As the deadline for our Emerging Talent Awards approaches (27th January), we caught up with Hemil Haria – winner of the IWSC 2022 Emerging Talent in Spirits Trophy, sponsored by Whyte & Mackay.
In this interview, we discuss Hemil’s visit to Scotland for an immersive tour of Whyte & Mackay distilleries as well as his future ambitions and advice for aspiring Emerging Talent winners.
First of all, how would you describe winning the 2022 Emerging Talent in Spirits Trophy?
Unbelievable. I got a call from one of my family members because the news was posted on Instagram. I read the article and I had tears in my eyes. I was very surprised, being up against so many amazing people in the industry, not just in the UK but across the world. I didn't think I would be right on top of that. It was especially nice to read the kind words that Richard Paterson OBE and Gregg Glass (Whyte & Mackay) wrote in their feedback. These guys, some of the legends in the industry, know my story and recognise my hard work - that was amazing.
As part of winning the Trophy, Whyte & Mackay invited you to a 4-day immersive trip to Scotland to experience their distilleries, including The Dalmore and Invergordon – how would you sum up this experience?
I was asked a question recently, “how do you describe luxury?” My answer was a “seamless experience” - if I was to use one word to describe my experience visiting Scotland and The Whyte & Mackay distilleries, it would be seamless. I am a very curious person and I love new learning things - I was asking questions, and they were so happy to answer them. It was very intimate, with Richard and Gregg right there guiding me through the process.
Talk us through what you got up to across the 4 days.
We went to Invergordon and did the full distillery tour there. I was able to find out how the distillation works, especially for grain whisky. We looked at the 62 warehouses - without physically visiting all of them - which currently hold billions of pounds worth of whisky. I had the chance to meet various distillery managers, warehouse managers, still managers and operators; I had questions for everyone. I filled my own cask of Dalmore 2022 which has my name on it - I've been told by the warehouse operator to give them a call after three years – they said, here's the number of the cask, and we will be able to tell you what's happening if you give us a call. Hopefully, 14-18 years down the line, I will be able to resample to see how it's doing if it does reach that age – it was surreal to be able to fill my own cask.
We also went to the lab, where we met with the lab expert, who has been in the industry for more than 28 years - you could see the passion she has for ensuring the quality of the liquid remains consistent. We also sampled the next vintage selection which I am not allowed to share any details on; all I am going to say is that they were delicious, and I will be buying every single bottle of the vintage next year to add to my collection.
What was the highlight of your trip?
The one thing that really stuck with me was the first time I met Richard Paterson. We were meeting for a meal in the evening after I had been to Invergordon Distillery. He stood up from his chair, he came to see me and greet me - the first words he said were on the lines of congratulations, you deserve it - we read your application and it was completely different, completely unique. He said you got off your backside and went out there and did it; he really admired and respected that.
What they gave me was an understanding of how things work in the industry. They had this mutual respect for me, which was truly unbelievable because I am very early in my career. They told me to keep going, believe in yourself and make sure you are always true to yourself. They also told me to keep in touch – to let them know what I am up to and whether I need any guidance – the fact that the door is open is very reassuring.
Did you have a personal favourite Whisky from the trip?
There were two whiskies that I tried straight from the cask that are going to be a part of the vintage next year. They were so complex yet approachable, delicate, and had a big impact in terms of flavour. It reminded me of growing up in a tropical country. That's all I am allowed to say – these two casks, out of the 27 we tried, really stood out to me.
Have you been to any other distilleries in the past - how would you compare your experience with Whyte & Mackay?
I have been to distilleries in India and the UK. The Dalmore was just The Dalmore - the presence, 180 years of distilling, the expertise, the understanding, the warehouses. It is a mammoth distillery, in the sense of its presence rather than capacity; it may only produce a couple of million litres per year, but in terms of the sheer presence that the distillery has - “Hello, I am here” or “Hello, how are you?” as Richard Paterson would say - the distillery really does talk to you.
As part of winning the IWSC Emerging Talent in Spirits Trophy, you were also a special guest at our Awards Ceremony in September – how did you find the event?
Unbelievable – it was great to finally meet everybody in person - the president of the IWSC, the team that keep the IWSC machine going, lots of influential people, other award winners – I was asking myself “how am I here?” - a guy who was born and raised with no idea they would end up in the world of drinks. There were also so many whiskies I tried that night - I do not think I will experience a similar event anytime soon.
How did you find your way into the drinks industry?
There were a few people who inspired me. In 2020, I attended The Whisky Show London, online. There were a few masterclasses led by Dhavall Gandhi and Sukhinder Singh, who are both of South Asian background - to see how much they had achieved, being from a diverse background, truly inspired me. After that, I had a couple of ideas that I wanted to test and put out there – I have always been entrepreneurial. My father, my grandfather and great grandpa were all entrepreneurs – I wanted to see if I could achieve something within the industry. And here we are - I did it, but it was the inspiration of legends in the industry who come from a similar background, and have achieved amazing things, that truly inspired me into entering the world of drinks.
What would be your advice to other Emerging Talents within the industry?
Apply for this award. You have to start somewhere. If you do have an idea, don't feel under pressure, don't feel like you need to succeed in the first few months or years. It is marathon, but you have to start somewhere. This award has opened a lot of doors for me - being able to meet some industry legends and learning directly from them, meeting people at the awards ceremony, getting recognised in the industry and taking it with me everywhere I go. I would recommend anyone and everyone to showcase their talent, skills, and the ideas that they are exploring. Definitely apply. It will be one of the most amazing experiences that you will have.
What is next for Hemil Haria? What are your ambitions for the future? Where do you think you will be in 20 years’ time?
Well, I still have so much more to learn. I am still hungry for knowledge and information. But the next thing for me is Glen Adair - an independently bottled single cask whisky portfolio - once all the casks, labelling, packaging and legal side of things are ready, of course! In fact, this is the first time I am mentioning Glen Adair in an interview - Glen means Valley at Adair means ford of the oaks - inspired by the valley of the ford of the oaks. 20 years down the line, I would love to have a distillery. Whether that is something I build from scratch or something that I become part of, we will see.
To finish, what is your favourite style of whisky?
One which is wild and complex - I love red wine cask finishes as well as Oloroso, Pedro-Ximenez and Port cask finishes. If there was whisky that blended all these cask finishes – to create a style with layers of complexity and a powerful, long-lasting explosion of flavour on your palate – that would be my ideal style.
The IWSC Emerging Talent Awards are open until 27 January. Discover more here.
Hemil Haria will also join our expert judging panel, including Richard Paterson and Gregg Glass, to help decide the IWSC 2023 Emerging Talent in Spirits next month.
As well as being awarded an educational travel bursary, the winner will be invited by Whyte & Mackay to join the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Jura distillery, on 26 April 2023 in Jura.