Expert argues superiority of Scotch over whiskey


The merits of Irish whiskey versus Scotch whisky is an age old debate that's unlikely to be resolved any time soon. Even expert opinion depends largely on who's giving it.

Simon Brooking, for example, is a Scot first, a Laphroaig (Scotch whisky) Master Ambassador second. Even though he represents Beam Global Spirits & Wine Inc., which also produces brands of vodka, tequila and some Irish whiskeys, his preference for single malt Scotch is kind of inborn.

"Apart from the fact Scotch whisky tastes better, there are stylistic differences," he says. "We have Laphroaig, the biggest, smokiest, robust whisky at one end of the spectrum, but even within a distillery, there's a range of flavors. That's why I encourage side by side tasting. You really can find something for everyone to like."

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He'll be guiding just such a tasting Wednesday evening at Greate Bay Country Club in Somers Point, where guests can compare the fruits of his homeland to those presented by Irish whiskey expert Joanne Ryan. And he won't mind if you end up disagreeing with him. Every liquor has its place, in Brooking's opinion.

For example, whisky produced in the farmland regions of Scotland - floral, honey-sweet tones from the heather-rich highlands; grassy notes from the lowlands - matches well with beef, lamb and venison, while the sea salt flavor of whisky produced on the islands goes better with seafood. Drizzle a 10-year aged Laphroaig over oysters and you have instant smoked oysters, he says. Or swish it around a martini glass before adding the vodka and vermouth for added flavor.

And Irish whiskey? Well, it can't be ruined by adding some soda for a cocktail. But Brooking will allow its lighter dimension works when sipping it alongside a pint of Guinness as a boilermaker, and it does help wash down pub fare such as shepherd's pie or fish and chips.

As Beam's ambassador, Brooking has spent about 16 years traveling around sharing information on everything from the distilling process (A-merican bourbon barrels are recycled for use in the old countries) to drinking techniques (position the glass further into your mouth so the whisky touches the middle of your tongue, rather than the tip, so you get more flavor and less alcohol "burn").

He's proud of the "history and heritage" of Scotch whisky - "We've been making whisky in Scotland for 700 years now, so we've had some time to perfect it," he points out - but he's not stodgy about it. "You should add as much water as you need to find the flavor and enjoy it," he adds. "Too often people think you have to drink it straight up. But if you go to Scotland, they'd be surprised if you don't add at least some water. Whisky comes from water; water is your friend, it's there to help."

He also helps promote the Friends of Laphroaig program, which offers a brochure with tasting notes and a certificate naming the recipient "the proud owner of a square foot of Scotland." And if you should feel inclined to visit your friends across the pond, "we put you in a pair of boots and give you a flag from your country and take a picture of you staking your claim," he says. "So if the economy tanks here, you've got your own place to live in Scotland."

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Whisky Wednesday Master Class

Featuring Simon Brooking and Joanne Ryan held 6 p.m. Wednesday at Greate Bay Country Club, 901 Mays Landing Road, Somers Point. Cost $49.99. Seating limited, call 888-601-8463.

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