Jacob Ehrenkrona – Martin Miller’s Gin
Having predicted gin’s resurgence and created Martin Miller’s Gin over 15 years ago, when it comes to gin’s transformation – Jacob Ehrenkrona has seen it all. We caught up with the charismatic CEO of the Reformed Spirits Company to look back at 2015, what lies ahead and his journey so far.
Gin Foundry – You released Martin Miller’s Gin long before the boom and while it’s been growing for a while, 2015 has been a big year for gin in general. As an established gin in the category – how have you found the past 12 months?
Jacob Ehrenkrona – The main highlight this year for everyone around the world who has ever been involved with the brand, was the recognition of Martin Miller’s Westbourne Strength as the highest-scoring gin at the prestigious U.S. Beverage Tasting Institute Competition 2015 (BTI).
The Westbourne Strength was awarded 97 points, earning the competition’s coveted top prize – the Superlative Award. Martin Miller’s Westbourne is the only gin to have ever been awarded the Superlative Award by the BTI, and it has now won twice (it was previously awarded 97 points and ‘Spirit of the Year’ on the year of its launch in 2003).
Though one of many, this particular award made the entire team very happy, as it proves Martin Miller’s Westbourne has consistently delivered quality in a landscape of experimental and boutique gins since its creation in 2003.
Congratulations, succeeding in delivering a continuity of quality is as difficult as achieving it in the first place. How about as an individual?
A particularly exciting part of my work that I have found rewarding is the genuine interest in our gin and how it is produced from general consumers across the world. For example, consumers are asking about the importance of water and the two separate distillations that are unique for Martin Miller’s Gin. This level of detailed knowledge or interest has changed dramatically since the brand was launched in 1999.
As you say, there is more interest in gin than ever before, what have been the challenges in terms of remaining ahead of the pack and maintaining visibility in 2015?
The two biggest challenges that we have faced this year is the continuous and labour intensive process of educating a new generation of bartenders and consumers. This is an endless and very delicate task and it feels like you are sometimes trying to boil the ocean as the world keeps growing with new markets opening up for Martin Miller’s Gin.
That’s definitely a job all on it’s own! You’ve seen the arrival of the gin boom, having predicted it pre 2000’s. With your insight, what do you think is next for the category?
The gin category is experiencing different developments in different markets. In the most mature markets like Spain and Portugal we are starting to see a contraction of gins, especially amongst independent locally produced gins and flavoured gins that did not manage to reach critical mass. The big shift amongst the established brands in the more mature markets are that consumers seem to have either traded up to a more premium alternative or opted for standard gin at a more affordable price.
In a market like the UK we expect to see continued expansion of the gin range with more flavours and more locally-produced gin entering the market. As of yet there are no signs of contraction and consumers are still enjoying a phase of trying new flavours in different shapes and forms.
Have you found any specific countries with a particular thirst for Martin Miller’s Gin in 2015?
Apart from the big gin markets like UK, Spain, Portugal and the USA I am happy to see countries like Russia, Ukraine and many Asian countries developing an interest in gin and Martin Miller’s Gin in particular.
Bartenders play a big part in spreading the gin love. You are a go-to gin for numerous bars who use it to create their signature serves. You must get to drink some amazing cocktails – what has been your highlight this year?
The highlight of this year so far has definitely been the ‘We are the Tastemakers’ Competition. This was a challenging competition where we offered mixologists from all over the world the chance to win a trip to Iceland and get the unique experience of seeing the Martin Miller’s Gin bottling plant and water source.
We started by running regional competitions in Latin America, Asia, Europe and Oceania where entrants had to create a traditional cocktail recipe. Inundated with brilliant entries we then asked the contestants to create a unique Martin Miller’s Gin-based cocktail that related to the region which the entrant was from, and secondly to present the beverage in the most theatrical or imaginative way possible that would also provide a sense of the entrant’s locality.
Thousands of great entries were received and the final part was to create a video to showcase their entry. After much deliberation we managed to bring it down to six winners from Taiwan, Argentina, Australia, Germany, England and Scotland.
It was exciting to watch from the outside. In some ways you’ve been a gin before your time, adopting trends before they become them, supporting innovation where you see it or just instigate change yourself. What has been the exciting collaborations and projects in 2015?
One very interesting collaboration in 2015 has been the work that we have done with musicians, particularly with jazz musicians in key areas like New York and London, where we have hosted the first Gin & Jazz events in venues like the plaza in New York to a series of Young’s pubs in the UK. We were also the official gin sponsor of the Wilderness festival in the summer, sold in bars across the festival as well as in our official Martin Miller’s tent, which featured music from our in-house jazz band ‘Angelica’s Root’.
Martin had a nose for spotting the rare find and navigating his way through antiques and many other things. Sadly, Martin passed away on the 24th of December 2013. Two years on, how have you adapted as a team and has it had an effect on the identity of the gin?
It is true that Martin was the pioneer of Martin Miller’s Gin – it was his vision and desire to produce the perfect gin to suit his palette that led to the creation of the brand, and he was heavily involved in the development of the original gin and brand positioning.
However, the brand quickly became bigger than any one person involved in its initial development, including Martin. That said, Martin Miller’s Gin is Martin’s legacy, and he still lives, and always will, through the brand – something I and the rest of the team are very conscious and proud of.
As a team, you are good at spotting young talent within the drinks industry with a lot of rising stars having been a MM brand ambassador and many of them become established names thereafter. We’ve touched the fact that you have incubated and built a number of brands over a successful career yourself. Do you have any advice for those looking to get into the drinks industry as a career?
I would not say that we are better than any other company in identifying talent. I think that people with a general interest and knowledge of gin are drawn to not only Martin Miller’s Gin but also to the Reformed Spirits Company which has been a pioneer in developing both the first premium gin in the world but also the first premium tonic water, the Fever Tree mixer range.
I think that my main advice to anyone entering the gin industry today is the same as I would have given in the late 1990s: The product must have a reason to exist. The product that you decide to represent as a sales representative, investor or marketer must have a unique differentiating factor that satisfies a consumer need or demand. It is not enough to say that you are good or different you need to be able to explain why you are good or different or better. For example; when we launched Martin Miller’s Gin and the Fever-Tree mixer range we dedicated a lot of time and resources to develop a recipe and production methodology to create a quality product that we believed consumers were demanding. We did not seek differentiating factors for the sake of being different, everything we did had a purpose.
Looking ahead, what’s the focus for the company in 2016?
To continue to drive the Gin Renaissance globally and continue to stay very close to our consumers and provide them with interesting ways of drinking gin, from the perfect G&T/Martini to a classic cocktail. People tend to forget that the greatest cocktail of all time is in fact the G&T. There’s a science and a beauty when you combine with the right amount of ice, in the perfect glass and play around with different garnishes, which makes for a sensational cocktail.
Most don’t realise The Reformed Spirits Company played a large role in developing the Fever-Tree mixer range. In terms of the art of the perfect Gin & Tonic combination then, what’s your personal preference?
It really depends where I am in the world. Given that I travel extensively to different continents my palate changes to the local environment and season. In the summer I think that strawberry and black pepper is a great garnish.
In the autumn/winter, I enjoy having our winter punch where you can feel the taste of apple and cinnamon, combined perfectly with citric notes of Martin Miller’s Gin.
Alright… Final words! What’s got you excited you about the next 12 months?
Looking forward, we are extremely excited about our new campaign that our founder, David Bromige, has developed for a while: ‘Romance and Adventure in a Glass’. The campaign and imagery developed by David encapsulates everything that Martin Miller’s Gin stands for.
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