Tomislav Ruszkowski, a Whiskey Professional of Zagreb

Total Croatia News

Photos by Julio Frangen
Photos by Julio Frangen

Photos by Julio Frangen

February 29, 2020 – There is a corner of Zagreb which is forever Scotland thanks to the whiskey passion of Tomislav Ruszkowski. 

February, not such a cold month of the year anymore, yet whiskey lovers prefer to stay warm while tasting most exclusive and unique whiskeys. At the Bornstein Wine Bar in Zagreb, Tomislav Ruszkowski holds a whiskey evening once a month. In the last meeting, held on the February 24, 2020, the main topic was the Scottish island Islay and the considerable goodness it provides.

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When you enter the wine bar, you enter a different atmosphere: dim lighting, slow music, chatting in the distance, old bottles of wine all around. On each table for each person, there are five glasses carefully filled with various whiskeys, covered with a wooden cap so that whiskeys do not lose their quality. As the evening progresses, Tomislav Ruszkowski explains the content of every glass. In an educative and intriguing way, he talks about the history behind every bottle and barrel. Guests, who are mostly friends of Ruszkowski, try every whiskey, make a comparison between them, comment, and enjoy every breath of those rare specialties.

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During a break in the presentation, I got a chance to talk to Tomislav Ruszkowski personally.  

Where does your love of whiskey come from?

Many years ago, at a Christmas Eve family gathering, my father opened a bottle of Single Malt whiskey. Until that day, we had tried Ballantines, Johnnie Walker, etc., but this fifteen-year-old whiskey was extraordinary. In the year 2003, I started to dig more into this, and that evening was the reason. This whole domain of Single Malt whiskeys has many organoleptic combinations and beauty. But Scottish whiskeys aren’t just that, they are also about the people who are making them, the nature, history, stories…

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Are you self-taught, or did you attend presentations of other professionals?

When I first get involved in this story, there weren’t any presentations I could learn from. But I traveled a lot (I try to go to Scotland at least once a year), so I learned a lot from the owners of the distilleries, I have read a lot of books, and of course, I use the Internet as an inexhaustible source of information. Now I love to attend other professional lectures because there is always room for more knowledge. I know a lot about this topic, but I like to discover additional fine details. The late Silvano Samaroli, the greatest whiskey persona, said he is more attracted to the imperfection of some whiskey than perfection. Because perfect is perfect. Flaws are the things that lead you to new worlds.

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Tell us the story about your presentations in Zagreb and how they started?

The Whiskey Fair here in Zagreb demonstrated that many people are interested in that specific drink. I held a couple of presentations at this Fair, but as the interest grew, I decided to begin my own evenings here in Bornstein. I started with a group of ten people, while now 35 people are the usual number of guests. Of course, there are plenty of topics connected with Scottish whiskeys, so I always try to introduce people to them in an intriguing way. It is a challenge for me to make these presentations interesting enough for people who attend them, especially if they are new to this world. In addition to Zagreb, I have held presentations in Rijeka, Istria, and Italy.

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When in Scotland, which distillery is a must-visit? Do you have a favourite you are always returning to, or do you visit a different distillery every time?

My first journey was to the island Islay, to the distillery Ardberg. We had to change our plane three times, three times the plane was late. There was a terrible storm. So I guess a visit to this distillery will always remain in my memory. But to be honest, the whole island, all of these distilleries produce such high-quality whiskey that it is very hard to choose. 

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Do you have a particular favourite whiskey?

Well, that is hard to say. Today my favourites are the ones we are having here. But if I have to choose, I would go with some Samaroli edition of Laphroaig. The reason lies in the scent that today whiskeys don’t have, for those older whiskeys were produced using different types of yeast and barley. 

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What is the most significant thing for you in whiskey?

Fragrance. You taste whiskey with your nose, mouth, and with the third dimension, which brings you all the flavours that overlap one with another like ocean waves when you swallow the liquor. But the most important thing for me is the fragrance that fills my nose. In this way, I can feel most of the things I like in whiskey. 

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After a short pause, guests returned to their sites and eagerly awaiting the resumption of proceedings. In the end, each guest commented on his favourite number as well as his least favourite at that time. In the late-night hours, which are now cold enough to feel uncomfortable, unless you just tried a couple of whiskeys from the private barrel, I said goodbye to this whiskey world. 

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I am genuinely grateful to Tomislav Ruszkowski for the conversation as well as to Julio Frangen for the great photos. 

If the story got you interested enough in the world of whiskeys, make sure you visit Whisky Fair and Whiskey Leaks that are held every year in Zagreb.


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