I've walked into mysterious non-descript doorways more times than I'd care to admit, but none pleased me as much as the sight that greeted me when I walked through this one. It was the entrance to Miller's Residence for Martin Miller's Gin Masterclass for the Gintelligentsia (try saying that after a couple...). I had been invited to the event by Craig Harper, the brand's ambassador, after declaring my love of this particular gin on Twitter. The hallway, painted in a brave bright azure blue, was covered in paintings. As we walked up the red carpeted stairs, I noticed trays and piles of sweets everywhere. There was always something to look at and I instantly fell in love with the place.Martin Miller (above) himself briefly welcomed us, and armed with a martini each, we took our places to be educated of the ways of this cocktail by Craig, who turned out to be an enigmatic and engaging host.
I've always been a bit afraid of martinis, mainly because they're so strong and the ones I'd drunk had that horrible booze burn that can almost make you retch. There is also the fear of getting roaring drunk after a couple of sips. However, a martini made for me by Essex Eating at The Blaggers' Banquet back in November changed my mind entirely. Rather than that familiar burn, these slid down smoothly. I still got completely shit-faced, so I was right to be afraid in one respect.
After a brief history on cocktails - my favourite factoid being that back in the day cocktails were drunk in the morning to steady oneself from a heavy night before - we started off with one of the original martinis, the Martinez from 1884. Us members of the audience were singled out to make the drinks and like the proper Brits we are, we all looked in any direction to avoid it. It was sweet tasting, unsurprisingly given that it was 1:1 gin to sweet Italian vermouth. In contrast, the dry martini (1903) was heavily scented with citrus. Perhaps predictably, my favourite of the evening was Harry's Dry Martini (1922), shaken by my good self. Craig dispelled myths of shaking a martini to be seen as "bruising" the gin, but instead explained the science behind the slight cloudy appearance of the drink, caused by aerating the liquid.
The revelation of the night was the Super Dry Martini Doble from 1951. Made with 2 parts gin to 1 part Noilly Prat dry and flavoured with absinthe, orange bitters and a lemon twist, it reminded me of childrens' toothpaste. In a good way. I've always associated absinthe with That Terrible Night but having learnt that absinthe can be used to flavour a drink rather than having to endure it in one horrible shot or long drink, this is now the only way it'll pass my lips.
To finish, we had a good ol' chat about gin over delicious gin and tonics, happily served with wedges of lime instead of the dreaded lemon. Little vials of aromatics that flavour Miller's, such as angelica and orris root were sniffed (or inadvertently snorted, in my case - ugh) and just like that, 90 minutes had flown by and the hotel had to be returned to its guests.
Armed with a goody bag that contained a whole big bottle of Miller's and a glossy book about the brand, we repaired to the rather snazzy pub over the road for more gin and to slurp some oysters. I went home an extremely happy girl that night, debunking rumours that gin makes girls cry. It doesn't.
If you like gin (and why wouldn't you?) and want to do this too, tickets are ridiculously good value at £10. Email masterclass@martinmillersgin.
For more grainy, dark and slightly out of focus pictures of the evening - I refuse to annoy people with a flash - click HERE.