Liam Hiller’s career in whisky was never confined to the UK: he started out as a writer for Whisky Foundation, which sells Scotch whisky to connoisseurs around the world. It was through this that he met Makiyo Masa, founder of Japanese whisky retailer Dekanta, and was given the opportunity to write for them. At Dekanta Liam had the chance to further his whisky education, and he explains that this was where he "became really passionate about whisky, and wanted to learn as much about it as possible". Still working with Dekanta, now as head of whisky and content, Liam’s passion for creating stories and bringing together distilleries and independent bottlers continues at the forefront of the Japanese whisky industry.
Ichiro’s Malt is one of my favourite whisky producers, firstly because they produce amazing whisky, but secondly because of the way they go about it. They’re always looking to innovate. One thing they do that impresses me is how open they are about what’s in their bottles: even before the new labelling standards came into Japanese whisky, they were labelling things as world blended whiskies when half of the industry was labelling them as Japanese whisky. The other reason is where I first tried this whisky. It was in a tiny bar in a back alley in Kyoto, and it was just the combination of an incredible whisky – complex, balanced, smooth – and sitting in a bar in this ancient city, surrounded by friends and colleagues. Every time I pick up that dram it takes me back there, and I think that’s one of the powerful things with whisky.
12 Years Old
I’ve been to Japan several times and visited many distilleries there, but in terms of the actual visit and distillery experience, Hakushu was hands-down the winner. It sits high in the mountains in the middle of a forest. It’s some of the freshest air I’ve ever breathed in my life. It’s just a mad experience. Somehow they have managed to get all of those surroundings – the smell of the trees, the fresh air, the flowing water that you can hear surrounding you – into the bottle. It’s such a crisp, refreshing, floral, natural, clean-tasting whisky. This is a bold statement, but I’d probably say it’s the cleanest-tasting whisky I’ve ever tried.
I feel like we’ve managed to pair the Japanese and Scotch whiskies really well. Every time I drink it, I get the whole experience, which is brilliant in itself, and then I find myself pulling out the individual components. I like being able to do that with a whisky. You get the Scotch and the Japanese, and they work perfectly in tandem, but you can taste them both on their own. Obviously, I’m very proud of the whisky because I was heavily involved in the creation of it, and the whisky tastes and looks amazing. For me, it’s a win-win. A perfect bottle to decorate my desert island shelter once I’ve finished it.
Cameronbridge (Unknown Independent Bottling)
35 Years Old
I was at Limburg Whisky Festival, a colleague passed me a dram and said; “you need to try this.” It’s one of my favourite whiskies I’ve ever tried. I was amazed that this grain whisky could taste as good as any malt I’d ever tried, blended or single. It tasted like apricot juice. From that point on, I made an effort to learn more about grain whiskies and try more. Unfortunately, when I asked my colleague what Cameronbridge it was or what independent bottling desk it came from, he couldn’t tell me. I was kind of hoping that if I were to go to a desert island and say I wanted a Cameronbridge 35, the right one would turn up in front of me.
Springbank (The Maltman)
24 Years Old
This opened my eyes to just how good independent bottlings can be, and this was quite early when I got involved in the whisky industry. I’d tried independent bottlings, but not a huge amount of times, and when I tasted this Springbank 24, I was blown away. It was earthy, smoky, fruity, all of these things. Really complex, but it all just worked together. It was an incredible experience just drinking it.
I ended up settling on a fishing rod. That isn’t because I’d be starving on a desert island – I genuinely enjoy fishing. I was going to pick a football, but kept getting pictures of Tom Hanks talking to that ball in Cast Away!