Welcome to the first of a new series: "The Greasy Spoon tastes..."
I've always rather liked the idea of having your own brand of something or other. The suave actor, Sir Gerald du Maurier, had a brand of cigarettes named after him, as (almost unbelievably by today's standards) did Sotheby's- "Sotheby's Special Service": in a very smart green and gold embossed box. The late Mark Birley had his own cologne. And then that charmer, Patrick Lichfield, had his very own gin, called, you guessed it, "Lichfield Gin".
And now there's Martin Miller's Gin. I've yet to meet Mr Miller, although our paths may well have crossed in the salerooms, in the Portobello Road or in the back of a lorry. Originally an antique dealer (and then married to the antiques expert, Judith Miller) he now owns a chain of off-beat hotels and restaurants.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, following my recent post on Dodd's Gin, a PR company got in touch and very kindly offered to send me a free bottle of Martin Miller's Gin for review. It arrived with a promotional hardback book, priced slightly bizzarely at £10.50: Born of Love, Obsession and Some Degree of Madness...The story of Martin Miller's Gin.
Within there's a photograph of Mr Miller, looking in part like the hybrid child of Laurence Llewelyn Bowen and Lovejoy, surrounded by a bevy of models (in various stages of undress), pretty boys with waxed chests and eye-liner, a wolf-like creature and a huge poodle, coffiered, topiarised and dyed pink.
The gin, apparently, is distilled here in England (in an Edwardian still, name of Angela, if you wondered), and then shipped all the way to Iceland, where it is mixed with pure Nordic water, filtered through volcanic rock.
I approve of this madness (in the best traditions of British Industry): it reminds me of the manufacture of the infamous Hillman Imp by the Rootes Group: you will remember that half the car was made in Glasgow, the other half in Coventry, then the whole thing reassembled, vice-versa- a round trip of some 600 miles; or the production of the glorious 1963 V8 American-Engined Gordon Keeble, in which the car cost more to screw together than the selling price. And they wondered why only 100 or so were ever made.
But back to the gin. First, the packaging. I like it. The glass bottle has clean, slick lines. There's a charming olde worlde map of the British Isles and Iceland, surmounted with crossed pennants and a silvery-coloured cap. It's all rather nautical in flavour, reminiscent of yacht clubs, Robert Louis Stevenson, and the 1930's- remember Old Spice? I note that "since 1999" is printed in a tiny- almost unreadable- typeface.
Second, the all-important tasting. The gin is delicious. And that's an objective opinion. It's subtle on the nose, but the number one overwhelming sense is of smoothness and creaminess, with a hint of sweetness to balance the dry. I tried a blind tasting alongside good old Sainbury's own brand (distilled by the distinguished old firm of G. & J. Greenall). Martin Miller's Gin was so smooth that it could quite easily be consumed neat- almost as if it was a liqueur. It would be a perfect candidate for a Dry Martini. It's a buy.
Sainsbury's, in comparison, although a perfectly respectable and drinkable gin, was raw and unsophisticated when taken neat- definitely a candidate as a mixer for Schweppes tonic water. Millers is 40% Alc/Vol., Sainsbury's 37.5%. Miller's costs £25 for 70cl.e, Sainsbury's £15.50 for a litre bottle.
My current worry is the problem of tonic water. I'm not exactly having sleepless nights over this, but you should get the drift. Why buy a premium gin if you're going to mix it with a sweet, fizzy generic tonic water? Fever Tree is a good brand, and might be the solution. Dunno. I'm also currently researching the possibility of making my own tonic water (from cinchona bark) but that's going to be for a subsequent post. Tomorrow is another day.