Gin Focus - Martin Miller's Gin
Mention the word cucumber and gin, and Hendricks would be the first brand that spring to mind. But did you know that before Hendricks, there was another gin that incorporated cucumber in its formulation? A year prior to Hendricks’ global premiere in 2000, another brand called Martin Millers launched in the UK , and has been quietly staying the (gin) course since. Co-founded by three friends David Bromige, Andreas Veerstagh and the eponymous Martin Miller himself, we sat down with David on his inaugural visit to Australia in May 2019 to discover more about how this one gin has influenced the way we approach our G&T in more ways than you could ever know.
What is Martin Miller’s Gin
For a gin looking to break the mould, Martin Miller’s relies on a fairly traditional recipe of botanicals, with the exception of one unusual ingredient. The gin is produced at Langley’s Distillery in the UK whereby the earthier botanicals are distilled separately to the citrussy botanicals before the two are blended with pure spring water from Iceland to which a cucumber hydrosol is added. Cucumber aside, the other nine botanicals are a roll call of your conventional gin botanicals - juniper, coriander, orris root, cassia bark, angelica root, licorice, nutmeg, orange and lemon peel. Unlike other producers however, Martin Miller’s is unusual in its insistence on using Icelandic water, due to the co-founders’ conviction that the pureness of the water is unparalleled in its ability to create the mouthfeel they were after. Although the water is transported into the UK today (thereby negating the need for the gin to be sent on a round trip to Iceland), back in those early days, regulatory restrictions meant the gin had to clock up the hard yards before landing on your shelves. Lest you dismiss this idea as being completely crazy, we have it on good authority the water does make a difference; the guys at the Gin Foundry can testify to that here
The history of Martin Miller’s Gin
Like so many others, the story of Martin Miller’s began with a desire to shake up the norm. By all accounts, the man Martin Miller himself was quite an flamboyant character, with a career spanning the arts, publishing and hoteling before turning his attention to the business of making booze. David and Andreas’ journey were slightly less eclectic, David himself having studied fine arts in university before founding a design business that counted amongst its roll call, certain drinks brands. Realising those were the brands he liked working with the most, David started a drinks consultancy business to help brands discover their identity (or as David called it “brand archaeology). This would evolve into the Reformed Spirits Company, which he co-founded with Andreas to bring to market, new and innovative drinks brands. Martin Miller’s was one such brand.
At a time when gin was not the trendy spirit it is today, and new players were almost non-existent, the trio started experimenting through the use of some rather unconventional methods. Mixing together a rather well known British gin brand with Absolut Citron, the trio served up the mix to unsuspecting guests at various gatherings they organised at Martin’s home. When taster after taster declared it the best gin they’d had, they knew they were on to a winning formula. That unconventional mixing of the hybrid gin/vodka would form the basis for the separate distillation of the citrus elements and the earthy/juniper elements of the gin. As for the use of the Icelandic water? That was no gimmick either. As David explained, “We didn’t factor in that the Absolut Citron we used in testing has glycerin, which contributes to that rich mouthfeel.” As it happened, one of the brands the RSC had developed was Polstar Vodka, which was blended with Icelandic water and gave the spirit the same texture David and Co were looking for.
From cool beginnings to BEING A hot COMMODITY
Unlike Hendricks, where the cucumber was the initial inspiration, the addition of cucumber happened almost by accident in the case of Martin Millers. David said, “When we tasted the gin, Martin said it was too easy to drink, and what he meant was that the finish was too short. As it happened, we were developing a cucumber extension for Polstar Vodka at the time, and discovered the cucumber contributed a long dry finish which is how it came to be added to the gin.” In a twist of fate, David and Andreas would end up selling their stake in Polstar Vodka to Hendricks’ parent company, William Grant & Sons, who relaunched it as Reyka Vodka (as it is known today).
Martin Millers originally launched in the UK in 1999 before debuting in the USA in 2003. It would be closer to the end of the decade before the category would gain any traction, where the renaissance would be kick started by its “cucumber-in-gin” counterpart Hendricks. Growth was slow in those initial years and it wasn’t until 2008/2009 when David reported seeing a spurt in activity….in Spain. Today, the Spanish market remains Martin Miller’s biggest, where the brand outsells its rival Hendricks. In late 2017/early 2018, Spanish company Zamora took a majority stake in the brand, with David and Andreas maintaining their involvement in the business. Sadly, Martin passed away in December 2013 but his memory lives on in the gin that continues to bear his name.
Martin Miller’s tonic connection
Having developed the gin, the Martin Miller’s trio turned their minds to the tonic, which was dominated in those days by effectively one brand - Schweppes. Working with the same producers in Iceland, they came up with an initial batch of tonic water using natural sugars, quinine and carbonated water sourced from the same springs. Initial reception to the tonic was good, despite the high price point and they found allies in high end bars like Hakkasan and upmarket UK grocery retailer Waitrose. Charles Rolls came on board soon after and with a need to focus on Martin Millers, the trio would eventually sell their shares in the venture to him. That tonic brand? Fever-Tree.
Best way to drink Martin Miller’s serve
For all the leaps and bounds made in gin cocktail mixology since the brand was founded, David’s favourite way of drinking Martin Millers Gin is still with tonic. And the best tonic match? Fever Tree naturally.
The perfect serve Martin Miller’s promotes is with Fever Tree tonic and a garnish of strawberries and black pepper. The strawberries do lend a sweetness and complement that cucumber finish quite nicely. It’s easy to make, easy to drink, and a good way to commemorate a gin that has been more of a trailblazer in the development of premium gin AND tonic than they’ve been given credit for.
Martin Miller’s Gin is available in most bottleshops, including Dan Murpy’s, Vintage Cellars and BWS, in two expressions - Martin Miller’s Gin and Martin Miller’s Westbourne Strength (which is bottled at a slightly higher strength than the regular version)