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Jim Murray has tasted over 20,000 whiskies in his lifetime, and his yearly guide (which started in 2003) is known for making some unique picks and profiling distilleries and styles that may escape the mainstream.
You may prefer the multi-person judging panels and blind tastings of the major spirits awards, but I think of Murray like a specific film or music critic that you religiously follow — you may not agree with their opinion all the time, but the expertise is unparalleled. Consider him the Roger Ebert of whisky.
For this year’s Whisky Bible Awards, Murray sampled around 1,250 different tipples. And much like the surprise when he anointed a Canadian rye as the best whisky of the year back in 2016, this year’s honor goes to Alberta Premium Cask Strength Rye.
Alberta Premium (owned by Beam Suntory) is one of the rare rye-grain distilleries in North America; the Cask Strength is a 100% Canadian prairie rye, aged for a minimum of five years and coming in at whopping 65.1% ABV. Previous AP releases have done well in Murray’s book, winning several “Canadian Whisky of the Year” designations.
As the Whisky Exchange notes: “Alberta Distillers have been selling their rye whiskey to producers south of the border, including award-winning Masterson’s and WhistlePig, who have bottled it under their own labels. At home, the company didn’t have a whisky with quite the same reputation, with its spicy 100% rye used as a flavouring [sic] whisky or watered down to create good but not earth-shattering whiskies … In late 2019, however, the company changed that with the launch of a Cask Strength and a Cask Strength Rye, finally showing off its whisky under its own label.”
And in Murray’s own words: “A succulence to the oils, balanced perfectly by ulmo and manuka honeys ensure for the most chewable Canadian mouthful possibly ever … and yet this is constantly salivating, from the very first nanosecond … Truly world-class whisky from possibly the world’s most underrated distillery. How can something be so immense yet equally delicate? For any whisky lover on the planet looking for huge but nearly perfectly balanced experience, then here you go. And with rye at its most rampantly beautiful, this is something to truly worship.”
A limited edition, this one is difficult to find here in the U.S. (it’s not on Caskers, Whisky Exchange or Drizly; it’s officially only a Canada release), so a trip up north might be necessary when that’s possible. To show how much Murray’s opinion may differ from the larger drinking community, this Alberta Distillers release has a modest 4.06/5 rating on the popular crowd-sourced tasting site Distiller, where the first tasting note is “face-melting rye spice.”
As for what else Murray liked (all listed winners courtesy of The Whisky Exchange) …
Second place: Stagg Jr Barrel Proof (64.2%)
Third place: Paul John Mithuna
Scotch Whisky of the Year: Glen Grant 15 Year Old Batch Strength 1st Edition
Irish Whiskey of the Year: Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy
Bourbon of the Year: Stagg Jr Barrel Proof (64.2%)
Rye of the Year: Thomas H. Handy Sazerac 2019 Release
Japanese Whisky of the Year: Nikka Whisky Single Malt Yoichi Apple Brandy Wood Finish
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