Martin Miller’s Gin, the UK / Iceland Mash-Up
Pure Icelandic water brings this UK gin to proof - and lends it a soft, approachable profile.
We’ve all heard claims about the purity of some white spirits which, unfortunately, often turn out to be nothing more than marketing hoopla. (Vodka that’s distilled a hundred times through diamonds, we’re looking at you.) I’ve always been a fan of Martin Miller’s Gin, yet never gave much thought to the significance of “England - Iceland” on the label, or the flags of each country. All I knew was that I enjoyed the gin’s soft, almost floral aroma and flavor, and the gentle way it mixed into my Martini or G&T.
But a few months ago I was invited to experience Martin Miller’s Gin in its native habitat during a trip to Reykjavik, Iceland, where the spirit is brought to proof and bottled. There, I met the founders, toured the bottling plant, saw the source of that pure water, and (of course) tasted more than my fair share of great gin-based cocktails around town. I gleaned lots of info during my visit, but what really stuck with me is the fact that the company’s assertions about the importance of the Icelandic water – and how it profoundly affects the final spirit – are based on hydrology, not hype. Read on to learn more about this spirit (which has won more awards over the past ten years than any other gin), and mix up a few MM libations.
1. Martin Miller’s Gin was started by three friends unhappy with the gin on the market.
In the late 1990s, founders David Bromige, Andreas Versteegh and the late Martin Miller mulled the woeful choices on the shelf, as well as the state of their beloved Gin & Tonic, which generally consisted of a shot of Gordon’s in a half pint glass, sub-par tonic from a gun, two measly ice cubes, and a sad-looking lemon fished out of a garnish bowl. They set out to create a product that, in Bromige’s words, “keeps gin’s character but widens its appeal” (and elevate any cocktail in which it was found). He sought to tame the juniper, which turned out to be a bit of a challenge as Miller was a traditional gin drinker. The solution? Tweak the distillation process. (Read on.)
2. The gin is produced using nine botanicals in two separate distillation processes.
The citrus botanicals (orange and lemon peels) are distilled separately from the earthy ones like cassia bark, angelica and licorice root. Lime is added to both distillates, and acts as a “citrus bridge” to meld it all together. And, not as a nod to Hendrick’s Gin (which launched the same year) or even to add any discernible flavor, a small amount of cucumber is added to offset the perception of sweetness.
3. It’s all about the water...pure, Icelandic spring water.
The water in Iceland is incredibly clean and clear: in fact, it’s said to be up to ten times purer than most bottled water, with around 8 ppm of impurities, versus 400 ppm for Evian. (I never once touched a bottle of water during my stay, and happily drank the tap water, which tasted unbelievably good.) Current CEO Jacob Ehrenkrona told me that it was when The Reformed Spirits Company (the company that owns Martin Miller’s Gin) owned the Pölstar Vodka brand (which eventually become Reyka Vodka) in the 1990s that he and the other founders discovered the high quality of the water. Sourced from the town of Borganes, it’s naturally filtered through fifteen to thirty meters of granite, which acts as a porous sponge. Versteegh demonstrated the filtration technique by pouring water onto a large granite rock; several minutes passed before the water slowly poured out of the bottom of it.
4. The effect of the water on the gin boils down to science. Surface tension, to be exact.
Water less pure than that found in Iceland needs to be demineralized – a process that breaks down the water’s surface tension and inhibits the speed at which volatile components can escape, explains Bromige. But since Icelandic water doesn’t need to undergo this process, you end up with “a gin that’s still a proper gin, but one that’s restrained on the nose and palate,” with an aroma that needs to be coaxed out, as well as a gentle mouthfeel and no alcohol burn. As a test early on in the production process, the founders sent some gin from the UK to Iceland to be blended. The result, says Bromige, was a “magical softening” of the spirit that tempers the juniper and softens the nose.
5. Martin Miller’s produces three kinds of gin.
The 80 proof is the original offering which launched the super premium category. Made in a London Dry style, it’s perfect in a Martini, Gin & Tonic, Gimlet or other gin cocktails. But the founders discovered that some bartenders wanted something with a higher proof, so they began offering Westbourne Strength. Named for Miller’s original base in Westbourne Grove, West London, the 90 ABV of this gin is perfect for more complex or flavorful cocktails. Just launched is 9 Moons, a barrel-aged gin matured in oak barrels for nine months. It retains its distinctive “ginniness” (a trait so important to the founders), yet boasts a little more body and complexity. (It makes a mean Negroni, too.)
Now that you know the ins and outs of the brand, here are some award-winning cocktails to try that use Martin Miller’s Gins.
Recipe courtesy of Martin Miller’s Gin
So complex, this cocktail also happens to be highly quaffable for the warmer months. Be sure to use a high quality vermouth (like Carpano Antica), and pour in ginger ale instead of ginger beer, which gives a more subtle kick that doesn’t overwhelm the other ingredients.
- 1 ½ oz. Martin Miller’s Gin
- 1 oz. sweet vermouth
- ½ oz. maraschino liqueur
- ¾ oz. lime juice
- 2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
- Chilled ginger ale
- Fresh basil, for garnish
Add the first 5 ingredients to a cocktail shaker, add ice, and shake until chilled. Strain it into a rocks glass over fresh ice, top with ginger ale, stir gently, and garnish with fresh basil.
Recipe courtesy of Martin Miller’s Gin and Dick Bradsell
Originally created by late bartender Dick Bradsell in 1980s London, this cocktail is named for the way that both the bramble bush trickles down as it grows, and how the Crème de Mure trickles down in the glass. Lots and lots of crushed ice is essential for this drink, as is the blackberry (or cranberry) garnish.
- 2 oz. Martin Miller’s Gin
- 1 oz. lemon juice
- ½ oz. simple syrup
- ½ oz. Crème de Mure
- Fresh blackberries, for garnish
Fill rocks glass with crushed ice. Add gin, lemon juice and simple syrup over the ice, stir, and then add the Crème de Mure in a circular motion. Garnish with the blackberries.
Queen Anne’s Revenge
Recipe courtesy of Mark Kinzer, Mixologist, Miami, Florida
Inspired by the famous pirate ship that belonged to Blackbeard, this hop-tail gets some citrusy bitterness from an IPA cordial, a hint of freshness from freshly pressed green apple juice, and a touch of the savory from muddled celery.
- 2 oz. Martin Miller’s Gin
- 1 ½ oz. cold-pressed green apple juice
- 1 oz. IPA cordial (IPA mixed together with zests of sour oranges and grapefruit, to taste)
- 4 pieces celery
Muddle celery in the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Add other ingredients, add ice, and shake until well chilled. Strain into a teacup or coupe glass.
By Philip Khandehrish, Mixologist, Miami, Florida
Avocado in a cocktail? But of course! Here it adds a luxuriously creamy mouthfeel to this gin tipple. Benedictine lends a bittersweet herbal note that’s joined with spicy cardamom.
- 1 ½ oz. Martin Miller’s Gin Westbourne Strength
- ½ oz. Benedictine
- 1 oz. black cardamom syrup (see Note)
- ½ oz. citrus (lemon/lime juice blend)
- 1 slice avocado
- Dash of cayenne pepper, for garnish
Muddle the avocado slice in the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Add the rest of the ingredients except garnish, add ice, and shake aggressively to chill. Double strain into a cocktail glass, and garnish with the dash of cayenne pepper.
For the black cardamom syrup:
Combine 1 cup granulated sugar, 1 cup water and 3 cracked black cardamom pods in a saucepan. Simmer over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Let cool to room temperature, strain out solids, and store refrigerated for up to 2 months.
Cocktail images courtesy of Martin Miller's Gin. All other images provided by Kelly Magyarics.
Kelly Magyarics, DWS, is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website, kellymagyarics.com, or on Twitter and Instagram @kmagyarics.