AN ANCIENT RECIPE FOR PERFECTION

THE SPICE OF LIFE

Fortunes won and lost, kings and emperors seduced, nations subjugated, all in the name of spices.

Spices flatter our senses and cast spells over our imagination. Spices have been instrumental in some of humanity’s greatest adventures and, to this day, invite us to explore – even if we never travel further than the nearest bar.

Try it, place your nose into a Martin Miller’s gin and tonic and feel yourself become energised and reminded of journeys to exotic places.

Before the discovery of the sea route to India, the Silk Road linked the orient and the west, stretching from the Mediterranean to China. Along this road travelled Marco Polo, before him the Romans and, before them, Alexander the Great.

By the 15th century this route had become too hazardous due to tribal raiders; so at its far eastern end the Chinese collected cloves and nutmeg from the East Indies and delivered them to the Malaysian port of Malacca. Here Muslim merchants from India, Malaya or Arabia transported the goods across the Bay of Bengal to India where cinnamon from Ceylon was added to the cargo to be sold on in the spice ports of Kolkata, Cochin and Goa.

As Arabs controlled the Indian ocean, dhows sailed from India to Persia, Arabia and onward to east Africa, picking up cargoes of cassia bark and every manner of exotic spices along the way. From Zanzibar the now fully-laden dhows made their way up the Red Sea past Aden and on to the port of Bab-el-Mandeb. From here the precious cargo was transferred to Egyptian vessels for the journey through the Nile valley to Cairo.

In Cairo the spoils were divided and taken by riverboat and camel caravan to Aleppo, Damascus or Constantinople. From these ports transport could be arranged on Italian ships bound for Venice and Genoa.

Here, wealthy Italian merchants would send them to grace the dining tables of Germany and France; or in annual convoys of Italian galleys through the straits of Gibraltar to England, the north and Low Countries.

SCARY SPICE

By the early eighteenth century the race for control of spices was well and truly on; the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, French and English were soon all in on the action, setting up factories, forts and eventually colonies all across the Indian ocean in order to protect their control over the production of various spices.

In 1708 the East India Company was formed by a merger of two rival companies to trade with the “Indies”. It was to become the strongest European power on the coast of India, able to enforce its will on the native rulers.

By the middle of the 18th century, over two thirds of that vast sub-continent was ruled by the company.

As a result, there were large numbers of British troops and ex-patriot civilians in colonial India. Malaria was a problem, and the only known preventative was to drink massive amounts of quinine. Quinine drunk neat is extremely bitter, so a variety of concoctions were dreamt up to make the required dose palatable.

One solution was to add a bit of gin to the medicine, and so the gin and tonic was born.

Now, vast numbers of expatriate British drinking vast amounts of gin created a problem: there simply wasn’t enough gin in India.

However, local entrepreneurs who built their own gin stills rapidly filled the vacuum.

One problem they encountered was that the English and Dutch recipes of the time contained botanicals that were expensive to import into India. The distilleries improvised using botanicals and aromatics that were already to hand, and a new style of gin was born.

These gins gave less emphasis to juniper. They had a softer, less ‘piney’ nose, and tended to have a higher alcoholic strength. The exotic botanical infusions in Indian style gins were spicy and intriguing in a way that other gins were not, and proved extremely popular.

ORANGES AND LEMONS SUPPORTING CAST

Many gins lay claim to a cast of thousands when listing their botanicals. Martin Miller, however, believed that an epic cast does not necessarily produce an epic gin.

He felt no need for exotic and obscure ingredients or for a chorus of botanicals that serve only to drown out the show’s star.

Rather Martin Miller’s Gin is, and always has been, a dry gin in the classic sense, with a well-chosen, balanced cast of botanicals. Top billing, of course, is given to juniper and then, in support, coriander, angelica, lime peel, liquorice root, nutmeg, cassia bark and Florentine iris.

Like a well-rehearsed troupe they go about their business, doing what they have always done, and doing it well.

Coriander gives the distinctive aroma of ginger, sage and lemon while angelica imparts its woody dryness. Liquorice and cassia root add sweetness and spicy aromas in equal measure and lime peel adds extra freshness. Finally, underpinning and binding it all together, is the aromatic and floral Florentine iris.