Interview with Simon Brooking, Part 2
North American Master Ambassador Laphroaig
Since many of you know that Laphroaig has released some new expressions, I thought it would be a good idea to publish the second part of the interview. For those of you who missed the first part of the interview, you can find it here.
Once again, a big thanks goes to Don Akin, Protector of the Peat, for arranging our meeting. We got together over dinner and, of course, Laphroaig. In this second half of the interview, Simon talks about casks, blends, and beers! So let’s get right into it…
What’s your favorite expression of Laphroaig?
Ah! That’s a tough one! There are so many great ones out there! I love this whisky that we’ve got right here, the Cairdeas 2015. It’s crazy… John Campbell wanted to go with more of an early 19th century style bottling with this whisky- so… 100% floor malted barley, distilled in our smaller spirit stills and then aged in our number 1 warehouse. It’s a lovely whisky. And it’s more of a classic style. You know the more recent ones, last year’s (2014) Amantillado, the year prior, the Port, he was having fun with those, playing around.
How does one get that concept of an early 19th century style?
Because our stills are some of the smaller spirit stills. They are the original size when whisky was legalized in 1823. So, the history is there. It’s not like we had to dig for it and be like ‘Let’s make it (in the early 19th century style)!’ There are 4 stills. The fourth is the largest and twice the size and that was added in the late 1960’s. So the spirit that’s produced from that is a more meaty style of Laphroaig and different from the smaller stills. We marry those two spirits to create the Laphroaig that we have today. So this one is just in the smaller stills. A lovely whisky… and for John, he felt it was more of that classical style of the whisky that we were producing back in the 1800’s.
(Different styles) puts everything in context. We had somebody at one of the tastings saying ‘I love the 10. Why do you have to make it all so confusing to do these other bottlings? Why should you do that?’ Because we can! Because we can create a whole wide range of flavor profiles with just playing with time in the barrel in different types of barrels. Yes, for some people who don’t want to make those kinds of decisions, it may be overwhelming. But for the others, you know… if you look at the selection here, at the back bar, it becomes like wine… then you’re like a kid in a sweet shop and you’re like ‘Let’s play! Let’s see what other flavors these whiskies can produce and how they age… and how do they taste?! And people become excited about them. And they want to try them. And they want to try the variety. They love, they thrive on that variety rather than them all being pigeon holed into just one flavor. It’s a journey… I think that trying to make people understand that journey… and there are a lot of stories in those journeys. We talked about the 2015 Cairdeas. The 18 year… just spending 18 years sitting in a bourbon cask. And that produces a different story.
So outside of the Laphroaig line, what’s your favorite whisky?
Oh boy… Basil Hayden. I do like the Basil Hayden. I like the spicy quality. I like the rye. I like the rye whiskies more so than the higher corn mash blend. I like a rye. To me, it’s more similar to single malts. Because of my time with the Dalmore, I like the Dalmore Cigar Malt, the Dalmore 32 yr (…) Amazing whisky!. From my back to my Diageo days, Talisker a great dram! And Springbank, 21 year… There are some iconic whiskies out there… the Glenfarclas! You know, what the family does at Glenfarclas is they create amazing whiskies. I mean, I could go on! There are all these… Auchentoshen Three Wood… love it! That’s one, really, I kind of grew up on in the whisky industry. And here I get to represent it now which is really kind of exciting!
What about blends?
I like Teachers because of the malt content. Being higher malt content, it’s like a single malt drinker. You know, you don’t find it as easily here in the US because most of it is in Brazil and India! In Brazil, the biggest drink is TLC- Teachers, Lime and Cola. Delicious! There’s a lot of Laphroaig and a lot of Ardmore in it!
What about outside of whisky?
Beers… I like the heavier porters (but) I like the refreshing pilsners because I’ve been sipping Laphroaig all day, I want something light… a little bit lighter in style.
So, final question… everyone wants to know… How does one get a job like yours?
If you are interested in the business, get involved in the business. With as many micro- breweries today as there are, learn how to make beer. Understand how the basics are made. And that’s a big help. And there are more and more distilleries in the US and you could certainly get a job. And there is a better chance today to get a job than 10 years ago in the US, depending on the market you’re in. You know Washington State’s got 30+ distilleries. But work at a brewery, if you can’t work at a distillery. Learn how to make beer. Because it is a very short step from beer to whisky. And it’s such a key factor in the flavor of your spirit, the beer.
(A chemistry background is helpful)… Betsy Williamson, our distillery manager, who came to Islay in the 1930’s, she had a chemistry background. And that was part of reason she eventually became the distillery manager in ’54 because she had that basic background, that foundation.
Simon, thank you so much for your time. I can’t wait to get to the Laphroaig Distillery and see my square foot of land.
It’s waiting for you, Jerry. And apparently the grass is getting very tall and the neighbors are complaining! Come cut your grass! (Don chimes in… ‘We’re gonna send you a bill very soon!’)