Interview with Millie Milliken Community Manager of Drinks Community and IWSC’s Spirits Communicator of the Year

Let’s talk of your beginnings, how did you decide to be a journalist and how did you choose to write about such a specific sector like the drinks industry and its products?

I used to work in the tearoom in the Coach and Horses on Greek Street straight out of university serving vintage afternoon tea by day and dinner service at night. I’d worked in hospitality all through my teens and it was the first port of call when I graduated. I used to host the Private Eye for their fortnightly lunch meeting and while they talked shop I’d listen in and decided that what all these middle-aged blokes did sounded pretty fun. 

I started writing for free for magazines when I wasn’t working, first as stage editor for a student mag called The Book then as London editor for a vintage magazine called Pretty Nostalgic. The film editor at The Book had just finished a temping role at The Good Food Guide and asked if I’d be interested taking over – I jumped at the chance and got the job (which mainly involved filing menus sent in by hundreds of restaurants and loading them into the system). 

From there I got a job at restaurant review magazine SquareMeal in its Venues & Events department as editorial assistant and over 7 years I worked my way up to acting editor covering food and drink at events, festivals, weddings and lots of other wild and wonderful things. I loved writing about food and events but it was always the drinks I was most interested in. I got my level 1 and 2 WSET Wine qualifications and after a hefty stint at SquareMeal I decided to move discipline and embark on a managing editor role at Imbibe UK – I haven’t looked back since. 

What do you love most about the drinks industry? And is there anything you believe the industry should improve?

I love the people you get to meet. I've made some amazing friends during my time in the industry and been shown incredible generosity from people behind bars, other journalists, PRs, brands... I've never known an industry as supportive as the drinks industry. From a hospitality side of things, staff welfare is always top of the list. It's amazing that an industry that is based in making people feel welcome isn't always as kind to its own. From a brand side, being more accessible. Yes, making wine, beer spirits etc is an incredibly skilled job - but if people don't feel like they belong in that space, there's something wrong.

"Being made redundant, in the middle of a pandemic – at Christmas – when you’re a writer for an industry that is on its knees… that was terrifying. But, it also forced me to take the leap into freelance life which I’d always wanted to do."

These last couple of years have been really difficult for the industry, and you are an example of perseverance in face of adversity. After a difficult year in 2020, you end up being awarded IWSC's Spirits Communicator of the Year in 2021. What would you say to anyone who is facing similar difficulties?

Being made redundant, in the middle of a pandemic – at Christmas – when you’re a writer for an industry that is on its knees… that was terrifying. But, it also forced me to take the leap into freelance life which I’d always wanted to do.

And that would be my advice. Look at the situation you’re in and use it as a chance to take a step that might be frightening but that you would never had taken otherwise. I’d have never left my position at Imbibe in 2020 had I been given the option to stay. But I didn’t have that option, so I went full-throttle into something I thought was years away. And, well, 2021 was the most successful year for me ever professionally. 

I’d also say that if anyone offers you help or even just a chat about your career, take it. Lots of people in the industry got in touch when I lost my job and I took them all up on their offers of advice, calls, introductions and emails. Some of them, a year later, I’m now doing work for or would class as friends. This industry is about the people – talk to as many as possible. You never know who will remember you. 

At the beginning of 2020 you’ve been appointed Drinks Community Manager, quite a different role from your previous work experiences. Could you tell us what appealed you about the role?

I loved the idea of working for a charity that supports our industry and the Drinks Community role combined my love of bringing industry people together as well as creating resources and initiatives to help them in their careers. I've also always loved being on the trade side of the industry and with a lot of my freelance gigs being more consumer-facing, it was the perfect role to allow me to keep one foot in.

The Drinks Community is turning one year this month, congratulations! How do you think Drinks Community can help anyone looking to grow within the industry and considering joining?

Thanks! It’s been a crazy year for the Drinks Community and I can’t wait to see what 2022 brings. The Drinks Community has over 1,000 members from all over the industry: from beer, to wine, to spirits and from entrepreneurs to brewers, bartenders, MWS and journalists. The Community has regular content from industry experts, regular meet ups and the ability for people to network easily and casually online, make connections and – hopefully – new avenues for their careers. We also have a Mentor Programme which has helped over 50 people in the industry already – and we’re hoping to help even more people this year.  

Basically, if you want one place to connect and chat with like-minded people in the industry, the Drinks Community is the place to be.

What would be your tips to The Drinks Community members to make the most of the platform?

Be proactive: use the direct messaging function as much as possible. People who have signed up to the Community are open to connect with people so make the most of it. 

Join the spaces you’re interested in: most of the spaces are public so be sure to join the ones that are relevant to you to receive notifications and updates. And be active in them – this Community if for you to voice your opinions and share knowledge. 

Download the app: with the app on your phone you’ll be alerted to any new activity in your spaces and to new direct messages too. 

Make sure your profile is up to date: everyone can see your profile info so make sure it has everything in there. You never know who might see it and be interested in connecting. 

"We’ve partnered with Campari Group UK for 2022 so there will be some fun content and events happening with them and their incredible portfolio in the months to come."

Could you give us a little sneak peek peek of what awaits Drinks Community members this year?

We’ve partnered with Campari Group UK for 2022 so there will be some fun content and events happening with them and their incredible portfolio in the months to come. We are also looking to launch some new knowledge sharing initiatives, run more online get togethers and organise lots of live events. It’s out first full year of being live so we want to make the most of it – and if you want to be involved, join the Drinks Community and drop me a message. I’d love to hear from you.

On a more personal note, drinks and food of choice? 

My drink of choice will always be a gin Martini. I have a ritual of having one every Friday at 5pm at home. My favourite is Capreolus Distillery Garden Swift gin, Noilly Prat vermouth and a drop of olive oil on the top. Sometimes I make it a Gibson with a pickled onion. For food, the perfect pairing with that would have to be oysters. Or any kind of seafood really.

What book and film would you take to a desert island?

On a desert island I'd have to take Withnail and I for a film for a proper laugh, and for a book I think it would have to be Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. Both classics in very different ways, both wonderful.