Last weekend, Martin Miller’s Gin hosted a gin mixers’ competition at Death & Co. in New York. Bartenders from the UK and the US battled to impress a distinguished panel of judges. Although invited to attend, I was unable to do so, having made previous plans to adopt a kitten this weekend. Yes, that’s right, a kitten, smartass.
I was able, though, to join Miller co-founder David Bromige and his posse at Milk & Honey on Friday evening. As surprising as this may seem, this was my first visit to M&H, and I’m grateful to Miller’s PR man, James Monahan, for the invitation.
First, let me describe Milk & Honey, for those who’ve never been. Getting in is not easy; you need the unpublished number, and you need to reserve in advance. M&H founder Sasha Petraske wants to keep the vibe intimate, the bar uncrowded, and the sidewalk outside the bar uncluttered by chattering fools. If you’ve ever been inside or outside a crowded New York bar on a weekend night, you can see the advantage to his approach.
Nothing outside the bar announces that it’s a bar. Well, almost nothing. There’s a red metal pail hanging from a hook, filled with sand and cigarette butts. The letters “M &” are on the door, the H having disappeared by the time of my visit. The bar is inside a storefront that at one point was apparently a tailor’s shop. (Incidentally, I’d love to know the pre-M&H history of the space. If anyone knows, e-mail me–adashofbitters at gmail dot com–or comment here.)
The bar has six tables (banquettes), plus bar stools and a bit of standing room. The tight control at the door means you never have to push through a crowd to move through the bar. Nothing irritates me so much as having to make people physically move so I can reach the bar, the loo, or the exit. M&H has no cocktail menu but will match a drink to your taste. Our table ordered a batch of Miller’s-based gin drinks–two Last Words, a Ramos Gin Fizz for Mr. Bromige, and a Negroni for me. (The best Negroni I’ve had. I wonder what vermouth they used.)
David Bromige is a wonderful drinking companion. He briefly related the history of his spirit, and how he, Martin Miller, and Andreas Versteegh came up with the formula, after many, many rounds of testing. He described the gin as a vanity project, one that they enjoyed so well they eventually chose to market it.
He described Miller’s distillation process: the botanicals are steeped in grain alcohol for 24 hours before distilling. Actually, the botanicals are steeped in batches. One batch, in one still, contains juniper, iris, cassia, licorice, coriander, angelica, orris, and nutmeg; the other batch contains citrus peels. This brings a layered, nuanced flavor to the final product. They then ship the distillate to Iceland, where it’s cut with glacial water, bottled, and shipped to its destination.
Iceland provides another advantage than just the water–it’s midway between Miller’s two main markets, Europe and the United States. This cuts the cost of shipping the gin to the U.S.
Jeffrey Morgenthaler has an extensive series of posts with more details and photos of the process, beginning here. Morgenthaler was a guest of the people of Miller’s Gin, who flew him over to convince his skeptical mind that the Icelandic water actually does matter to the flavor of the gin.
Anyway, we finished up at M&H and moved on to Sasha Petraske’s newest place, White Star Bar. Although White Star specializes in absinthe, this didn’t feel like the night to expand my mind; I’ve only tried three or four products in the absinthe category. Instead, I tried something off the well-curated cocktail menu–the American Trilogy, a mix of rye whiskey, applejack, and orange bitters.
I also got to chat, albeit very briefly, with Jamie Boudreau and Paul Clarke, both of whom were in town to participate in the competition. Boudreau was there to dazzle the judges with his gleaming white smile, and Paul was along to snap his fellow judges out of Jamie’s spell. “Don’t fall for his charm! It’s a trap!”
But our visit was altogether too short because everyone else was off to Employees Only bar for a late-night nosh and more drinks. I, on the other hand, didn’t want to barge in on my crash-pad host at 3 or 4 or 5 or 6 am, and I had a busy Saturday planned, adopting the aforementioned kitten with Mrs. Bitters.
I’ll post again soon on results from the competition, plus a couple of images that James e-mailed, and maybe a couple more jokes at Paul Clarke’s expense.