You know when you've been teaching for a while when a former student gives you a gin recommendation—and it turns out to be excellent. Such was the case with Martin Miller's gin.
I approached the bottle with some trepidation on account of said student being just a little over drinking age, though considering how well-traveled she is and her fondness for gin in general, I shouldn't have been surprised that her good taste would pave the way to a good tip-off. (At her age, I was drinking Mike's Hard Lemonade and Smirnoff Ice, so this girl is way ahead of the game.)
Martin Miller's "thing" is that it's distilled in England but made from an Icelandic water source. To be honest, that sounds a little labor intensive when I bet England has perfectly fine water right at home. Hell, scotch distillers make a big to-do about how good their water is and how critical it is to developing the character of a single-malt whisky. No matter: Iceland gave the world Bjork and now they're giving us the water for Martin Miller's.
I don't know how culpable the water source is in making Martin Miller's a stupendously good gin, but if this is the effect of Icelandic H2O, let's start putting the stuff in everything. Broken arm? Dip it in an Icelandic hot spring. Front bumper falling off your Corolla? Spray it with some water from Iceland. Marital problems? Take a couple's bath in Iceland and spend the next week making love.
So why is it so good? The taste of this stuff is downright amazing. Unlike any other gin I've had, the dominant flavor I pick up from Martin Miller's is pickled ginger, much like you'd have at a Sushi restaurant to cleanse your palate between courses. It's a wonderfully crisp, refreshing flavor that works very well with the usual aromatics in gin. Juniper isn't the star here, but it doesn't need to be.
Oddly enough, my friend Sarah pointed out that in a gin and tonic, Martin Miller's ginger flavor is accentuated even more, and the spirit is bold and delicious enough to work without the seemingly mandatory addition of lime. I was skeptical, and then I tried it, and she's absolutely right.
I'm aware that Martin Miller's has a "Westbourne strength" of 45.2% ABV, which is all well and good. I haven't had it, but at 40% ABV the standard version is flavorful enough and wonderfully delicate. The proof works for the profile, so while I'd be curious to try the Westbourne at some point in the future, it's not like the standard version is screaming out to be measurably improved. Evaluating it on its own merits, it's a stunner.
I should end by pointing out that Martin Miller's has basically no reason for being as good as it is for as inexpensive as it is. Generally, a bottle runs between $20 and $30, which is great value even when you're being overcharged for it. At that price, the MM will undoubtedly work as a great mixer, but in that application the spirit is punching down. If you've never thought of having a gin on its own, here is unquestionably the place to start.