that it has removed the Whisky Bible from its stores and from its website.
"We are passionate about making the world of whisky inclusive and accessible for everyone, and we do not feel that some of his comments that have come to light in the recent edition represent this ethos or the future of the whisky community," the retailer wrote on Facebook.
Earlier this week, Scotch Whisky Association chief executive Karen E. Betts released a statement on behalf of that organization as well, writing that some of the language used in the book was "offensive" and that the SWA "did not support it."
In a statement published by the Spirits Business, Murray called the criticism "faux outrage" and said that neither he nor the book were sexist.
"I have always fought the bully and I will do so here," he said. "Debate has been replaced by the baying of the mob, common sense and decency by straitjacketed dogma. Frankly, these people appall me because what they are doing is undermining society itself [...] 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.”
It seems like Murray is unwilling to reflect on why the language he used has been called harmful and exclusionary to women in the whisky industry. He sees himself as the victim, which doesn't suggest that he will work to move past the outdated tropes he relies on. So, yeah, he can go on with his "freedom of speech," but it sounds like the industry is realizing that it can go on without him.