Martin Miller’s Gintonica

A Tuesday night in London seemed as good a day as any to learn more about the everlasting G&T, where it started and where it might be going next. And so, we headed off to Martin Miller’s Gintonica event, held in a small art gallery, for London Cocktail Society members. The idea behind the night was to explore the cocktail’s past and collaboratively decide on what the future of the Gin & Tonic could look like as well as what the Martin Miler’s ideal G&T serve is.

The night begun with what we felt was the worst Gin and Tonic we’d ever been served at any event, let alone one held by a gin company. It was a disgrace and we’ll confess to having our hearts sink with regret for taking on the rush hour crowds to get their on time. Crappy glassware, no ice, a tired slice of lemon, it was painful to sip and smile. We can only liken it to being served a cup of lukewarm, watery tea at your grandmother’s house.

Thankfully, the appalling drink was served badly deliberately. As soon after, it was revealed that the Martin Miller team had purposefully served up iceless, uninspired G&T for a reason. Phew! Hold those sacrcy tweets for another time.

Describing it as a monstrosity, Brand Manager Liam Murphy described the horror serve as being the catalyst behind Martin Miller’s desire to create a new gin and to inject some love back into the category. He called it a Retro G&T, and while there was none of the good nostalgia about the drink, it is quite a feat to think that in the space of 10 years we’ve gone from the limp lemon, flat tonic, warm G&T as the usual pub offering to the more often than not, classic serve packed with flavour and variety that has reignited public imagination for gin.

Much of that came down to the resurgence of the category and the continued efforts by the likes of gins such as of Martin Miller and others turning the tide of public opinion around.

We’ll save you the brand story that was recounted as to how Martin Miller’s Gin came about, not because it wasn’t interesting, but rather because this evening was about the G&T. There so happens to be a great write-up of the Martin Miller tale HERE – along with a video of the great man talking about how it came about. It is a far more compelling story when recounted by the man himself rather than attempted in a mere 20 words here. The post is also complete with tasting notes about the gin and production facts too.

Handing the night over to Neil Mitchell, one of Martin Miller’s Brand Ambassadors – the event started delving into the history of the Gin & Tonic. Everyone knows the colonial past of the gin and tonic, but few give it the credit is deserves. Without quinine and the cinchona plant, there would not have been a British Empire. Fighting off Malaria was vital for the expansion and eventual colonialisation of South America, South East Asia etc. The history was kept brief, as the lesson was soon moved from theoretical to practical, and we were treated to a Colonial Gin & Tonic to illustrate how it might have been served back in the height of the Empire.

This, in hindsight, was the highlight of the night. Served warm, flat and from a brown medicinal bottle, it wasn’t the greatest drink (it wasn’t intended to be) but it was suitably different to anything one might be familiar with. Furthermore, by going back to the roots of where the serve originated from, it provided a glimpse as to why it took off as a drink – both bitter and sweet with enough of an intoxicating effect to leave you wanting more.

A few notes on an evening of gin shenanigans in March…

It’s a drink that we’d like to see as Martin Miller’s Gin core-serve, one loaded with potential. Served as a hot Gin & Tonic with a clove studded lemon peel garnish would make for a unique winter serve. Stirred down and served in a coupe with a grapefruit zest would make for a nice inverted Gin & Tonic martini.

Thinking about how this could be reimagined for a modern audience clearly showed that the concept for the evening was starting to take effect. Evidently, we got sidetracked, missing 180 years of history and left confused as to why the talk jumped to a Prohibition era Gin & Tonic being passed around which, to be fair, tasted like the first of the night. Probably our fault – we were still busy scribbling a recipe for reducing Fever-Tree down to a potion-sized serve at that point!

Anyway, it was time to move on from the history section and explore three separate branded bars where communally we would get a hands-on crash course in G&T’s. One bar held a few garnish options for the traditional copa-glassed G&T, another focused on how some of the best bars in the world are serving it and the third and final bar was centered around some slightly more experimental serves.

The garnish station…

What would be the ideal garnish for Martin Miller’s Gin & Tonic? With the aim was clear and with the burden of having to test multiple drinks heavily felt by all, the group tasted, sniffed and discussed a few then voted on a favourite.

Rose water & apple

Rose dominated the aroma, while the apple wasn’t that prominent. Similar to the Hendrick’s flavour profile, it’s hard to see what the point might be for this to be the signature Martin Miller’s garnish. No-one would have rose water essence at home and those seeking the flavour profile would, surely, just choose Hendrick’s and save themselves the hassle.

Cucumber, melon and mint

This was more successful as a combination but it seemed a little dull. It didn’t bring anything new to this classic drink, so while perfectly decent flavour-wise, conceptually it seemed redundant as a garnish. A lot of hassle for not much innovation.

Cardamom, dark chocolate and an orange slice

Weird, pointless and let’s face it – if you had a bar of chocolate and a G&T, you would eat one and drink the other. We’ve all been there. Unfortunately, this wasn’t one of those Sharknado moments where the seemingly impossible merges to create something that is somehow both unique and compelling, even if in a perverse way.

Rhubarb & rosemary

The verdict was hung on this serve. Flavour-wise, the rhubarb was slow to reveal itself while the rosemary was quite potent. Did it really bring anything new to the conversation? Maybe not. However, once both garnishes had time to settle into the drink, the flavours complimented the fresh taste of Martin Miller’s Gin. Is that enough for a signature serve though? To us, this was the most realistic for the team to use on an ongoing basis as it’s easy for anyone to get hold of both ingredients. What is more, two ingredients that grow in both the UK and in Iceland – rhubarb being one of the few things that grows naturally in the volcanic land. The garnish combines both good flavour matching if perhaps not that adventurous, and strong brand relevance. Surely this would be a winner for a brand lead signature serve as it offers the best compromise between the realities of consumer habits, taste and brand ownership over an area.

Coriander leaf and a sliced chilli

An unusual choice of garnish, that if listed on a menu, many would opt out of trying. However, this was the drink where unanimously the group liked both the aroma and flavour profile. Both complimented a fresh G&T and crucially, it added a new dimension to the serve. It would be a brave call to hero the chilli and coriander leaf garnish as their signature serve, but this is also a fact that would be befitting of Mr. Miller’s vision for a new style of gin and his ambitious idea of making it popular once more.

The winner was left undecided as it would be revisited and announced later in the evening. We moved onto the next bar, showcasing what the future of Gin & Tonics could look like.

Just as we settled into the bar tasting a few very adventurous serves, the night was abruptly ended due to a robbery in the venue.

Shocking and scary for those confronted by a biker with a crowbar and a rock beating down on a glass door – police were called and the evening was called to an early end.  It was an unfortunate finale to what was clearly an intriguing night full of promise and ideas.

Thankfully no-one was injured, although however with laptop stolen and staff visibly shaken, this will be of little comfort to the gallery. From all of us here, we wish them well and hope that the criminals are caught.

From a gin perspective; we’ll call the night and any conclusions on what could be the ideal G&T and what a Martin Milller’s Gins serve could look like interrupted for now. We’ll revisit this soon and draw the night to a close on another time. The team at Martin Miller’s Gin were in full flow, showing that they can live up to the ambition shown by their late creator, and we hope that they get to conclude the session with an equally excited audience soon.