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A Review of The Complete Guide to Whiskey by Jim Murray

Editor’s note: We’re republishing this article from our archive as part of a reorganization of the site’s content.

The Complete Guide to Whiskey
by Jim Murray (Chicago, Carlton/Triumph Books, paperback, 1997, 256 pages, $14.95)

Review by F. Sot Fitzgerald

Some time back I was at a whiskey festival.  After sampling about 15 whiskeys I was hosed.  I had been swallowing much of what I tasted because it was too good to spit.

At some point I staggered up to a table run by two clean cut, sharp dressed representatives from Buffalo Trace distillery of Kentucky.  Next to them was a man no more than 5′ 8″, hair and beard dark, hoary, and tangled in a woolly, just-got-out-of-bed sort of way.  He had his nose in a snifter and was grinning at the deep red liquid.  I assumed he was some sot hanging about the table for the sake of cadging as many free samples as he could.

All night representatives from whiskey companies had pouring me shots and then adding, “You better cut that with a little water.”  Though it’s not something I usually do, I had inthe past half hour begun doing so to stave off this annoyance.  So I grabbed the water pitcher from the table and moved to pour a few drops in a sample of this ancient rye whiskey when a hand shot between the tilting water pitcher and the rye.

“No.  No, no, no- you don’t want to do that.”

I looked up.  It was the gnome, eyes a-fire.


“No.  That would be a crime.”

“Even though it’s 110 proof?”

“Trust me.  You don’t need to do that.”

So I sucked up the rye straight and he was right.  I didn’t need water and it would have been a bad thing.  Only later after pointing out this fellow to someone else was I told, “That’s Jim Murray- the whiskey writer.”

This tiny typed book is loaded with information and it is a grand introduction to the subject of whiskey.  Though sometimes marred by a lazy editorial hand, on the whole it is an invaluable guide to the frighteningly immense world of whiskey.  From the art of making whiskey to a glossary, to tours of the history and brands of Scotch, Irish, Bourbon, Rye, and Canadian whiskeys, Murray is there, garrulous and engaging, telling you what’s what and what to avoid.

It’s well worth the fifteen bucks and fits neatly in a jacket pocket.


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