Dreamt up in a Notting Hill pub, Martin Miller’s Gin is making the leap from the specialists to the supermarkets… and the big time
We’ve all done it, haven’t we? Sat in a pub with a few pals indulging in flights of fancy about what we’d really like to do with our lives if we had the talent, money or time. Whatever life-changing scheme we concoct is usually long forgotten by the time the hangover kicks in the next day.
But not for Martin Miller. Back in 1998, the bon viveur and author of Miller’s Antique Price Guide was sitting with friends David Bromige and Andreas Versteegh in a Notting Hill pub pondering the sorry-looking G&Ts in front of them and wondering how good a gin they could make if money was no object. By the end of the lunch, Miller, who jokes “My mother always said she was conceived on gin then tried to get rid of me on gin,” had persuaded the others to have a go at reinventing the quintessential British spirit.
It wasn’t an easy journey. “A lot of the early distillations tasted of petrol or paraffin,” admits Miller. But 18 months later, the tipple widely credited as being the world’s first super-premium gin was born.
“My mother always said she was conceived on gin and then tried to get rid of me on gin”
Today, Martin Miller’s Gin, which is distilled in the Black Country in a century-old copper pot still called ‘Angela’, using 10 botanicals and Icelandic spring water, boasts an annual turnover of £14m and is available in two strengths: a 40% abv variant (rsp £25), which is targeted at retail, and the 45.2% abv Westbourne Strength version (rsp: £35), “the mixologists’ favourite”.
The last couple of years have marked a real step change in terms of growth, partly because of the growing popularity of premium gin (sales of which rose 11.6% in volume last year, according to International wine & Spirit Research) and partly as a result of the brand’s phenomenal success overseas. The company, which has doubled sales this year and aims to double them again next, is the fastest-growing gin in Spain and has won a hat full of awards in the US.
Its fastest growing market, though, is the UK and now, the brand is poised to dramatically step up its retail presence here. Next month, the gin, hitherto only available through the likes of Majestic, Oddbins and Harvey Nichols (as well as World Duty Free), hits the ‘shelves’ of Ocado in a deal that Miller believes “could be the tipping point” for the brand. The company is also poised to sign a deal with a supermarket, although he won’t divulge which, and is in talks with other retailers.
The big time beckons. Distribution through the multiples will see it take on the likes of Sipsmith and Hendrick’s, currently the only premium gin bigger than Martin Miller’s in the UK.
The company also continues to eye new international markets such as Brazil and India and not just to export to. “We hope to also play with something we might make in India,” reveals Miller. It would be “more peppery” than its existing gins but not radically different, he says. “We like to take something and refine it, not totally revolutionise it. If you use too many botanicals it gets to the point where they cancel each other out.”
There’s no danger of that happening to its gins. The focus will continue to be the 40% abv variant, although the company is considering expanding distribution of the Westbourne strength “if the right partner comes along”. And he is also pondering what to do with a 54% abv 10th anniversary gin, which is not currently for sale. As it takes distribution to the next level, Martin Miller’s is set to become a much more well-known brand in the UK - neither his mother’s ruin, it turns out, nor his.