Introduction My name is Millie Milliken and I’ve been a journalist for 10 years, working for publications including The Good Food Guide, SquareMeal and most recently Imbibe UK magazine as deputy editor. I’ve spent the last year freelancing for the likes of Master of Malt, Club Oenologique and Whisky Magazine, as well as working for The Drinks Trust charity. I won the IWSC Spirits Communicator of the Year 2022 award and am embarking on some new whisky-related projects in 2022.
Q&A: Can you remember your first dram? I definitely would have started on the Jack Daniels and cokes as a teenager (probably at a festival straight out of a coke bottle) before I remember the first dram that actually made an impression on me – and that was a Laphroaig. I can’t recall the age but I’ve never tasted anything like it before and the peaty smoke flavours took me by surprise. I can’t say it was love at first taste but clearly, it stuck with me!
What attracted you to the industry? I kind of fell into this industry. I started with a love of wine and got my level 2 WSET award just before I joined Imbibe. It was through my time there though that I got under the skin of the spirits and whisky industry and I’ve not really looked back. Now, I love discovering the history of distilleries, learning about the people who make them what they are and, of course, seeing those distilleries in the flesh. Nothing quite compares to standing among those stills with the people who run them. And I’d argue the smell of a whisky warehouse is hard to beat.
Can you share some memorable moments of your career or with whisky? I’ve had such a varied career that also involves a lot of things other than whisky. I’ve been on safari in Kenya (and thrown out of a plane); gone caving in Barbados; visited Chile and its beautiful pisco distilleries; taken a surprise helicopter ride on a trip to Gleneagles on my birthday… I suppose with whisky, visiting the iconic distilleries is always a memorable experience. Most recently I was at the Glenmorangie distillery for the first time and I won’ be forgetting that in a hurry.
What advice would you give to someone who is new to whisky? Ask questions. I think whisky can be quite intimidating for people who haven’t been exposed to it before but it is such an open industry full of people who want to help people learn about this category. Get your basics down in terms of definitions and get tasting! If you’re passionate, the rest will come. It’s also worth noting that learning about whisky is an endless exercise. I learn something new every time I visit a distillery.
How much should someone spend on a bottle of whisky? However much they want! There is so much good whisky out there at affordable prices. I think the ‘the older and more expensive the better’ approach to whisky is misguided. Be led by your flavour preference and take it from there. There are some amazing whiskies out there for £30 a bottle – but sure, if you’ve got more in the bank then go for it. Just ask the question: ‘why does it cost this much?’. And make sure you drink it!
If you could only drink one whisky for the rest of your life which one would it be? I can’t answer this question. My favourite whisky depends on my mood, my surroundings, what day I’ve had… Drinking whisky for me is about exploring and discovering new flavours, not drinking the same whisky over and over again.
Who do you consider to be a whisky hero? Dr Rachel Barrie. She was one of the first people I became aware of in the whisky industry and I think her career has just been astonishing. I find the art of blending fascinating and I think most people would agree that she is one of the – if not the – best in the business. I remember trying Benriach when she was involved in the relaunch and it was a real education.
What is your favourite whisky bar in the UK and globally? I live in London so I’m very lucky to have Milroy’s at my disposal. Not only is their selection of whiskies incredible, but I think their approach is so refreshing and the staff are incredibly knowledgeable. I can grab a quick highball out of the tap or sit with a dram among people who aren’t all whisky nerds, which is so refreshing.
Desert Island dram? I’m going to take this literally and if I was actually on a desert island it would have to be the Glenlivet Caribbean Reserve. I love this whisky with its beautiful banana and caramel notes and it is such an easy-drinking whisky. Perfect on a hot day or to keep me warm once the temperature drops.
What do you enjoy drinking when you aren’t having a whisky? I’m a Martini obsessive. It’s always my first drink at dinner and I have a 5pm Martini every Friday (usually) without fail. Gin is most often the base with an olive garnish, or a Gibson if I know somewhere that serves a good one. To be honest, the most insane the garnish the better – Pickled Onion Monster Munch at The George is the one to beat right now.
What are the future challenges for the whisky industry? I think a constant challenge for the industry is accessibility. There are still barriers for people who are new to the category and I’d like to think communicators like myself are helping to break those down. Whisky doesn’t have to be difficult to understand or intimidating or even a huge expense (for those lucky enough to have a disposable income). It can be fun, exciting and playful – isn’t that what it’s all about?
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