Haven’t you always wanted to be described as a quixotic gypsy who never settled? A bon viveur and connoisseur of finer things? A kind of Depp-ian troubadour with "an attachment to leggy women, cigarettes, and gin?" No kidding. Us too.
Well, Martin Miller is exactly that – an exacting antiquarian of exacting knowledge, a infinitely energetic entrepreneur and autodidact, and an all-round good guy, Miller’s latest venture is the boozy fruit of the juniper berry: gin. He is participating in what he describes as the Gin Renaissance in the only way we’d expect him to: by contributing to it.
Miller sat down with us and talked about what it’s like to pave your own way through life and your various obsessions, principally gin. Here’s what he had to say – pay attention you wannabe lover-poet.
MM: Well thanks for taking the time to talk to us about your gin, and being a Quixotic gypsy and all the manner of other things. Tell us about yourself.
MILLER: How far do we go back? I didn’t start in the gin business obviously, I started in publishing, books on antiques, nice guides for antiques, and this was back in late 60s when antiques were, you know, they were very in fashion but no one knew really very much about how much anything was worth. So I produced these antique price guides just to give them an idea of, you know — so they weren’t going to be ripped off by the divas. Which in those days no one knew anything and there was no price guides to anything in the world of antiques. So that was my sort of beginnings, so that went on for a long time. And at the same time I had hotels so there was a sort of mix of the two.
MM: How do you transition from that to gin?
MILLER: See, my sort of mental sort of transition was really when, I mean, I’ve always been a gin drinker and I like gin, and I tried to sort of really do some sort of link to the world of antiques, and so I went down the sort of, the road, you know the William Hogarth, you know, the all the sort of the all the, all the engravings he did all which were based on, you know, gin and how in the 18th century gin was the sort of scourge of London and it was, you know, it was a real, a real problem. So, it was a very tenuous link to the world of antiques and the world of gin and history and the whole thing, but that soon died away, you know. That was a silly idea anyway. So, but then the gin, then the quality of the gin took precedence over the idea.
MM: How did you start? Did you just one day say “I’m going to guy a still?”
MILLER: A lot of ideas, you know, for me they tend to come over a good lunch. And it was, and the lunch, you know, that, you know, that over obviously sort of, did a fair amount of drinking and the ideas were flowing, and I’ve always like the idea of a quality, sort of super premium gin. Because at that time, you know, we go back ten years now vodka was obviously all the rage. Everyone, every other week there was a new vodka coming out, but no one was doing anything with gin. And I just thought it was you know, you know really there was a gap in the market in England anyway, that no one was actually producing a quality new gin. It was just something that wasn’t on their radar. So, that was when I had a friend, you know, David Bromage, who knew about the industry, and another friend who had the money, and, you know, sort of over lunch it evolved. But that’s how we got to making a, you know, making a gin.
MM: How do you take your gin specifically?
MILLER: I just do a gin and tonic. You know, I love a good gin and tonic, because the, the, in England it’s such a classic; the drinks in an old English home it used to be the gin and tonic, you know, before it moved into wine and it moved into vodka and other things. I mean I’m pretty damn boring with my drinks I suppose really. I just do gin and tonics or maybe martinis. I mean I try not to go to too many heavy, you know, martinis and cocktails these days, you know. I’ve done too many of those in the past, so, yeah the gin and tonic is sort of my easy way to not drink too much.
MM: You’ve got a lot of irons in a lot of fires.
MILLER: Yeah, I’ve got the attention span of a gnat really and I sort of, I like to do things or I like the creation of some things but then I like to move onto something else and hopefully I can have somebody to sort of look after the baby or the monster I’ve just created and then I can move onto the next one.
MM: Hopefully more babies than monsters. What would be your advice to the readers of Made Man to embrace that lifestyle?
MILLER: Yeah, I mean, I’m, I’m a real early riser. You know, I’m sort of up at six most mornings and I enjoy the first part of the day, you know, I love the day. And I’m also of the school of thought that, you know, that nights after one o clock in the morning there’s really very few conversations ever worth having because most people are always, you know, have had too much to drink or, you know, whatever. So I’m really the early morning person. And, you’ve got to get involved in things that you actually get pleasure out of doing, you know? I mean, I could never get involved in a business that I didn’t have a passion for just because of the money. I think that’s the thing. Other people can do it for the money and they don’t care what they make or what they do because they’re making the money and they can be very contended in that. I prefer to do something which I actually, and most of the things I start doing I’m not doing them for the money. I’m hoping I don’t lose any money and if they make money that’s great, but if I can still enjoy it and make it, make it just break even then I’m, you know, I’d rather it make money but I’m happy if it just, you know, doesn’t lose money.
MM: Did you have a lot of input as far as what it actually tasted like and the crafting of the actual spirit?
MILLER: Yeah well, what we did is we found a real master distiller and we spent nearly two years playing with mixing botanicals around and just and we did go through an awful lot of distillations which we didn’t like. You know, when they came back we though “Oh god this tastes more like petrol than gin” and things of this nature. Every distillation took six to eight weeks for the new batch to come through and it took nearly two years to get that. But I was always adamant that if we’re going to do a gin and I’m going to drink a lot of it, it had to be something that I personally wanted to drink. You know, you can have the best product in the world, the best drink in the world, if it’s not to your taste you’re not really going to enjoy it. So it was a very, it was a selfish starting point.
MM: Do you have anything else to add?
MILLER: No, I don’t think so. I just think the whole thing about, you know, you’re going to be in an industry like I am, the drinks industry, I can’t think of a better drink than gin. So, its, and it’s, once you’ve done it it’s lovely and simple, you know? It’s not something, you don’t have to wait for the different harvest each year. Wine would be a nightmare for me because I’d have to worry about it all the time. You know, when you’ve got the formula right, you’re away.