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A modern day whisky bard

We catch up with Beam Suntory's Simon Brooking as he shares his story on "elevating the whisky experience" through education and entertainment

Simon Brooking Beam Suntory

When did you decide you wanted to work in the whisk(e)y industry?

I began my career 20 years ago working for Dewars. I trained with master blender David Howie and presented in New York City.

Tell us about how you got to where you are today with Beam Suntory

I had been working with Diageo’s Classic Malts and the Johnnie Walker range. I was interested in branching out and working on a brand with growth potential. Jim Beam Brands was looking for an ambassador for The Dalmore.

It would mean shifting from a whisky company with a huge portfolio to a company that was primarily promoting one distillery. I liked the opportunity for the singular focus. I also got to work with one of the best master blender/ ambassadors in the business – Richard Paterson. He showed me how to “sell” the brand by making the product front and center.

After The Dalmore was sold, we acquired Laphroaig and The Ardmore and I was set. I am humbled by the people I have worked with over the last 10 years. It has been an honour to learn at the feet of master distillers John Campbell and Alistair Longwell. By sharing their knowledge and passion, they gave me the opportunity to truly elevate my game.

What does your role as scotch whisky brand ambassador at Beam Suntory entail?

I cover North America primarily but I have also worked in England, Sweden, Mexico, Japan, Ireland, France and the Canary Islands.

We have seventeen major markets that participate in a program called “The Protectors of the Peat”. The protectors are members of the Beam Suntory sales force who have been trained to represent our peated portfolio (Laphroaig, Bowmore, The Ardmore, Connemara, Hakushu).

I train the protectors and execute programming in their markets. Travelling more than 10,000 miles a month, the markets I focus on are – California, Portland, Seattle, Minnesota, Colorado, Missouri, Texas, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Washington DC, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Georgia and Florida.
A typical visit will incorporate consumer and industry sampling/trainings, bottle signings and special events.

You are well known for representing Laphroaig, but what other brands do you represent from Beam Suntory’s portfolio?

I also represent Auchentoshan, Bowmore, The Ardmore and Glen Garioch. I will also speak on the Irish whisky portfolio with Connemara, Kilbeggan and Tyrconnell. Most recently I spent some time in Jarnac, France training with the Courvoisier cognac master blenders.

You are widely known for your entertaining and informative ambassadorial style – how important do you think this approach is in getting your message across?

I learned from the likes of Richard Paterson and Jim McEwen. The whisky business is a very competitive business with a lot of brands fighting for shelf space. My job is to ensure our brands are top of mind for the consumer and retailer. Scotch whisky is a passionate product made by passionate men and women with passionate followers. Scotch whisky is about origins. I love talking about Scotland-where I come from, the land, the heritage, the people. 

When you are not spreading the word about whisky, what do you like to get up to in your spare time?

I enjoy spending time at my home in New York City with my family and tending my garden and our chickens. I am an avid golfer and enjoy spending time in nature when I can get away.

You were recently named Scotch whisky brand ambassador of the year in Whisky Magazine’s Icons of Whisky Awards 2016 – what do you think makes you stand out from other brand ambassadors in the industry?

All Scotch whisky has a story. It is about time and place.  I think of myself perhaps as a modern day bard. Travelling from town to town, it is my job to educate and entertain those that are willing to listen to the glory and benefits of the water of life. Through a story, a poem, a joke or a song, I try to elevate the whisky experience to celebrate a new time and place.

What plans do you have for the future of the brands you represent?

With the Suntory acquisition, I now have a larger portfolio that represents a larger portion of Scotland. More and more whisky evangelists are making the journey to Scotland. We now have the opportunity to introduce these people to the depth and diversity that whisky and Scotland has to offer.

Growth is important and with the support of Suntory, I believe there are some exciting developments on the horizon for Laphroaig and our single malt portfolio.

As an ambassador, what importance do you place on educating both the trade and consumer on history, production, legislation etc?

Scotch whisky is much maligned by the general public. It is the bottle they drank when they broke into their father’s liquor cabinet when they were 12 and swore never to touch it ever again. It is extremely important to educate the consumers on the variety and versatility of single malt Scotch whisky. For the industry, it is important to teach the retailers and on premise accounts the value of Scotch whisky in their establishment.

The perception of Scotch whisky as elitist dissuades many consumers from even trying our products. This is why the Scotch ambassador position is so important. We are the gatekeepers and we must provide a positive first experience. If we make Scotch pleasurable, we have created a customer for life.

For the hard core fans, Beam Suntory’s Peated Malts of Distinction offer a deep dive into the smoky world of peated whisky. My peated seminar breaks apart the myth that all peated whiskies are one smoky dimension. We celebrate the different flavours of smoke and region.
What can we look forward to from Beam Suntory 2016?

We are launching Laphroaig Lore, an exciting new addition to our portfolio by distillery manager, John Campbell. Global Travel Retail is selling some exclusive bottlings from the Beam Suntory Portfolio – Laphroaig An Cuan Mor, Laphroaig QA Cask and Laphroaig PX Cask ,The Ardmore Traditional bottling and The Ardmore Legacy. There are some excellent expressions being offered from Hibiki and Makers Mark as well.

25 April 2016