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.
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).
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…
- Orange peel
- Lemon peel
- Angelica root
- Orris root
- Liquorice root
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.
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.
Another gin has generously winged its way to my door recently; Darnley’s View. In a striking flash of serendipity, I went to Scotland recently to watch the England-Scotland rugby match and tried to get hold of a bottle, but between poor stocks at the airport and a crammed social calendar, I failed in this mission. So, I was delighted to be contacted to ask if I would like a bottle. As is my usual stance, this isn’t going to win any favours or favourable reviews.
Another gin from Scotland, Darnley’s View Gin is from the stable of the Wemyss Family, usually better known for their malt whiskies.
The story goes that this gin is inspired by the moment that Mary Queen of Scots spied her future husband, Lord Darnley, through a window of the Wemyss ancestral home, Wemyss Castle. The literature that came with the bottle romanticises this event and triumphs their union as producing the future King of both England and Scotland, James (I of England and VI of Scotland). Like their gin which unites the best of Scottish and English gins, James unified the thrones of these two countries.
However, what the literature doesn’t say is that Darnley became arrogant and paranoid; he developed a jealousy of Mary’s private secretary, David Rizzio, which culminated in him murdering the poor chap in front of a pregnant, and somewhat aghast Mary. The meeting, marriage and murder spanned a mere 13 months. It is thought that Mary then had the Earl of Bothwell kill Darnley, two years to the month since she fist laid eyes on him. Mary Married Lord Bothwell later that year and suffered a string of tragedies and humiliations, culminating in her botched execution in 1587.
Anyway, enough of the history lesson, I dropped a bit of an unexplained clanger a few paragraphs back; a gin that unites the best of Scottish and English gins? Well, Darnley’s View is a London dry gin, produced by a Scottish firm, the distillation of which is contracted out to Thames distillery, in London. A cynic might say that this is a purely a London gin with a Scottish label, but the there is a distinctive “Scottishness” about this gin; but more on that later.
The bottle is beautifully presented; an elegant white label with sparse black print and a red accent-logo adorns heavy-bottomed, round-shouldered glassware. The Bottle tapers in from the shoulder, much like a cocktail shaker. The stopper is cork with a wooden top (beech?) and it is sealed with heavy foil. Predictably, the opening experience was pleasing.
The botanical list of Darnley’s View is fairly short; in fact, refreshingly short at only six botanicals.
- Coriander Seed
- Lemon Peel
- Angelica Root
- Orris Root
Elderflower seems to be a fairly popular botanical, making an appearance in a few gins from Scotland as well as in several from farther afield; it offers sweetness, fruitiness and floral notes all in one neat hit and is native to the UK.
The aroma of Darnley’s View is gentle and sweet. There is juniper there, but it is mild and the smell of alcohol is present. Its scent is somewhat understated.
Sampled neat, Darnley’s View is sweet, spicy and floral with a quite long, dry finish. It’s smooth and that alcoholic twang is well contained – a testament to its pentuple-distillation, no doubt.
In a G&T, Darnley’s View is a blinding mix (in a good way, not a Ginebra San Miguel way). The juniper is gently assertive – smooth and gentle, but certainly not taking a back-seat. The attack is sweet, fruity and floral with just a hint of that delightful lychee flavour that is carried by Elderflower. This quickly mellows to a warm, dry and spicy finish. The bite is there, but like the juniper, it is gentle but firm.
The ratio recommended for this gin is 2:1, but to my mind, this is too cloying; the sweetness of the neat gin is overbearing and the Fever-Tree tonic is swamped. In a 3:1 ratio, the sweetness of the gin and bitterness of the tonic water balance nicely. I would encourage anyone to have a play and find their own sweet-spot.
Another note about getting the most out of a Darnley’s View G&T is, that like Sipsmith, it is completed by lime. Whether this is to balance that sweetness or whether the gin demonstrates a dearth of citrus is probably up for debate. Either way, lime makes the G&T.
Its price-point is about right (around £23) and it has a softness that is common to many Scottish gins – whereas the more traditional London Dry gins are forthright, bold and dry, Scottish gins seem to have a sightly softer countenance about them. It’s an easy drinking gin (both in flavour and strength – 40%) without meandering too close to that wishy-washy vodka-gin categorisation.
All-in-all Darnley’s View is a very pleasing gin and one I will hunt-down again.