People

Blackadder ploughs on

In the latest of our series celebrating some of whisky's lesser known personalities,Dominic Roskrow talks to Robin Tucek,owner of independent whisky company Blackadder.
By Dominic Roskrow
If you’re of the view that the current economic climate is making life tough for small independent operators and they’re being squeezed out by the big boys, you should have a word with Robin Tucek.He is the owner of independent bottler Blackadder and co-owner of Clydesdale AB, the leading specialist import company in Sweden, and despite the doom and gloom elsewhere, his business is booming. For him the reasons are pretty simple: he and his partners set out their stall early on and have stayed focused ever since,working hard but never forgetting that ultimately whisky is all about good friends and good company.“”The achievement for Blackadder comes from ploughing our own furrow,”he says.“Blackadder was established from the very beginning with the simple rules of bottling single casks,never chilling or otherwise heavily filtering our whiskies and never adding colour to our spirits. I have always liked to think that our whiskies and personality is colourful enough without having to add to it.“What I enjoy about what I am doing is the same as always. I enjoy the opportunity to travel and make friends in so many different countries around the world.” And travel Tucek does.Blackadder sells to more than 20 countries across the world and there is a particular focus on Sweden where he and his Swedish business partner Thomas Sundblom represent a whole range of whisky companies including Douglas Laing, Bladnoch, Sazerac, Compass Box and Dewar Rattray. Blackadder has offices in Stockholm and Edinburgh but is based in Tunbridge Wells in southern England.Business is thriving and Clydesdale AB reported a 20 per cent rise in year on year sales in 2008, a trend that has continued in to this year. Blackadder’s bottlings tend to sell out almost immediately. The sort of whiskies he has always sold are now in vogue and where the interest among whisky enthusiasts increasingly lies.For Tucek being a small independent is a huge advantage.He believes that smaller, leaner and more flexible companies are more likely to survive the harsh economic conditions than some of the larger ones.“In some ways it is always difficult being small,”he says.“It is a bit like being in a school where there is the school bully hiding around the corner. However, just as in school there are always some bigger boys that stand up to the bully with you.“I don’t believe there is a whisky shortage at the moment. There is plenty of it sitting around in Scotland and Ireland. It is the hoarding and restrictive practices being run by certain companies that is stifling choice. They are trying to make the marketplace more focused on a small number of major brands at the expense of diversity and variety that the true whisky lover seeks.“The customer sees through ideas that are targeted towards profits. We only bottle something if we think it is worth bottling.“That’s the best thing about being small. You don’t have to bottle what is not up to your standards as there are no institutional shareholders looking over your shoulder and demanding ever increasing year on year profits. For Blackadder enough is enough. I want to enjoy my life and my friends as well as my whisky.” A former drinks writer and coauthor of the highly successful The Malt Whisky File, Tucek is not scared to voice strong opinions – he has been a leading critic of the introduction of the term ‘blended malt’ for instance. But you also get a sense that he’s happiest staying above the fray and getting the most out of his life.“Naturally the whiskies give me a lot of pleasure,”he says, “especially the serendipity of discovering a truly great cask. But whisky would be nothing without people and conversation and the crack between friends old and new. I never enjoy drinking whisky without a good measure of conversation. I can take or leave the water, according to the whisky and my mood, but not the crack.Life is too short to be too serious for too long.” PROFILE Home: Tunbridge Wells and Stockholm Age: Too old to die young Currently drinking: Ramlosa Citrusd – lemon-flavoured water Favourite whiskies: Caol Ila, Laphroaig, Glenfarclas, Highland Park, Clynelish, Talisker, Aultmore, Glen Grant, Longmorn, Macallan and Glenrothes but in no particular order. Also Kilchoman because I’ve already tasted it and it’s brilliant for a first release.Favourite distilleries: The ones that make you feel welcome no matter who you are. It is more difficult for a malt to have an individual personality when its birth place has none!