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A Drink With… Tom Nichol, Tanqueray Gin

Tom Nichol, master distiller of Tanqueray tells Becky Paskin why he didn’t want to resurrect Tanqueray Malacca, his thoughts on Gordon’s Cucumber, and why he can’t learn anything from craft distillers.

Tom-Nichols Tanqueray master distiller
Tom-Nichols Tanqueray master distiller

Why did you and Diageo decide to bring back Tanqueray Malacca?
I’ve been doing presentations for years and at every single one the bartenders always asked when are you bringing back Malacca? I always said I’m not bringing it back. I never made it in the first place, it wasn’t me who started it, I didn’t know anything about it and so I had no intentions. It wasn’t in my remit so I tried to gloss it over, but it got to the point everyone wanted it. It took one person in the industry to question why if everyone wants it we weren’t making it.  That got everyone jumping through hoops and we started making the stuff.

But if everyone was asking for it, why only bring it back as a limited edition only for bartenders?
I only have two stills for Tanqueray which I use to make Tanqueray, Tanqueray 10, Tanqueray Sterling Vodka and Tanqueray Rangpur, so to make anything else I have to take a still offline. Sometimes we have to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to fulfil that. To bring Malacca back it was a week’s production that I made myself but I had to take one still out of line to make it. Because of that we couldn’t commit ourselves to full production so we decided to make one small batch and sell it to the on-trade only. I can see it being sold out very, very quickly but I’m not going to make it again. I may make something else instead though.

Did you have much to do with the new Gordon’s Cucumber?
I make Gordon’s gin; other people make Gordon’s flavoured gin. It goes into a bottling hall and they add flavours to it. Gordon’s is a great gin and because of its robust flavour profile they decided to add a flavour to it. I don’t see anything wrong with that. Other gins do it; in fact most that have a special flavour highlighted will have made an addition at the end.

You had to recreate Malacca from an old recipe. Did you find it difficult matching the original product?
It was quite easy to recreate the recipe, but to get it exactly as it was you just balance things around a wee bit. It wasn’t a difficult gin to make. It was really nice to change and do something different.

Is there anything you’re learning from the craft gin sector?
No. Everything they are trying we’ve tried before. It’s not a market for a big company to go into. Craft is a small thing to get into to make a little bit of money to get by. I’m afraid I’m not in a company that does that.

You’ve been a distiller for 40 years. Are you getting bored of it yet?
It’s been a lifetime career. I started in whisky because my father did it. I was born beside a whisky distillery. I was dragged in aged 17 screaming and shouting even though I didn’t want to do it. Now I’m glad I did. As far as distilling goes I’ve done everything you can think of. I started in whisky, then transferred into neutral spirit, which is vastly different and very technical. It’s also not very appreciated for what you actually make, because you make a spirit that tastes of nothing and smells of nothing. So to get into the gin side after that, after 32 years in whisky distilling to go to that was just perfect. It’s nice to end my career now in something I can make myself and have the end product immediately.

Have you ever wanted to get back into whisky?
I did think about it a few years ago, but the only thing that I would have done was to distil malt whisky. I thought about it but then again, things like Tanqueray Malacca come up and it pulls me back in. I’ve only got a few years left in my career before I retire so it would be silly to move now. I always think that if I can’t do something in two years that’s better than somebody else, it’s not worth me doing.

What’s been your fondest memory?
I’ve enjoyed my career immensely and I wouldn’t change a thing. When I got the job for Tanqueray and especially as master distiller that was a testament to my father. That in itself was deep in my heart for me; I feel he taught me well. He was a hard task master – he wouldn’t let me take a day off. But in the last 40 years I’ve only ever had a fortnight off work. When I got that job as master distiller, I thought: that’s cool.

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