By Kristofer Purnell
David Bromige and Andreas Versteegh had been in the alcohol business for years, and their friend Martin Miller was not. Martin was an accomplished writer, having published a book on antiques in the early ‘90s. With the amount of money he had—and a third unsuccessful marriage—Martin decided to “blow it and have fun.” He bought a 17th century house and held weekly parties with known figures, but things changed when the three friends ordered a gin and tonic while at a bar in London.
“These days, it’s really difficult to get across what the late ‘90s were like if you were buying gin,” said David, during a masterclass at The Peak at the Grand Hyatt. The bartender gave the three men half-pint beer glasses and poured one-thirds of a gill (around 40 milliliters) of gin, topped by half a pint of tonic. David recalled Martin’s disappointment even after being supplied with ice and lemons, “This is a disgrace, can’t you do something about this?”
Back then, drinks experts believed the gin market was dead, that the future was vodka, but that’s what got the three men thinking. Thus began their quest for a good glass of gin. They bought all the gin they could find and gave it out during the parties held at Martin’s house, just to see how young partygoers would find the drink. “Oh you know I like gin, it’s cool,” was the frequent reply, but when they were offered it they disliked the smell and taste. “They only liked the idea of gin,” Martin put it best.
Lady Luck must have been around because David spotted on Martin’s kitchen shelf bottles of Gordon’s Gin and Absolut Vodka Citron, and he got an idea to mix the two. Whatever concoction David found, it became a crowd favorite for the next four parties. Now knowing what kind of drink they were looking for, they luckily chanced upon what David called “the best distillery in England.” Rob, the man who worked there, said he couldn’t recreate the mix but when David and Andreas said how they made it, he offered advice.
“Let’s take the traditional botanicals that go into making gin, but separate the orange and lemon peels. While in another, still take the earthly elements like juniper, and blend the two,” recalled David on Rob’s words. They also added lime to have a balance with the juniper, but it still didn’t match up to the softness and scent of David’s cocktail. That’s where Icelandic spring water came in.
David and Andreas had experience with Icelandic water in making vodka, but to bring their work from England to Iceland would be expensive.
It was no problem for Martin, “What’s the matter? You want to make the best gin, don’t you? If no one buys it, at least you’ll have great gin to drink for the rest of you life,” quoted David.
The freshness and purity of the spring water in Iceland was the key ingredient to satisfying both the mouth and nose’s softness, and that led to the gin now known as Martin Miller’s.
One may wonder why the drink was named after Martin even if he wasn’t a drinks person. David acknowledges that his late friend (Martin passed away from cancer in 2013) was the type of guy to say, “You do something, and I’ll sit back and wait for you to do it, then I’ll complain and criticize.” But he trusted Martin’s judgment during the creation process because he says his friend was very good at pointing out the obvious, and it was evident in all his contributions.
David reiterates one of the things that pushed them was to help young people enjoy gin. These days, mixed drinks are all the rage, even flavored gin, but Martin would say, “That’s great, but it’s not gin.” After 20 years in the business, it can be said that Martin Miller (the brand and the man) created something authentic and redefined gin for everyone of all ages.