From the look of it, you’d never know that this historic gin was present at one of the most important moments in American spirits history. Tanqueray looks like a sophisticated and modern gin, and even had a delightfully irreverent series of commercials in the early 2000’s featuring Tony Sinclair that made it seem like a modern and novel take on the spirit. But, in reality, this is a spirit that dates back to a preacher’s son in the early 1800’s.
Charles Tanqueray was born in 1810 to a third generation member of the clergy in Bedfordshire, England. At the age of twenty, he decided that the church wasn’t really his scene and started experimenting with spirits production, making the first run of what would become his famous gin in 1830. He and his brother Edward learned about the spirits business at the Curries Distillery and, less than a decade after striking out, they had established a retail outlet named Edward & Charles Tanqueray & Co on Vine Street in London.
Edward did not live long enough to see the business take off, but Charles continued alone and eventually hit on a winning flavor combination for their gin by using just four ingredients: juniper, angelica root, liquorice and coriander seeds. Charles died in 1865 leaving the business to his son, who decided to merge with Alexander Gordon & Co (another gin producer) to better compete with the wave of gin distilleries popping up all over London. The two companies split their focus: Gordon’s Gin aimed at domestic tastes in London, and Tanqueray focused on the export market and, specifically, the United States.
Business was great, with prohibition barely being a stumbling block for the brand. When prohibition ended in the United States, reportedly the first legal cocktail served in the White House was a Tanqueray gin and tonic. The distillery would be bombed into near destruction (with only one still surviving) during World War II, but the company re-built bigger and better on the same site. Even that wasn’t enough, however, and in 1995 the company relocated to Scotland.
At some point over the years, the company was acquired by the British sprits giant Diageo, who maintains ownership of the brand to this day.
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The folks at Tanqueray don’t make their own base spirit, and instead use a wheat-based neutral spirit made by the same distillery (and reportedly from the same source spirit) as Smirnoff vodka. Once that spirit arrives at their facility, they directly add to the liquid the same four botanical components that have been used since the 1830’s: juniper, angelica root, liquorice and coriander seeds.
Here’s where things start to diverge from other gin distilleries, though. Some folks believe that leaving the botanicals to rest in the spirit over a longer period of time will improve the flavor. The folks at Tanqueray don’t agree and immediately add water and begin re-distilling the spirit into gin in their copper pot stills. Tanqueray also uses a one-shot distilling method in which all of the components are distilled together, rather than individually distilling each ingredient and blending together later.
Once the gin has been re-distilled, it is proofed down and shipped out the door.
The bottle is shaped like a cobbler-style cocktail shaker, with a cup shaped bottom section and a distinctive cap. It’s an interesting nod to the idea that this is something that should be mixed into a cocktail. The bottle also sports a bright red wax seal on the front for some contrasting colors, and a silver colored metal screw-on cap.
Something else to note about the bottle is the green color. That’s not the alcohol inside — that’s really just the bottle. I usually complain when I see a colored bottle, as you can’t really tell the color of the spirit inside, but with a clear and colorless re-distilled spirit like this there really isn’t any point. It’s all water at first glance, so you might as well go for a colorful bottle to stand out on the shelf.
The label is tastefully designed, a white strip on the green bottle with the brand name in the same color as the bottle. It looks refined and sophisticated, like a proper English gentleman should.
There’s a big burst of juniper on the nose here, supported by some nice zesty lemon peel and spicy coriander. Those supporting characteristics make this a better balanced and more well-rounded aroma than we’ve seen in some other gins, which is appreciated. It isn’t like the juniper Christmas Tree note is all on its own, but instead a component of a larger and more complex idea.
Taking a sip, those same flavors are all present and so much more. This is a London Dry Gin that actually acts like it, with the juniper large and in charge but not overpowering. There’s some good earthy and herbal licorice accompanying that juniper, toning it down and allowing other components like the coriander and the lemon peel I saw in the aroma interact and make a delicious combination. On the finish, there’s no bitterness or bite, either — just a pleasant licorice and juniper combination.
With some added ice, the juniper might not disappear from the aroma but it does drop out of the flavor a bit.
Instead of being large and in charge, the juniper note is now much more muted, and the licorice becomes the thing that comes through the strongest now. Coriander is up next, accompanied by a bit of lemon peel, and then finally the juniper peeks its head around the corner to make its presence known.
It isn’t one-note — there’s still some complexity here and some good flavors… it’s just that the juniper isn’t really among them.
The trick here is that the spirit needs to make itself known through the muddle and bitterness that is the Campari and vermouth. And I think Tanqueray is the closest we’ve gotten to success.
The aroma is a clear winner — the juniper comes through loud and clear through the other components, adding a distinctive characteristic that is pleasant to smell. The flavor is less of a home run, but there’s still a great balance to the flavors that you don’t always see. The Campari isn’t quite as bitter as we’ve seen before, since the juniper and licorice in the gin are taking on the brunt of that effort and balancing it out nicely.
Fizz (Gin & Tonic)
This is what I’m looking for in a good gin & tonic. Specifically, what we’re getting here is the juniper coming through both in the aroma and the flavor (which is surprisingly difficult to find).
Beyond just the juniper, there’s also the licorice returning as well as the coriander, which makes for a great combination. It’s a bit of a twist on the Tom Collins formula — as if you added just a touch of pastis to an already good drink to make it just that much better.
This does a really good job at being an authentic London Dry Gin. You get a lot of the good juniper notes throughout the flavor experience, complimented by the other aspects in a “less is more” kind of way. I dig the simplicity here and how well everything balances yet still comes through clear as a bell in some trying conditions.
The only note I have is that I’d like to see it punched up just a touch more. I think a little bit more saturation would make that Negroni perfect and really make this a five star gin. But as-is, this ain’t half bad at all.
|Tanqueray London Dry Gin
Classification: London Dry Gin
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 47.3% ABV
Price: $21.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 4/5
Count me in, Tony Sinclair — I’m ready to Tanqueray!