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Take your senses on a guided tour of Scotland

Beatrice Smith

‘National Whisky Ambassador’ might sound a bit like a literal dream job or even what someone might jokingly call themselves at a pub.

But for Simon McGoram, Kiwi born whisky lover and National Whisky Ambassador for UK whisky giant, Diageo, it’s not a tall tale, although his story does begin in a pub.

“I started off working in a pub in the UK and did some travel around Scotland,” explains Simon. “I stumbled upon a distillery called Oban and I guess that’s where my love for whisky began!”

Simon’s love of whisky brought him to work for Diageo, which represents such legendary (and delicious) brands as Talisker, Royal Lochnagar and Lagavulin – over 25 whisky brands in total – and it’s Diageo’s delicious stable that Simon be bringing to Canberra when he hosts a Whisky Tasting and Food Pairing Masterclass at Old Parliament House (OPH) on Friday 11 August.

As Simon walks me through his career it’s obvious that he’s well positioned as an educator, having seen all sides of the industry from travelling as a bartender through the UK, to writing for Fairfax Media and Bartender Magazine, and even opening his own bar in Bondi. But it’s whisky that has become his passion.

According to Simon, Scotch whisky came from humble beginnings to become one of the most beloved spirits the world over, explaining that in the late 18th century the most popular alcoholic beverage in Scotland were brandy, then rum, then gin.

“For a long time, Scotch whisky was the underdog because it was a bootleg industry,” he says.

“It didn’t really factor into the equation until much later, such was the inconsistency of the product at this time, but thanks to a lot of ingenuity over the last century we’ve been able to take over the world.”

“Take over the world” is right. Wood-panelled, candlelit whisky bars have been cropping up everywhere recently, but as Simon puts it, “you can’t think of whisky without thinking of Scotland”.

It’s these classic Scotch whiskies that Simon will be incorporating into his tastings at OPH as he shows you how to properly taste and pair whisky.

The evening, held in the original 1920’s Members’ Bar at Old Parliament House, will be the perfect opportunity for whisky lovers to indulge—but also an opportunity for those who find whisky challenging to discover another side of this complex spirit.

The night will kick off with a charcuterie grazing station, carefully curated to enhance the age and flavours of each whisky and designed to match smoothly so as not to overpower the aromas.

In total, six different whisky varieties aged between 10-16 years will be featured throughout the evening with each accompanied by hors d’oeuvres matched expertly by Old Parliament House Executive Chef Roulan Habi.

Simon promises to “entertain and educate” across the evening and may even tell you the story of an innovative grocery store owner from Kilmarnoch, Scotland who had the idea to take a bunch of “quite rugged” whiskies and blend them together under his own brand creating, as Simon puts it, “something greater than the sum of its parts”. Today, the brand is known as Johnnie Walker, another jewel in the Diageo crown.

As a little teaser for the night, we asked Simon why foodies should even attempt to pair whisky with their meals. As Simon explains, it’s because whisky can go where no wine has gone before.

“Food and wine is the traditional accompaniment, but I think we often overlook other [pairings] like whisky and spirits. I find Scotch whisky works really well with quite rich foods – especially fatty or oily foods.

“Talisker whisky, from the Isle of Skye, works quite well with blue cheese – I think whisky is a lot more versatile with food than we give it credit for. It has the ability to stand up to bolder flavours, unlike a wine.”

the essentials

What: Whisky Tasting and Food Pairing
When: Friday 11 August from 6.30pm-9.30pm
Where: The Members’ Bar at Old Parliament House, Parkes
Tickets: $110 per person, book now via Eventbrite
18+ only, please bring your ID
More information: moadoph.gov.au/events/whisky-tasting-and-food-pairing

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Beatrice Smith

Bea loves that her job as HerCanberra’s Editorial Coordinator involves eating, drinking and interviewing people - sometimes simultaneously. The master of HerCanberra’s publishing schedule, she’s usually found hunched over a huge calendar muttering to herself about content balance. Otherwise you’ll find her at the movies, ordering a cheese board or ordering a cheese board at the movies. More about the Author

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