I just got an email from Martin…otherwise known as ‘The Boss’. And I’ve got to be honest…it’s a little bit awkward.
You see, in the run up to Valentines Day, he’s invited me down to London for the evening to meet with him on his boat, on a promise of drinks and sweet treats. And whilst it’s technically under the guise of ‘work’, something tells me that it’s ‘pleasure’ he’s got on his mind.
Now while I’m keen to get ‘the promotion’, I’m very conscious that I’m a married man! And as I ponder my reply, I find myself at a dilemma; do I graciously decline the offer, or do I close my eyes, purse my lips and ‘drink in the good life’?
As I boarded the train, there was a slight twinge of guilt in my gut as I thought of my wife. She bloody loves macarons.
…yeah. Probably going to need a bit of explanation that bit isn’t it? If you can lift your minds out of the gutter for just a moment, allow me to provide a little more context.
I had received a rather exciting email from a ‘not so secret’ admirer – based on the fact that they had thoughtfully and pragmatically included their name and branding within the verbiage; it was from my good friends at Martin Miller’s Gin. Or as I like to call them ‘The Boss’.
The metaphorical love letter was inviting me down to London for a pre-February 14th shindig, where they would be hosting an intriguing sounding gin pairing like no other, in collaboration with their valentine for the night ‘Oh La La! Macarons’. And what’s more, it was going to be taking place on the ridiculously cool ‘The Boathouse – London’ situated on the Grand Union Canal, near Paddington.
Now for those who have been following me for a while now, you’ll likely know my infatuation with Martin Miller’s Gin. In taking a stroll down ‘Memory Lane’, going back to my 2016 (2016?! wow.) review of the Martin Miller’s Westbourne Strength Gin, I declared;
“Whenever I’m asked ‘what are your top 5 gins’, I take a deep breath as if I’m about to produce a plumbers quote. It’s not an easy one to answer! However, one thing remains a constant. The top spot belongs to what I refer to as ‘The Boss’. Martin Millers Gin. It is quite simply, in my opinion, top dog.”
You can find my full review of Martin Miller’s Westbourne Strength Gin here:
So with the offer of sampling the full Martin Miller’s range, expertly paired alongside world class macarons that had been specifically crafted with complementary flavour profiles in mind, what choice did I realistically have? I mean, you never say no to ‘The Boss’ right?!
The last time I had been this excited for a ‘House Party’ it was hosted by Noel Edmonds during the height of the 1990’s. Though as I exited Paddington tube station, I couldn’t help but hope that nobody ended up overboard in the canal – no one needs a ‘crinkley bottom’!
Martin Miller’s; Love Boat…
After a stroll along the beautifully presented waterfront, only marred by the slight panic of an obviously lost tourist (until I realised I was on the wrong side of the canal!), I arrived at ‘The Boathouse – London’. I knew in an instant that this was set to be a very special evening.
The quietly unassuming vessel, with a gangway modestly lit with chic industrial filament bulbs, masked an Art Deco interior that was simply breathtaking.
After entering through a set of double glass doors, trying my hardest not to make a joke about the ‘poop deck’, I was greeted by a generously decorated table, laden with assorted macarons and gin tasting paraphernalia.
Beautifully decorated with flower arrangements that complemented the pastel colour scheme of the confectionery, the setting couldn’t have been more romantic even if Hugh Grant and Colin Firth turned up to fist fight over Renée Zellweger.
And what’s more, they’d even supplied natty ‘on brand’ Martin Miller’s cushions for added seating comfort. Rest assured, there would be no ‘crinkley bottoms’ here! (yes, I’ve made the same joke twice in the same blog. Get over it.).
The welcoming ceremony was conducted as all good welcoming ceremonies should be; with a drink! Cue the deliciously refreshing Martin Miller’s original, served with Fever-Tree Sicilian Lemonade and a sprig of fresh mint, courtesy of Martin Miller’s Marketing guru Florencia.
Let me tell you, this is a summer sipper I’ll be coming back to time & time again in the warmer weather later this year. Delicious.
After having turned up so early I was mistaken for a member of the crew (no joke!), my ‘fashionably early appearance’ was soon remedied by the arrival of more guests.
And I was thrilled to find that I would be unexpectedly spending my evening in the wonderful company of my old friend Katie Hughes (@whatskatiedoing) and new friend Nicci (@londontipples).
Once suitably seated, and the excitable ruckus was brought to an expectant hush, our host for the evening took to his ringmaster duties; the effortlessly cool UK Brand Ambassador for Martin Miller’s Gin, Rory O’Sullivan.
Martin Miller’s; A brief history of nearly everything…
With our thirst for gin tamed, momentarily at least, it was time to quench our thirst for knowledge. Though I must say that the brief foray in to the Martin Miller’s story was pitched at just the right level. All too often I’ve witnessed brands start from tales of ‘Mother’s Ruin’, through each excruciating detail of the distillation process as they literally ‘distill’ the life out of the room. Not the case here. The enigmatic Rory regales stories of founder Martin Miller, who was anything but ordinary.
With a plotted history in the arts, Miller waltzed through stints in photography, art and antique collecting, going on to set up the ‘Miller’s Academy’ (an arts-and-science lecture venue in London). Perhaps most fitting of all for this Valentines evening, at age 16 he even authored his own book; ‘A guide to success with the fairer sex’ – an instruction manual that would have been graciously appreciated by my own 16 year old self!
But it was the artistic visionaries decision to remedy the sullied reputation of gin by self learning the craft of distilling spirits that had brought us together this evening. And as the history lesson wound to an entertaining end, bottles of the Martin Miller’s flagship gin were passed down the table for the next phase of the agenda; a work of art indeed.
Martin Miller’s; The Art of a good G&T
Water, water, everywhere – so let’s all have a drink. Boy, all this learning was thirsty work! Luckily Rory was on hand to help with the ‘rehydration’ as we ratcheted the evening up a notch.
‘Perfect serve’ is a phrase that gets banded about a lot these days. But much as cucumber is the natural bed partner to Hendricks Gin, strawberries and a crack of black pepper are synonymous with Martin Miller’s. The red fruits live to enhance the vibrant citrus / sweet liquorice nature of the gin, whilst the pepper latches on to the spiced finish for the win. The London Essence tonic is a new one on me, but I really enjoyed its lively citrus bitterness and champagne bubble-esq qualities.
Like milk in tea, serve ratios are left to the drinkers discretion, though I tend to opt for a 1:3 ratio of 50ml (ish…) gin to 150ml tonic.
And whilst there are no wrong answers, any more tonic than that and you were made to exit the evening with a short walk off the plank in to the canal! (not true, but should always be the case).
Martin Miller’s; Painting the town (macaron) red…
If free flowing gin wasn’t enough excitement for one Friday evening, pumping guests full of sugar from the highly acclaimed ‘Oh La La! Macarons’ was bound to do the trick!
Founded in 2013 by entrepreneur Meredith O’Shaughnessy, in her Bloomsbury London flat, a plan was hatched to launch an all female led macaron baking company with a core ethos of using only the highest-quality ingredients and a focus on exquisite creativity.
Though initially reserved for private workshops and booze inspired hen-parties, word soon spread and demand rapidly grew. Private clients have gone on to include Vivienne Westwood Couture and Lulu Guiness.
Best of all, Meredith eventually took the plunge and made her macarons available to the public via the website http://www.ohlalamacarons.com so that everyone can enjoy the fruits (well, macarons) of her labour.
Hey – if it’s good enough for Vivienne (‘Viv’ to her friends… ‘Vivienne’ to me) then it’s good enough for me!
Given the backstory, the first thing I noticed was that our compère for this portion of the agenda didn’t fit particularly well with the ‘female led’ description. To start with HIS name was Elliot…the self proclaimed ‘typical white male’ who had just had to spoil things!
As the ‘Oh La La!’ Operations Manager, Elliot was funny, charming and oozed every bit of the brand identity that you could wish for – we couldn’t have been in better hands.
As we were invited to sample a selection of delicacies from the core range (raspberry, chocolate, vanilla, apple pie, lemon) Elliot explained how the macarons are even good for those with gluten intolerances, given that ‘Oh La La!’ never add flour or stabilizers to their little works of art.
However, those with nut allergies need not apply!
After hearing about the painstaking effort that goes in to finessing designs that have quite literally featured on the New York Cat-Walk, it was our turn to have a go at decorating some blank canvases ourselves. Something told me that New York wouldn’t be calling me anytime soon…
With an array of edible art supplies, I set to work trying my darnest to replicate a Martini Glass design, using a combination of royal icing, sprinkles and ALL of the glitter.
I can only imagine what sights you’d behold at a hen-party equivalent…
Of course, at the end of the ‘art attack’, there had to be a winner. And despite best efforts…it wasn’t me. But as they say, it’s the taking part that counts. Which is a fallacy. I was livid. Still am, truth be told.
We moved swiftly on.
Martin Miller’s & Oh La La! Macarons; To taste
There was a palpable sense of anticipation as carefully packaged trays of macarons were handed out to the table in advance of the pièce de résistance; the pairing.
Now I’ll be honest – gin and macarons as a pairing isn’t something that I would have naturally put together, owing to the high sugar content and the concern that it could mask the more delicate profiles of the neat spirits. But this was to be no ordinary gin tasting…each macaron had been carefully designed and tailored to complement the characteristics of each of the gins, the flavours aiming to heighten and enhance the drinking experience.
The Martin Miller’s strap line is ‘from madness to genius’. And we were about to experience it up close and personal.
Martin Miller’s Original Gin
Macaron design: Red macarons with black pepper
Filling flavour: Strawberry + Black Pepper
Having consistently won more awards for excellence in the world’s leading spirit competitions than any other gin in the last 15 years, this was always going to be the obvious starting point.
Smooth notes of lemon peel and fresh juniper pine greet the nose. On the palate, a subtle liquorice sweetness emerges with a lightly spiced finish to complement the classic citrus and juniper that are teeming throughout.
As with all of the Martin Miller’s gins, pure Icelandic spring water is used to bring the final distillate to strength.
It is so naturally pure, filtering through the volcanic rock, that no artificial intervention is required – it quite simply gives Martin Miller’s its trademark taste.
When tasted as a pairing, sipping the neat gin alongside a bite of the macaron as instructed by Rory & Elliot, it is a strong start.
There’s an intense upfront sugar hit of sweet strawberry, supported by a slight crack of black pepper spice on the finish, cleverly mimicking the signature G&T serve from earlier in the evening.
Martin Miller’s Westbourne Strength Gin
Macaron design: Pink with 24k gold leaf
Filling flavour: Intense Raspberry
There was no hiding my excitement as the Westbourne Strength made its appearance. With a ratio of 60% juniper / 40% citrus (which is flipped from standard edition), the nose is met by bursts of lemon and lime that take on a marmalade effect. The higher booze content presents a slightly more spiced offering, with the warmth of the coriander seed perhaps most prominent.
The neat spirit is very smooth, almost creamy, with pungent juniper and a heavier hitting burn to satisfy the palate.
When tasted with the ‘Intense Raspberry’ macaron, the sweetness does wonders to cut through and tame the gin. Mellow almond and the interwoven playfulness of the sweetness/sharpness of raspberry are as interesting and delicious in equal measure.
Martin Miller’s Summerful Gin
Macaron design: Yellow with gold hexagon
Filling flavour: Bees Knees (Lemon + Honey)
Summerful Gin sees the integration of seasonal English rosemary and Arctic thyme from Iceland to the Martin Miller’s Original Gin. As the teams first seasonal variation, it is a celebration of the brands dual heritage, with an emphasis on freshness.
Floral herbaceous notes grasp the nostrils, with an amplified sense of greenery, which transcend in to a lavender like perfume. On the palate there’s a heightened level of freshness, with a menthol hit becoming more pronounced.
And as for the macaron pairing? My word. This was my winner of the evening, hands down. The lemon and honeycomb vibes of the play on a ‘Bees Knees’ was the perfect accompaniment to the lavender, mint and assorted herbal notes of the liquid.
Whilst not my favourite gin from the range, as far as a taste pairing goes this was an absolute triumph.
Martin Miller’s Winterful Gin
Macaron design: Blush pink with red splash
Filling flavour: Red Currant + Cinnamon
Described as being ‘Christmas in a glass’, the Winterful Gin is the Ying to the Summerful’s Yang.
Harnessing ingredients more commonly found in mulled wines, the nose is a heady hit of ripe clementines, bright mandarin and dense mulled spices. Warming cinnamon spice is close behind on the follow up, metaphorically dusting the palate.
As tasting notes are swapped, Katie points out the prominence of cardomom. And that’s it. Once cardomom is mentioned, it’s almost all I can taste.
Robust, layered and complex, whilst I wouldn’t reach for the Winterful as a regular ‘go to’, this is a gin that I can see sitting very comfortably in a festive Negroni.
The pairing with the macaron sees an emphasis on the sweet spice of cinnamon, coating the tastebuds and bringing an additional level of warmth to the sipping.
Martin Miller’s 9 Moons Gin
Macaron design: White with gold brush
Filling flavour: Coconut + Caramel
It’s safe to say that I was very excited at the prospect of trying the 9 Moons – a gin that had long been sat on my ‘hit list’. That said, given he described it as being ‘his baby’, the bottle would first need wrestling from Rory’s firm clutch…
Once decanted in to the tasting glass, it would prove to have been worth the wait.
Cask-aged for 9 months (or 9 lunar cycles) in French oak barrels, in the Icelandic climate, this was always going to be a bit special. Complex and distinctive on both the nosing and taste, an oaky elegance works hand in hand with the crisp pine of the juniper. The aging process unleashes a creamy, vanilla like profile that is uplifted by spiky citrus peel pangs.
The regal feel of the gin is matched perfectly by the gold leaf design of the stunningly finished macaron. Packed to the rafters with rich caramel and desiccated coconut, it’s the perfect Valentines partner to the oaky sweetness of the neat spirit.
With multiple other moons having been created, though their supplies dwindling, it’s an expression I’m keen to get to know better ASAP.
Martin Miller’s; Roses are Red, Martin is Blue…
As the tasting came to an end, it was time to exchange fond farewells and high fives for a truly special evening. I once again fought the temptation to make a ‘poop deck’ joke as I headed for the doors…
But in true Martin Miller’s style, the standard flimsy Hallmark card was replaced and upgraded for something far more appealing; a neatly bowed blue box had my name written all over it (well, actually it had ‘Martin Miller’s’ written on it. But you know what I mean).
Inside you ask? A bottle of the Martin Miller’s flagship gin, a miniature of the vibrant Summerful Gin, a variety of assorted bar tools and a beautifully presented box of bespoke macarons that had been baked specifically for the occasion; ‘Rosemary & Artic Thyme’ and ‘Cinnamon & Mandarin’.
Whilst I contemplated explaining to my pregnant wife that the macarons, alongside my own hand decorated masterpieces that had inexplicably made it home with me in one piece, were laced with gin – I cleverly realised the opportunity of presenting these as a Valentines gift!
Don’t feel too bad for her – if it helps, I got diddly squat!.
If I ever needed proof that romance wasn’t dead, I also managed to charm Rory in to letting me leave with the remnants of the Westbourne bottle – a love affair that continues as strong today as when I first tasted it.
As I sipped from an ice cold Westbourne Strength Martini, reminiscing on the events that had unfolded, I took the opportunity to reflect on my final thoughts from my original review from 6 years earlier;
“Some circles have been moved to call Martin Miller’s Westbourne Gin the ‘Best Gin of 2016’. I absolutely agree with them. And with the original variety on offer in most good supermarkets for around the £25 mark, this is a gin that should take pride of place on every Gin Shelf”.
And you know what. My opinion remains unchanged. If anything, Martin Miller’s just continue to evolve and get better. They’re at the top of their game.
But then what did you expect. As I said – they’re ‘The Boss’.
A huge thanks to Martin Miller’s and ‘Oh La La! Macarons’ for inviting me to their tasting evening and for being so generous in their time and gifts – it was an evening to remember!
Be sure to keep a close watch on what ‘the anything but ordinary’ clan are getting up to over on their website and social media channels!
And don’t forget to stop by @theginshelf across all social media platforms for more blogs & event updates. Stop by, say ‘Hi’ & chat gin!