Martin Miller’s Gin

Martin Miller’s is a gin that I have always been a little nervous of. Nobody ever has a bad thing to say about it and it is generally held in such high regard that either it is one of the best gins produced by mankind, or a load of old hype. It has been firmly at the top of my “to try” list for a long time, but I have never actually got around to buying it, always convincing myself that it was a safe-bet and opting for a different purchase instead.

I think this nervousness has also been amplified by my thoughts on Plymouth Gin; so many people herald Plymouth as a tremendous gin but I found it a little dull. Maybe there is something I am missing, maybe there is a complexity of flavour that my taste-buds are blind to, maybe my curry-ravaged palette only responds well to the less subtle gins. Whatever the reason, I was afraid I would have to stand up, in front of the whole internet (well, the few that read this little corner of it, at least) and say that I think everyone’s favourite gin is over-rated.

Well, an email in my inbox last week forced me to confront these fears head-on; the Reformed Spirits Company asked if I would like to try Martin Miller’s Gin. Who can turn down free gin?

I was away on business when no less than three packages arrived; along with two bottles of gin (Martin Miller’s and Martin Miller’s Westbourne Strength) there was a copy of the Martin Miller’s Brand Book. Entitled “Love, Obsession and Some Degree of Madness”, it is a glossy little hard-back book, crammed with information and colourful pictures.

Chinese contrast

The book is scattered with images like this, often contrasting the traditional with the modern. I found this one to be inexplicably and amazingly pleasing.

The book contains the story that led to Martin Miller creating his gin, and it’s almost a creation myth in the legendary sense. The scene is set with three friends in bar, unenthusiastically sipping sorry excuses for G&T. You can almost picture the drink; an inadequate amount of ice quickly melting, lime that has been cut for too long and its skin yellowing at the edges, Schweppes or (even worse) Britvic tonic water and so little gin, you can barely make out its presence under the aspartame. Martin then embarks on an enthused rant about making his own gin, with proper traditional methods, decent botanicals and (at great length) using Icelandic water. His enthusiasm is amplified by his friends’ almost torpid responses. It’s the beginning of a quest almost worthy of the sagas.

Anyway, this is supposed to be about the gin, not the book. I will say this though: it is a great read, with not only the history and production ideologies of Martin Miller’s Gin, but information on the Eastern spice trade, Icelandic folklore, a modern history of gin, and nearly two dozen cocktail recipes contained within its slim binding. It is also packed with quotes from Martin Miller and a good helping of scorn – he doesn’t seem to be a man who suffers fools (gladly or otherwise).

Martin Miller's Gin

Martin Miller's Gin

So, yes, the gin.

Martin Miller’s Gin is distilled by the Langley Distillery near Birmingham, in a pot still called Angela. The distillation method, while very traditional, has an interesting twist, which necessitates looking at the botanical list a little earlier than the narrative flow would like; so without further ado, these are…

  • Juniper
  • Coriander
  • Orange peel
  • Lemon peel
  • Angelica root
  • Orris root
  • Liquorice root
  • Cassia
  • Cinnamon
  • Nutmeg

There is another secret ingredient, which seems to be widely regarded as cucumber distillate, although there are many others citing all sorts of other botanicals.

While Angela is a traditional pot still (some of the scorn mentioned above is reserved for carterhead stills and berry baskets), not all of the botanicals are distilled together. The citrus botanicals are distilled separately from the other ‘earthier’ botanicals to help preserve their freshness of flavour, and these two distillates are then blended to create the final flavour palette. This harkens to what Ian Hart, of Sacred Gin fame, was saying about different botanicals interfering with each other when distilled together, either blocking or absorbing each other’s flavours.

Once combined, the gin is sent off to Iceland to be blended with water to reach bottling strength (which is 40% ABV). Yes, you read that right; the gin gets flown to Iceland for water-blending. Miller’s has a lot to say about Icelandic water – ordinary water is just not good enough. Icelandic water fell as snow during a time before we started polluting the planet and formed glaciers. The glacial melt-water filters through layers of volcanic rock before being blended with the still-strength gin. The literature claims this soft, pure, super-oxygenated water allows the botanicals to shine-through, unimpeded.

A 3000 mile round trip to be blended before bottling – now that’s a unique selling point. Part of me wonders about the carbon footprint – does the carbon-neutral Icelandic water and electricity offset the footprint of the flight?

Anyway, speaking of bottling, the bottle is a tall, elegant square affair, that is reminiscent  of the (now previous) Plymouth design and Finsbury Platinum. It has a long, thin neck and is crowned with a solid plastic screw cap.

The aroma from the bottle-top, and subsequently from the glass of neat gin, is gentle and fresh; a scent that carries soft juniper, citrus and a sweet spiciness. The smell of alcohol is a very faint undercurrent. The spirit forms very active legs on the side of the glass that seem restless.

The neat gin follows through where the aroma left-off. The first thing that struck me was the sweet, creamy, silky mouth-feel. This then resolves into a wash of citrus flavours, finally trailing-off in a long, warm, spicy finish. The mouth keeps on tingling with citrus, long after the spice has faded. The juniper is soft and understated, being in balance with the other flavours, rather than dominating.

Martin Miller’s is a very good sipping gin; in fact, the more I drink neat, the more I like it – it is still growing on me. I absolutely have to try this in a Martini.

Mixing up a G&T, the fizz drives off clean, fresh citrus and spice aromas with just a hint of juniper – all-in-all, quite similar to the neat aroma.

The tasting, however, is a bit of a revelation; juniper quietly underpins the whole experience  and the tonic brings out more of the floral aspects of the gin, contains some of its spiciness and reins-in some of that sweetness. I often struggle to identify citrus in gin, often noticing it as a sensation rather than a flavour, but Martin Miller’s seems to have citrus in spades, and it is fresh – very fresh, reminding me of grapefruit more than lemon or orange. The finish somehow contrives to be both sweet and dry at the same time and while I am sure there is a hint of green freshness that my mind insists is cucumber, I think that’s my errant brain finding things that it’s looking for. The result is a very complex and fresh G&T which can be best described as rewarding.

With this much citrus in evidence, I would have though that adding a wedge of lime to the G&T would have been a bit over the top, but it isn’t. It certainly doesn’t need it, but it does add something – it makes the G&T even fresher, more luscious and juicy, almost breezy in the mouth. It is so eminently drinkable, I have been practically inhaling these.

Retail price is around the £23 mark, so this isn’t a gin that breaks the bank, and for a middle-market price-tag, it is certainly anything but a middle-market gin.

 

Addendum

I haven’t gone into a great deal of information on Martin Miller himself. He seems to have turned his hand to many things in life and I could probably write an entire post on him alone. Needless to say, The Man (as the website puts it) and the gin seems to be building together to form a brand; each strong brand has its own identity, but this is the first time I have seen a gin brand built around a man – it is almost like a personality cult. Now, “cult” is a loaded word, and I don’t use it in the negative sense but Martin Miller is to Martin Miller’s Gin, as “curiosity” is to Hendrick’s, or Africa is to Whitley Neill and there seems to be a “know him, know his gin” thing going on.

 

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16 thoughts on “Martin Miller’s Gin

  • April 13, 2012 at 1:11 pm
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    I recently discovered this Gin at Majestic Wines (rather, it was almost forced upon me by the server, who insisted that if i liked Gin I HAD to try this.)
    He wasn’t wrong, I and everyone who i force to try it also loves it.
    I came to it completely blind, and I have to say i noticed a distinct cucumber after taste to it, very reminiscent of the trend in bars recently to throw a wedge of cucumber in my G&T. I was interested to see your comment about not being certain about the cucumber taste, perhaps you weren’t wrong?

    While i found your article very interesting, i would have liked some information on the difference between the standard Gin and the ‘Westbourne strength’ variety?

    Reply
    • April 17, 2012 at 3:47 pm
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      Thanks for taking the time to comment and I am glad you like Martin Miller’s.

      Trying it next to another gin, the cucumber really becomes quite obvious, although part of me thought it had a water melon-like taste to it.

      I intend to do either an update or a separate post on the Westbourne Strength, but I have yet to get around to it – life is busy at the moment.

      Reply
  • November 17, 2012 at 12:46 pm
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    from
    http://www.shakestir.com/features/id/270/talking-with-martin-miller

    LM: Tell me about the difference between the regular Martin Miller’s gin and the Westbourne Strength?

    MM: When we first produced Martin Miller’s gin, it was the 40% abv. It was a vanity project; we made it to our taste back then and drink it neat, in gin and tonics and martinis. The taste in America though is for stronger proof gins. 4 years after the original Martin Miller’s, the brand had picked up considerable interest from the mixology crowd and they were very vocal about wanting a gin with more alcoholic punch to suit more complex cocktails. The difference is simple. Both have the same botanicals but a different balance of the botanicals. Martin Miller’s Westbourne was designed with the mixology business in mind.

    Reply
  • December 19, 2012 at 10:42 am
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    I agree with the cucumber notion (reminded em a little fo another great gin with a similar fresh, green, herby note. Just wondering if it could be salad burnet. This is a fresh green herb, somewhat old-fashioned, that has a distinct cucumber aroma and flavour.
    As a spirits educator (as part of WSET courses) I am really pleased to have found your website and will be returning regularly.

    Reply
  • December 26, 2012 at 4:07 pm
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    I recently had a bit of a soiree and decided to feature four different gins for our G&Ts. I settled on our house brand, Hendrick’s (Scottish), then Citadelle (French), The Botanist (Scottish), and, of course, Martin Miller’s (English-Icelandic). I tried various garnishes with the various labels, and I’m sure there could be many other variations employed quite successfully, but I found a sprig of mint to be outstanding for Martin Miller’s. I highly suggest anyone that reads this post and decides on Martin Miller’s to give it a try.

    Reply
    • January 2, 2013 at 11:28 am
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      Next time I get a bottle I will try this.

      Thanks.

      Reply
  • February 21, 2013 at 6:13 pm
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    Love your blog. Just finished a martini made with Miller’s and really enjoy it, not sure I would always be in the mood for it as I find it slightly sweet or perfumed. Like others the “cucumber” note is really interesting and like someone else I thought it might be watermelon

    Reply
  • August 12, 2013 at 9:51 pm
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    HI, Bought a bottle at the Heathrow last friday and prefer it in a dry martini to a GT. My querie: in the package there was a kit of juniper berries. What am I supose to do with them? Add them in the martini?

    Reply
    • August 12, 2013 at 11:43 pm
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      I think they are supposed to be used as garnish. I woukd squeeze them hard between forefinger and thumb to split them and liberate more flavour.

      Reply
  • August 20, 2013 at 7:49 am
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    May I know if this Gin goes well with any bar food, finger food? Is it a relaxing happy hour drink?

    Reply
    • September 21, 2013 at 8:25 pm
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      Martin Miller’s is definitely a relaxing drink – very easy going.
      How it goes with bar/finger food? I think that’s a very subjective thing. Like most G&Ts, it can be easily overpowered by very strong flavours, which are common to a lot of bar nibbles.

      Reply
  • November 12, 2013 at 3:06 pm
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    Dug,

    This is an excellent post, thank you for your many and continuing contributions to the world of Gin. I like your truthful honesty that comes through, it mimics my own thoughts exactly regarding Plymouth Gin and Martin Miller’s Gin. Best of all are your tasting notes for this Gin, you have a real talent and have captured the essence of Martin Miller’s Gin to a “T”. Well done indeed.

    Regards, David.

    Reply
  • December 10, 2013 at 1:00 am
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    I recently discovered this gin courtesy of a fantastic cocktail barman in Portugal who mixed it to perfection with orange and lemon peel, cinnamon, and basil…. To produce an absolutely stunning G&T….. I have now seen that’s it’s readily available here in the UK and want to recreate and share that fantastic taste…. So my question is what on earth do I use for tonic. You say in your piece ….”Schweppes or (even worse) Britvic….” thereby disparaging both. Ok. But I usually buy Schweppes because it’s readily available and mix it with Tanqueray but if I’m going to go to the effort of reliving my Portugese experience what’s the best tonic in your opinion. …. Grateful for any education/advice, thanks

    Reply
    • December 6, 2014 at 1:05 am
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      I’ve not found anything that beats Fever-Tree.

      Reply
  • January 15, 2014 at 10:24 pm
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    I have a friend who gave up gin for the tasteless vodka craze that has dominated the states for the last twenty odd years, he has customarily refused all attempts by me to liberate him from his condition. However at a recent gathering I was able to serve him a French 75 made with Martin Miller’s and Mumm’s Napa Brut Prestige. Not only was he won over, he has been chasing down a bottle of Martin Miller’s. I’d like to thank Mr. Miller for aiding me in the rescue of my dear friend, he’s back in the fold.

    Reply
  • January 26, 2014 at 12:02 am
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    I’ve decided I’m not really a fan of cucumber flavour being too strong in Gins. When I first tried Hendricks, after reading about it, I was quite pleasantly surprised how much I liked it. Personally though, I find the cucumber flavour in this to be much stronger. Maybe it’s just me :)

    Reply

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