Cigar Aficionado

Martin Miller's High Life

I rarely encounter promoters who admit they don't know much about making their product. But I did Thursday in the person of Mr. Martin Miller, who is just recently getting around to promoting his own gin.

Miller, if you don't know, is a Brit entrepreneur who is a self-described dabbler. He started by publishing Success With The Fairer Sex, went on to promote rock concerts and try his hand at photography before creating Miller's Antique Price Guide. In 1999, he turned his sights to making a spare-no-expense, premium gin, which at the time was a far crazier venture than it might seem today. Vodka was king and getting more powerful. Gin had been losing market share for years. "The perception was that it had had its day," says Miller. But he saw the vodka market as too crowded and decided gin was where he wanted to put his name down—literally. Now two such spirits, the standard Martin Miller's Gin (80 proof) and the Westbourne Strength (90 proof)—are branded with his moniker.

Of course, the popularity of classic cocktails has now turned gin into a must-have ingredient for anyone who claims to keep a passable home bar. The young mixologists who were proponents of the movement looked to the past to forge the future, and revived the traditional recipes that date past Prohibition. What they found was that most of the cocktails in which vodka is so often substituted—first and foremost the Martini—called for gin (vodka wasn't even generally available in the U.S. until the late 1930s).

So Martin Miller stepped in it at just about the right time. But what's this about his not knowing anything about gin? He claims he doesn't, and his ignorance doesn't stop there. Miller's lips part and his formidable teeth reveal themselves in a devilish grin: "I knew nothing about antiques or publishing when I started." But he and some friends had an idea: that the world needed a good gin. "I'm not really a worker," he says, "I love concepts."

But if Miller wasn't gung ho about the labor of creating a gin, he did have a firmly held conviction that "you can always buy expertise in these areas." And he wanted to create a gin he would be proud enough to put his name on.

The process—he presumably did buy—is fairly old school, if labor intensive. The gin is batch distilled in an antique copper pot still. As well as the expected juniper, the botanicals consist of orange and lemon peel, coriander, licorice, cinnamon, cassia, nutmeg, angelica, and orris root.

It is after distillation when Martin Miller's Gin deviates considerably. The distillate makes a 3,000-mile round trip from England's once-industrial Black Country to Iceland. It is there that the gin is diluted to bottling strength with Icelandic spring water. The water, says Miller, is the secret—"it's something about the surface tension"—to the soft mouth feel of the gin.

If it's a gimmick, it's one he professes to not to be completely happy with. "We'd dearly love not to have to lug it to Iceland," Miller protests, "but it doesn't work."

We don't know if it wouldn't work with out the Iceland sojourn, but it certainly does with it. It's the kind of gin—as Miller hoped it would be from the start—that you can drink neat, making it excellent for even the most Vermouth-stingy Martinis. (As a matter of fact, its the gin we featured in our Martini video.) The soft mouth feel is there, but it stints on neither flavor nor balance. Lemon and orange notes are prominent, but don't overpower the spicy sweetness of the drink.

We have to give this gin high marks, even while we can't give Miller—by his own admission—an "A" for effort.

"Haha! Hey... just goes to show you that hard work and ingenuity pays off, even if you don't necessarily know what you're doing at first!" —November 4, 2010 20:26 PM