A few weeks ago, we descended into the cellar of NYC’s iconic 21 Club to celebrate the launch of Tanqueray’s newest spirit, Old Tom Gin. Over a delicious dinner in the historic subterranean room (it was a bona fide speakeasy during Prohibition), Master Distiller Tom Nichol told the tale of how Old Tom came about and what it was like to study Charles Tanqueray’s journals so he could get the recipe just right. Lighter than a genever but more full-bodied and sweeter than a London Dry, Old Tom is a well-balanced and versatile spirit. We chatted with Tom after the dinner to learn more about how this limited-edition Tanqueray gin came about.
You got the recipe for Old Tom from Charles Tanqueray’s original distillery journal. Is this your standard starting point for creating new spirits, or does it differ depending on the need?
If it is a new gin or a limited edition gin, Charles Tanqueray’s journals, which are held in our archives, are the first place I head. For our limited editions so far, they have come as close to the original recipes as I can possibly get. New gins are a bit different as they’re usually an entirely fresh concept. Even so, inspiration is always taken from CT’s book of amazement.
What were some of the challenges you came across when creating Old Tom? Did you have to do a lot of translating in terms of ingredients and measurements?
The challenges of making Old Tom were more than I thought initially, but I now know what to expect. The palates of today’s drinkers are very discerning, so an original Old Tom probably wouldn’t go over well. Improvements in distilling techniques have helped bring this Old Tom up to scratch, but because of this we had to adjust the botanical measurements to get the balance which Charles Tanqueray was famed for.
Could you talk about the flavors and notes that make Old Tom different from original Tanqueray gin?
An original Old Tom was made with an unpleasant base spirit, so added sugar was required to make it palatable. That being said, there are more malty notes to Old Tom than you would find in the London Dry due to this base spirit. And, of course, it’s sweeter.
With new spirit brands constantly hitting the market, what do you think keeps people coming back to an original like Tanquery?
Charles Tanqueray hit the jackpot with the balance he created with Tanqueray London Dry and made the benchmark for all gins created after it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with trying new brands, and it should be encouraged. But once you have tasted Tanqueray, some other gins can be a bit of a disappointment . The best spirits will always survive.