It’s 6pm on a cold Tuesday evening, and I’m getting to grips with a crisp martini by a roaring fire at Martin Miller’s Gin Masterclass for the Gintelligentsia, held at Miller’s Residences, a hidden gem of a hotel in London’s Notting Hill.
Miller’s is referred to as a ‘residence’ both as a nod to its Victorian-inspired décor, and the fact that this is more like a luxuriant private home than a hotel: gilt-framed oil paintings cover the walls, there are crystal balls, stuffed animals, candelabras, chess sets, and books — lots of books. And with only eight rooms, guests are encouraged to meet and mingle as though being hosted by a mutual friend.
Guest or not, there’s nowhere better to do that than at the drawing room bar. Not only is it free for residents (and you can mix yourself drinks all night should you wish) but cocktails are a major part of the Miller’s experience. For Mr Martin Miller, the hotel’s proprietor, is also the proud founder of his very own brand of gin.
It would seem only natural that Martin Miller should combine his two passions to create a gin masterclass at the hotel, presided over by the eminent mixologist Craig Harper.
I try my hand at a classic Martinez — the discerning gentleman’s drink of choice between 1884-1888. Martin Miller’s Gin (50ml) is added to 20ml red vermouth, 5ml maraschino liqueur and a dash of Angostura bitters. Craig advises us to fill the mixing glass with as much ice as we can and shows us how to use the flat end of a cocktail spoon to mix. Keep stirring, Craig tells us, until the glass is freezing to touch, then drain into a martini glass and serve with a twist — a small slice of lemon rind squeezed on top of the drink then dropped in for garnish. The result is sweeter than the classic martini, and I don't think I could drink more than one (probably a good thing).
While we’re mixing, Mr Harper holds us rapt with a short history of cocktails. He dispels some of the myths about spirits, such as absinthe making you hallucinate (it doesn’t), and explaining the etymology of ‘cocktail’ (it’s equestrian) and other drink names.
Throughout the evening, we try our hands at five different martinis, all of which were popular in different eras. Feeling comfortably drunk we head to a nearby pub to put our newly acquired gin expertise into action. It’s here that Craig shares with us the wisdom of Dorothy Parker on martinis: ‘I like to have a martini. Two at the very most. After three I'm under the table, after four I'm under my host.’
Alas, too late.
Miller’s Residence, 111a Westbourne Grove, London W2 4UW Tel: +44 (020) 7243 1024; millersuk.com. Miller’s Gin Masterclass is £10 per person. A bottle of Martin Miller’s super premium gin and copy of The Story of Martin Miller’s Gin is also included. To find out more email email@example.com.