It is a credit to Robert Hicks that when we asked arguably the best three whisky writers on the planet to write something about him they all responded immediately. This is what they had to say:
MICHAEL JACKSON: As the trade of whisky writer became recognised, I frequently found myself on tasting panels with blenders.
They tend to work very quickly. I don’t. Whenever we met on a panel, Robert would complain that I was slowing down the judging. He would have other complaints about my technique
At first, Robert would become genuinely impatient, then it evolved into a routine – I think. What made this especially piquant was the fact that at the end of the tasting, Robert and I tended to have arrived at remarkably similar conclusions. The more he criticised my methods, the more I pointed out the similarity of results
I enormously enjoy these exchanges, and I think Robert does too. We're both just back from Whisky Live in Tokyo, where we had the odd sparring session
CHARLIE MACLEAN: My enduring memory of Robert Hicks was when I was interviewing him for this magazine several years ago. I asked him about how he maintained the consistency of Ballantine’s and Teacher’s from batch to batch
"Do you save a reference sample from theprevious batches?" I asked. He looked at me pityingly
"You have not been listening to what I told you about how whisky changes in the bottle. Even in the sealed bottle it changes slightly over time. We require unsold bottles to be returned for disgorging after five years (it used to be three years). Once the bottle is opened and air gets in, the change is much more rapid
"So there is no way we can rely on samples from previous batches. We rely on our noses, on our memory of what the blends should smell like.
Robert has taken on a new role. I understand Sandy Hislop, his assistant of many years standing, has gone with Ballantine’s to Chivas Bros
I wonder what the new owners of Teacher’s are going to do to ensure consistency...
DAVE BROOM: Great blends need a great blender and Robert is just that. He ruled his blending room like a benevolent dictator. No detailof whisky production escaped his notice
A visit to his control tower was a guided tour into the deepest secrets of whisky making. He was in control of them all. A perfectionist, he realised that whisky was a composite of a myriad of smaller details and he ensured that he was on topof all of them. His love and enthusiasm for his subject never seemed to wane, those visits would always be filled with a container-load of glasses being passed to you... some to back up his argument, others simply because he felt they were wonderful drams. They always were
He has travelled the world, building the reputation of not just his blends, but blended Scotch as a whole. The ease with which he took on the mantle of educator and entertainer has made him the perfect ambassador for one of his old charges, a brand which he has given a new lease of life to with one of the most outrageous brand extensions for many years
I will never forget his expression when the door of the distillery warehouse was flung open to reveal a mass of tiny quarter casks
It was this sheer enthusiasm for whisky and willingness to try new things which made his new bosses snap him up. He is a master of blending, a master of whisky