A Chat & a Dram: Simon Brooking, Laphroaig's Master Ambassador
It can be suggested that it is fairly easy to make a few new friends over a drink. However, it is arguably even easier to make great friends over good whisky!
That is exactly the job for Simon Brooking, Master Ambassador of the Laphroaig distillery. “World peace, through whisky, one dram time at a time!” is the powerful declaration he often begins his tasting sessions with while traveling the far corners of the world representing not just Laphroaig’s single malt whiskies, but also those of Bowmore, Ardmore, Glen Garioch, Auchentoshan and other distilleries that are a part of the Beam-Suntory brands. If you have ever attended an event where Simon is pouring and educating his crowds on all things whisky and Scottish, then you are already aware of his caliber and character as a true Scotsman and entertainer amongst whiskymen, first filling the room with fresh peat smoke before spreading the good word of his malted liquid cheer. If you have yet to experience the show, I strongly suggest you do!
Since a good portion of his travels keep him going up, down, over and across the United States, Brooking is by no means a stranger to the New Hampshire Highland Games. The weekend-long festival held in September in Lincoln, NH at Loon Mountain celebrates every aspect of Scottish and Celtic heritage including bagpiping competitions, traditional dance, heavy athletics, and of course much whisky. For thirteen years now, which Brooking called his “baker’s dozen,” Laphroaig has been showcased at the games with Brooking serving as maestro conducting multiple tastings over the course of the weekend, turning the hearts and palates of even the most doubtful and hesitant of first time whisky tasters into full fledged single malt appreciators. In between his busy schedule of tastings, training sessions and bottle signings during his time in NH Brooking was kind enough to sit down with me for a few minutes to chat about his history, journeys and give some insight into what it is like being the ambassador to one of the largest and most iconic names in the whisky world.
Beginning his first ambassadorship position in New York with Dewars Brooking recalled, “I had the kilt, I had the accent, I drank whisky, I just kind of fit all the criteria.” Moving on, he then went to work with the Diageo company elevating his career from the local to national level representing the Johnny Walker brand as well as the “Classic Malts” collection of whiskies which include Oban, Dalwhinnie, and Lagavulin, to name a few. After his time with the larger portfolio Diageo held Brooking was ready for a change and found it representing a much smaller focus of whiskies from the Dalmore distillery owned by the Jim Beam Company. The Ardmore and Laphroaig distilleries were later added into the proverbial blend in 2005 during a purchase by Beam which brought Brooking to his now metier. Finally, and as of most recently Beam was acquired by the Suntory company in 2014 to become Beam-Suntory which brought the whiskies of Auchentoshan, Bowmore, and Glen Garioch distilleries into Brooking’s presentations. When asked about the acquisitions and additional whisky workload Brooking was very eager to assert, “It was good! In the time I had spent at Laphroaig it was good to get a broader perspective”.
Though the approximate ten thousand miles each month and 35-38 weeks of travel throughout the year Brooking makes promoting his whiskies is enough to exhaust any person, his charisma to hone is own craft and inspire new and old whisky drinkers alike keeps him moving. “We have to make it memorable,” he said while explaining his responsibilities as a brand promoter. “For me it’s always important that the ambassadors find their own story and their own perspective to speak from.”
The tasting this year at the NH festival included whiskies from both the Laphroaig and Bowmore distilleries. While many in the tasting room, myself included, were anticipating the glass of this year’s Cairdeas bottling from Laphroaig, Brooking enthusiastically still made it a point to add in his own Scottish pointed humor with his toasts in between each dram and provided a very passionate lesson of Scotland’s history as it ties to the foundation in the history of whisky itself. “I always go back to the basics, there’s a lot of people who are coming for the first time and we don’t want to be talking over [them]”. Brooking said. Though the smokier flavor styles of both distilleries can sometimes be an acquired taste for some, it may be very safe to say that all in attendance of Brooking's presentations over the weekend found something they enjoyed. Recalling the reactions of those that return for more after their first tasting he humbly added, "you can see the spark in people's eyes, so I've done my job."
It can certainly be a busy lifestyle, but the agenda of an ambassador does not have to be all work and no play. When asked about the last whisky that made him go ‘Wow!’ Brooking instead gave me a very poetic and captivating narrative of a trip he took to Japan to visit one of Laphroaig’s sister distilleries, Hokashu. After describing his train ride up into the mountains during a snow storm Brooking told me of his afternoon spent hiking in the area. Upon returning to his hotel that evening he found the owner of the establishment preparing a fire and food outside in the snow. To Brooking’s surprise, while enjoying a glass of Hokashu 18 year in the wintered wonderland, he realized then that he was the only guest of the entire hotel and that the fire and meal was being made solely for him. “There was this meal, and they had an assistant, [and] just me!” Brooking excitedly said. He went on “I just felt so honored in such a special place.”
Brooking’s account is certainly enough to inspire any malt-enthused adventurer, so quite naturally his story more than resonated with my own passions of whisky and wanderlust, the spirit, no pun intended, that is the entire Whisky Pirate pursuit. His natural presence within a room promoting Laphroaig along with Beam-Suntory’s other single malts are fueled by his dedication to the product and desire to educate others on them. Now with twenty years experience within the industry Brooking’s devotion and passion to whisky continues to have many in line waiting to get a pour and hear a toast from the Master Ambassador himself.
The annual cask-strength bottle of Cairdeas (Gaelic for friendship) is Laphroaig’s thank you to it’s supporting fans and Friends of Laphroaig program by releasing a limited whisky that is different year to year. This year’s 2017 Cairdeas bottle, available now, is a cask strength Quarter Cask, which uses the art of aging in smaller casks to create more intense maturation through greater contact with the American oak. Fully matured in Warehouse No. 1 a soft creamy sweetness is created from the quarter cask that perfectly compliments the signature peatiness of Laphroaig. More information about the full range of whiskies and the Friends of Laphroaig program can be found at www.laphroaig.com
More information about the New Hampshire Highland Games can be found at www.nhscott.org