Bourbon is a barrel-aged American whiskey made primarily from corn and a great entry-level spirit for beginners. On the tongue, it’s smoother and more approachable than Scotch because of its sweeter taste and softer mouthfeel. Its depth of flavour is subtle yet complex — with hints of vanilla, oak, fruit, spice and honey — making it a great liquid for cocktail blends like a Manhattan, Mint Julep or Old Fashioned.
So why isn’t bourbon more revered, like Scotch, by spirit connoisseurs? A lot of it has to do with marketing, says Stuart Fear, the Asian brand ambassador for Brown-Forman, globally the fifth largest spirit distributor focusing on premium American whiskeys like Jack Daniel’s, Woodford Reserve and Old Forester.
Here in March to promote Brown-Forman as the official alcohol partner for Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, Fear says: “I think the main reason is the lack of education. Over the past decade or more, much has been done to grow the Scotch category. The ambassadors and marketers have done a fantastic job, but unfortunately, it has also led to consumers perceiving other spirits as inferior.
“All whiskeys have their unique characteristics and flavour profiles. To immediately dismiss any category is to miss out on great whiskey!”
See also: Savouring South Africa’s finest
Fear’s job as the face of the American-owned spirits company is to educate the public on the differences between amber-coloured liquids. “The best part of my job is the people — sharing my passion for whiskey with others daily is truly an honour. I get to meet people from all walks of life, backgrounds, careers, and nationalities, who are all brought together for a single shared love — whiskey,” he enthuses.
Based in Taiwan, the Scottish-English spirit ambassador is fluent in Mandarin and lives in Taipei with his Taiwanese wife and two young daughters. He shares how he fell into this profession and how he’s helping to popularise American whiskeys among Asian drinkers.
You were born and raised in United Kingdom. How did you end up in Taiwan?
See also: Six biggest ways wine will change
I was studying in the UK and started questioning if the course I was studying was really for me and what I would do next (I jokingly call it my early mid-life crisis). I decided to take a gap year to travel and learn something new. I had a Taiwanese friend who recommended learning Mandarin in Taiwan; with him there, it was easier to settle down. Before I knew it, I was in Taiwan learning Mandarin.
One year led to two years, and then I returned to the UK, where I applied for a Chinese Language degree. After two years of learning in an environment where Mandarin was not a native language, my level was too advanced. So, I began applying to Taiwan universities and was blessed to be accepted into National Chengchi University to study Chinese Literature.
What led you to join the alcohol industry?
Growing up in the UK and even being a student there, I had never really heard about whiskey being appreciated and studied to the degree I see now. You see it everywhere after moving to Taiwan, where whiskey is the biggest imported spirit.
People asked me about Scotch whisky, and I could not answer. It was then that I felt a duty to learn about whiskeys and be able to share more about them with others.
I read books and blogs, watched documentaries and YouTube videos, and attended as many tasting events as possible. The more I learnt, the more I loved, and this ultimately developed my passion for sharing Scotland’s greatest export with others.
How did you get to work with Brown-Forman?
For more lifestyle, arts and fashion trends, click here for Options Section
After two years at Pernod Ricard Taiwan as a whisky ambassador, I made a name for myself in the market and sought new challenges.
It was very serendipitous that when I was jogging one evening, I received a call from the general manager of Brown-Forman Taiwan asking if I would be interested in taking the role of regional brand ambassador for Asia. I had always secretly been a big fan of GlenDronach, Benriach, and Woodford Reserve, so it was an opportunity I couldn’t refuse. So far, I’ve enjoyed five long years at Brown-Forman.
What is it about Scotch that you love?
Simply, it is the magic of Scotch whisky. You have all these distilleries using methods discovered hundreds of years ago to create a spirit enjoyed worldwide. Every distillery has a unique and distinct character, even when using identical methods.
Take our smallest Scotch distillery, Glenglassaugh. Sitting on Scotland’s north-east coast, the whisky spends all its days breathing in the north-sea air. As a result, the already tropical fruit and luscious vanilla-laden whisky develop an additional layer of sea salt. You could copy the production techniques at Glenglassaugh, but you would still never be able to replicate the unique whisky made there.
Why do people look the other way when it comes to bourbon?
Many compare Scotch to bourbon, but it would be like comparing apples to oranges. The ethos of making bourbon is different; the regulations, the ingredients, the production, and the casks it matures in are all different. For one, bourbon is made with at least 51% corn, giving it a sweeter taste profile, while whiskeys are made from fermented grain, which results in smoky, malty flavours.
For a bourbon newbie, what would you recommend I start with?
Not to be biased, but it must be Woodford Reserve. For many newcomers, the taste of bourbon can sometimes be overpowering. Woodford Reserve is much more rounded and refined on the palate than a triple-distilled bourbon. Also, having one of the longest fermentation times in whiskey creates a complex flavour profile that is truly a spectacle for the senses.
What’s the best way to drink a bourbon?
Any way you like. There are no rules for drinking any type of whiskey. If you are tasting bourbon, try it neat first and then add a drop or two of water to open it up and reveal the more complex aromas.
If you just want to sit down and take a break with a glass in hand, drink it however you like; add ice, add some soda, or even make a cocktail such as a Whiskey Sour or Old Fashioned. Never let anyone tell you how to enjoy your whiskey; never be afraid to get creative.