Have you ever thought of creating your own artisanal spirit: one made to perfection, just the way you like it? Martin Miller, a London purveyor of antiques and the author of the Miller’s Antique Price Guides, has done just that. One evening in his Notting Hill home, he and two friends were experimenting with different gin cocktails and felt that none of the spirits on hand was quite up to their expectations. What else would a group of affluent, passionate gin-lovers do, but spare no time and expense to create their own, perfect gin.
Distillation is the art and craft of using a still to extract flavors and alcohol as a vapor, which is then captured and condensed back into a liquid. It is similar to boiling a kettle of water, capturing the steam that comes out of it and turning it back into water—only in the case of spirits, the ingredients are turned into an alcoholic beverage.
To make a great spirit, one needs great ingredients and a small-batch still. Martin Miller’s Gin is distilled in the Rolls Royce of pot stills, designed by John Dore & Company in 1903 and called “Grandma.” Batch-distilled like malt whiskey, Grandma aromatizes the small batches of distillate with a proprietary mix of the finest botanicals and aromatics (more about the below). The botanicals are steeped overnight in the spirit to allow a greater infusion of flavor.
Since “Grandma” boils at a lower distilling strength than a continuous still, she gently extracts the aromatic and flavoring oils and compounds from the juniper berries and botanicals to produce a gin with a noticeable degree of smoothness and complexity.
Following distillation, most London dry gins are blended with British spring waters. But Miller wanted a better experience. The distillate then takes a 3,000 mile round-trip to Iceland to make it the best product it can be.
In Iceland, the gin is blended with glacial lava-filtered waters, among the purest water on earth (up to 10 times more pure than Evian and Perrier). Martin Miller’s feels that the Icelandic water provides a soft, almost sweet mouthfeel to the finished product, and makes the journey worthwhile. In the small village of Borganes on Iceland’s remote west coast, a final “mystery” ingredient—unknown even to the master distiller—is also added. You’d have to kidnap Miller and deprive him of gin for a long time to get an inkling of what it might be.
The Components Of Gin
The botanicals to make gin come from around the globe: after acquiring them, the master distiller has to decide how to vary them to get the exact right mix. The key ingredient in gin is juniper, which provides the distinctive flavor and aroma. In fact, while gin is the quintessential British spirit, it was developed in the 17th century in the Netherlands as a medication: Juniper berries are a diuretic and were also thought to be an appetite stimulant and a remedy for rheumatism and arthritis. The name “gin” is derived from either the French genièvre or the Dutch jenever, words for “juniper”.
But juniper is just one of hundreds of berries, herbs, roots and spices that can be used to make the spirit. That’s why each brand of gin has its unique flavor. Martin Miller’s recipe uses eight ingredients: juniper berries from Tuscany, plus angelica, cassia bark, cinnamon bark, coriander, Florentine orris, lemon peel, licorice root, nutmeg and Seville orange peel.