Thursday, December 30, 2010
We participated in a discussion on the evolution of Wine-Compass.com into MyJoogTV.com. Our episode also includes Rollin Soles, Co- Founder and Winemaker, Argyle Winery, Dundee, Oregon, Willamette Valley; Jessie Niewoldt and Kate Connors, Center for Wine Origins; Frederick T. Merwarth, owner-operator, Winemaker, Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard, Dundee, New York, Seneca Lake, Finger Lakes; and Michael Giarraputo, Founder and CEO, Think Tank® Wine Company.
Monday, December 27, 2010
According to Miller, the 4 components to make a good gin are: 1.) The ‘Base’ Spirit from which the gin is made by re-distillation; this must be grain spirit of the highest quality and consistency. 2.) The recipe which by strict tradition is always very secret. 3.) The ingredients themselves. Only the richest and finest. Martin Miller’s will consist of dark purple, puckered juniper berries harvested from the hills of Tuscany, India, of Macedonia. 4.) Last but not least, the equipment used to make the Gin. Martin Miller’s consists of a single three story high, balloon bellied, Samovarish pot still named Angela in what is said to be the ‘Rolls Royce’ of Gin Stills. However, not satisfied with the depth of this description, we submitted additional questions which Mr. Miller was kind enough to answer:
1. How long did it take you to produce your first batch - from conceptualizing, to design, to actual implementation?
It took us about 18 months. We started back in 1998, and the gin was finished to my satisfaction by the summer of 1999, when we launched. The idea was formed in a typical London Pub, when I was served what was supposed to be a Gin and Tonic – 75 proof gin, one ice cube, a slice of preserved lemon and dreadful gun tonic. It was that moment when I realized just how far standards for gin had fallen in the face of the relentless march of vodka. I needed to create a gin that would put a smile back on the face of gin drinkers, myself included. It was time for a Gin Renaissance.
2.Where is the actual distilling facility?
The gin distillery is situated in the Black Country, just west of Birmingham.
3. Which grains to you use to create the base spirit and where are they grown?
The grain we use is barley, which is grown in East Anglia, for the most part.
4. Our readers are becoming interested in organically made spirits. Does Martin Miller's Gin qualify?
When I first conceived the idea for Martin Miller’s, the idea was not a commercial consideration, rather, it was to simply make the best gin possible, without considering the cost or time involved. Organic or not, our first and only consideration was whether or not this process or ingredient takes us closer to making the perfect gin. Personally speaking, I am suspicious of spirits claiming to be organic. Take for example, Juniper Berries. Their quality varies enormously year to year in a wide variety locations, be that Tuscany, Macedonia or India. We always source the best available berries from whatever location is delivering the highest quality that year. If we were to apply for organic status, this would compromise our ability to switch and change our sources as quality varied. Gin is not a product of ‘terroir’. In the case of wines, I can see a strong case for organic but with gin and other white spirits, I see it as more of a marketing claim, no more, no less.
5. What is your water supply for creating the mash?
The water used for the mash is from a spring within the distillery, but what’s more important to Martin Miller’s is the water that we use for blending; after all, this water is anything from 50 to 60% of the liquid in the bottle.
For blending, we use Icelandic Spring Water, which is simply the purest and softest naturally occurring water to be found on the planet. Its super softness and purity give us a very gentle and ordered delivery of the botanicals and aromatics, making it the perfect water for blending gin. It’s very expensive for us to do this, but the usual de-mineralised water used to blend most spirits simply doesn’t measure up.
6. How many times is the base spirit distilled - do you use just the heart, or also re-distill the head and tail?
Martin Miller’s is pot distilled in small batches; each batch is a single distillation. We use only the heart of the spirit, as the heads and tails are discarded. The copper still is over a hundred years old, and we use the traditional method of maceration and direct distillation rather than the ‘tea bag’ steaming process. Most importantly, Martin Miller’s is the only gin to employ two separate and distinct distillations; one for the Juniper and one for the ‘earthier’ botanicals, the dried citrus peels,. The two distillates are then ‘married’ to create the final distillate. This gives us a clarity to the citrus notes without them overpowering the juniper.
7. How did you determine which juniper berries to use?
Simply from the quality of the oils they produce, and nothing more. Provenance and cost are not a consideration.
8.What other botanicals are infused into the Gin that you can reveal?
From the beginning, I wanted to improve on the classic recipe for gin. The fashion these days is to add all manner of exotic and increasingly outlandish ‘botanicals’ to gin, though what they all bring to the party baffles me. Our fashion was to stick to the traditional ‘pallette’ of botanicals; juniper, cassia, angelica, coriander, Florentine iris, with, of course, the addition of bitter orange and lemon peel. I wanted to create a gin that tasted like a good gin should – only more so! So, the brief was to be creative with the traditional botanicals.
9. What is a "Samovarish" still and what advantages does it give compared to other pot stills? - Sounds very Russian.
Well, the still that we use looks pretty Russian too! As a matter of fact, the still shape has quite an influence on the final spirit. We tried spirit from several different stills before settling on ‘Angela’, the still we use to this day.
10. What are the retail price points?
I’m the wrong person to ask! That’s a question for the whizz kid marketing boys to answer. All I know is that they constantly complain about what they call the ‘high cost of goods’ and I simply tell them that it’s not my problem. In the US, I believe that we sell the 80 proof product for around $25 and my beloved Westbourne Strength Martin Millers for around $35. At those prices, I think we’re practically giving it away!
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
That evening we also consumed two other value wines, the Honey Moon Viognier made popular by our friend Dezel at My Vine Spot and the Domaine Barry Cotes du Rhone 2008, the first priced at $5.99, the latter at $8.99. I did say value wines. Apparently the Viognier has declined slightly in quality, but it is still refreshing, slightly acidic wine with strong peach flavors. The Cotes du Rhone, on the other hand, is nothing special; just a decent drinking wine. And don't bother trying to research; most sites have it listed as a Bordeaux wine containing Cabernet Franc and Merlot. In reality, being a Rhone wine, it was most likely composed of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Roussanne, or Cinsault.
Friday, December 10, 2010
Sunday, December 5, 2010
Leading up to these events we had a chance to discuss with Hollingsworth his brewing experience. He started at an early age, 18 or 19 years of age - when consumption of alcohol was legal at that age. At the time he lived in Baltimore and purchased a home brew kit at a store in nearby Ellicott City. He remembers enjoying the beers from the old Sisson's Brewpub (now Heavy Seas Brewery) and wanted to reproduce those quality beers. His first brew was a light lager, but he quickly turned to Porters, not only for its amicable characteristics, but also because it seemed easier to produce. He remained a leisurely home brewer until he relocated to Colorado where the presence of a vibrant brewing community elevated his interest. He decided to become a more serious home brewer and even received advice from home brew guru Charlie Papazian author of The Complete Joy of Homebrewing Third Edition (Harperresource Book).
Because of the heavy touring regularly scheduled for The String Cheese Incident, Hollingsworth only brews a handful of times a year. Music is still the number one priority. He used to schedule brewing so he would have a six pack to bring on the road, but over the years has had to ask others to babysit the bottles. Today he store's his beer in Kegerators, so the nightmare of an amateur bottling line has ended. And since his band mates don't really share his strong attraction to craft beers - no kegs on the bus. His palette has also changed over the years where today he prefers the hoppy India Pale Ale styles.
But what has kept him attracted to crafting beer is its similarity to writing music. At some point they both require a creative "leap of faith" whether trying something new in the brewing process (using a new grain or adding a botanical like sassafras) or mixing in a new style of music. The result of this attraction will be on display next week in Colorado.
To learn more about Hollingsworth check out this video from his YouTube channel. If you are new to Untying the Not, and branch out from there.