Have you ever asked anyone what their favorite movie is? As a former film student, I've had that conversation more than a few times in my life and I've heard a lot of Shawshank Redemption during those talks. That movie is a solid choice - great acting, lots of emotion, and a perfect ending. It touches just about everyone so it seems natural so many people would like it. Every now and then you'll hear people say 8 1/2 by Fellini or Citizen Kane by Orson Welles and I'm not sure what to make of those responses. Did they actually like that movie or are they just saying that because those are supposed to be the two best movies ever made? I mean, honestly, how often does anyone ever feel like sitting down with either of those films for a good time? Being a brash, nineteen-year-old, aspiring director, I used to put forth Big Trouble in Little China or Roadhouse with Patrick Swayze because of their cool, camp factor. Those are obviously not great movies (unless you redefine greatness), but they're so off-base with the expected response that they catch one's attention.
That's what I used to be all about - getting your attention. I wasn't lying about my love for Kurt Russell and Patrick Swaze in the 80's - those are seriously two of my favorite flicks. However, by telling someone that my favorite movie is Big Trouble in Little China, I'm doing two things: 1) taking pleasure in diverting attention to a film that is grossly overlooked and underrated, and 2) making myself look pretty smooth by bucking the trend and choosing something outside the normal realm of possible candidates. If I had to guess why Jim Murray selected Old Pulteney 21 Year Old as the number one whisky in the world for 2012, I would say that it had something do with the analogy I just gave you.
Old Pulteney is a good distillery. I really love their 17 year old whisky - a wonderfully balanced malt where the Bourbon and Sherry maturations form the yin and yang of the palate. The 21 year is also quite nice. Rich, enticing, creamy, and less sweet than something like Glenfarclas. There's no doubt that these whiskies are good and very much overlooked. However, giving Old Pulteney 21 the title of "best whisky in the world" is like giving Paul Newman the best acting Oscar for The Color of Money - it's more of a lifetime achievement award than recognition for that particular role. Paul Newman was a great actor, but that movie wasn't close to his best (actually Tom Cruise was better than him in that movie).
Personally, I believe that Jim Murray's rankings aren't literal. He knows that curious drinkers everywhere will flock to his choices once they're released, driving sales up immensely for these particular producers. They're more like political or personal statements about himself and his philosophy. By lavishing that prestigious title upon Old Pulteney, he was hoping to give an underrated distillery a bit of much-deserved spotlight, as well as play the cool and unexpected card (see his previous ranking of Amrut Fusion as #3 whisky in the world). I have no problem with that whatsoever. My only concern is that the hundred or so customers who bought a bottle over the last day are going to come back and say, "Really? That one?" I can guarantee you that many new owners of an OP21 bottle are going to argue his decision. However, you have to put these things into perspective.