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Neill Murphy, writer of WhiskyReviews

How it all began

I got into whisky by accident. I was attending a funeral in the highlands and drams of 12 year old Highland Park were being handed out at the wake. Not wanting to appear rude, I took one and quickly made my way to a quiet corner to sip it and hope no-one saw me retch. That sip changed my life.

Within a month there were four or five bottles of malt in my cupboard and from there it snowballed. I scoured shelves for whisky books and discovered dozens of bloggers and vloggers who shouted passionately into the void, covering every conceivable facet of the industry. I attended as many whisky tastings as time, money and my liver would allow, soaking up as much data as people were willing to send my way. In 2014 I took a course, led by renowned whisky writer John Lamond. Two years later I took the ‘Whisky Ambassador‘ course. It was apparent that what was once a hobby, had become something of an obsession.

Writing about whisky

I always enjoyed writing and felt like I understood it from a fairly young age. English was the only subject at school that I seemed able to pass without putting any real effort in (and effort was pretty low in my list of priorities back then). That said, the possibility of ever doing anything with the skill never entered my head. My late teens and twenties were mostly spent in Glasgow’s club scene with all my resources plowed into my passion for music and DJing.

When I moved into my thirties, however, the notion to write returned. I tried to write about club culture but my enthusiasm for that subject had already started to wane. Then, at 34, I found out that my wife was pregnant and I did what any self-respecting man would do. I shit myself. I tried to address my fears by writing about my impending fatherhood but it sounded rather pathetic and it too was scrapped. Then about two weeks before my daughter was born, I visited Auchentoshan and it struck me that I could write about my experience there. Who knows why it hadn’t occurred to me before but I started writing and I haven’t stopped since.

Positivity without sacrificing integrity

When I was new to the world of whisky I found it disheartening to hear countless online reviewers lament how good the spirit used to be. Some of them have more knowledge and experience in their little finger than I could amass in a lifetime, but I still felt I could offer something different. Something a bit more positive.

I decided to write a blog that reflected the enthusiasm of those early days with a new hobby. Encouraging newbies to delve deeper rather than shaming them for not knowing enough. A blog that would be for the good of both reader and industry. Because I wanted Scotch to thrive. I wanted it to retain its status as the king of spirits. We live in times of massive expansion with new distilleries opening seemingly every month. It’s never been more important that whisky reach out to new people and I want to be part of the welcoming committee. Come on in. Sit down. Pour yourself a dram. There’s no judgement here. No snobbery. Just a shared love of whisky.

Of course, that is not to say that whisky will be praised, no matter what. If I don’t like something, I will say so but my opinions will always be honest and hopefully, balanced. I don’t believe there’s a lot of bad whisky out there. There’s some, but not a lot. What there is, however, is an abundance of overpriced whisky, so pricing and value for money feature heavily in my reviews. If nothing else, I think it’s important to consider things in context. A £15 blend was never intended to compete with a £60 single malt for flavour and its success or failure shouldn’t be judged in the same way.

Shedding the baggage

When talking to people about whisky some issues stood out to me as barriers. I’ve already mentioned price. Whisky is expensive and getting more expensive by the minute. It’s important to acknowledge that and wherever possible, highlight the bargains.

Another obstacle, for many people, is the language that surrounds whisky. Whisky nerds love to play tasting note tennis with bonus points given for the most obscure note. To the outsider, however, this is pretentious nonsense that intimidates and alienates. Tasting notes are a useful way of describing a whisky but, in my opinion, they should be kept to a minimum. They certainly won’t be forming the backbone of my reviews.

Finally, I don’t really care how people drink their whisky. You want ice? Have ice. You want water, soda, tonic, cola? Go for it. I taste whisky neat and with a bit of water for the reviews and that’s how I usually drink it but sometimes I like to play around too. Whisky cocktails are brilliant. Highballs are awesome and you haven’t bloody lived until you’ve drank a smoky cokey! Go nuts with whisky, the more you buy, the more you drink, the better for the industry. Though, consume responsibly, obviously.

My way or… another way. It’s cool.

This isn’t me saying “this is how whisky should be reviewed.” It’s not my way is right, their way is wrong. There are guys and girls out there doing excellent blogging work. Some of them played a role in my own education. I just wanted to find my own way of working and felt there was room for it. I want my blog to retain the excitement I felt when I first started delving into this, ahem, hobby. In the end, I just hope the joy whisky brings me comes through in my writing and that it feeds the same joy in my readers.

Thanks for being here.

Neill Murphy



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