Being a Brit, I’ve always considered Beefeater to be the only gin worth drinking, but I finally gave Tanqueray a try today and was most suitably impressed. I’m back in the UK this week visiting my parents and I asked for a G&T before dinner. The drink steward brought me what looked like a standard gin & tonic – Highball glass, ice, carbonated liquid and a wedge of lime.
I brought it up to my nose and noticed it smelled considerably different to my standard beefeater version. This had a decidedly stronger juniper aroma and less citrus nose than I was accustomed . I queried the steward and he informed me that they only stock Tanqueray gin, since the owner of the club is also Scottish. I decided that now was the time to explore Tanqueray…
Tanqueray is a reputable Gin brand, currently owned by the Diageo group who is one of the powerhouses in the spirits industry. Tanqueray is named after it’s creator, Charles Tanqueray; who first distilled gin in 1830.
It is said that Gin was invented around 1650 in the Netherlands by Dr. Sylvuis. This man -who is also known as Franz de la Boé- was Professor of Medicine at Leyden, Holland. Originally, he intended this “medicine” as a remedy for kidney disorders. He used neutral grain spirits flavored with the oil of juniper. He called it genever after the French term genièvre meaning juniper. By 1655 it was already being commercially produced and English soldiers serving in the area, took affection to the spirit.
During most of the early 17th century, drinking in England had almost entirely involved fermented liquors, such as ale, cider and beer that were produced by “natural” processes. Distillation depends on an alcoholic liquid, such as wine or grain mash , being heated and the resulting vapor condensed, producing a purer and more powerful form of alcohol, but quite unpalatable until flavoring ingredients have been added. As a result of this new man-made process, it was suggested by some wags that spirits were “unnatural”, while beer and wine were not. Fermented beer was made by God, while spirits were made by man.
In 1688 King William III and some English soldiers in the Low Countries introduced gin to England. “In the alcohol ‘family’ gin stands close to absinthe and aquavit, which use different flavoring agents, and not far removed from vodka, which is based on potatoes”. English gin became very popular after 1690, when the government tried to make a market for low-grade corn unsuitable for brewing. The government heavily increased the duty on imported spirits and opened the spirit industry to the public, without any license or control. During the English reign of William and Mary1 (around 1689) home production of Gin was encouraged. Some sources claim that one reason for this was the fact that drinking Gin was safer than drinking water. Another factor of course was that production and distribution of Gin was rather cheap. The local landowners produced it as a by-product of grain and taxes were very low. As a result Gin was even cheaper than beer or ale. Thus, popularity spread, it became synonymous with the poor and abuse of the drink was rampant. In 1751 William Hogarth created the engraving ‘Gin Lane’ to display just how rampant the abuse really was.
Within a few years, 7,000 dram-shops sprang up all over England. As brewers tried to protect their trade, the number of ale-houses also multiplied. By 1740 more than 15,000 of the 96,000 houses in the capital sold drink, about 9,000 were gin-shops. Despite all the evidence that the ‘free gin’ policy had failed, the government did not act immediately. The new duties and taxes that had been imposed on manufacturers and retailers were avoided. The gin-shop owners would sell their drink under fancy names like ‘Cuckold’s Comfort’, ‘Ladies’ Delight’ and Knock-me-down’, a mixture of hot spiced ale and punch.
In 1736 the famous Gin Act was implemented. It imposed a prohibitive duty per gallon on the retailer and raised the cost of a spirit license. This legislation led to riots in the streets and the gin trade simple went underground. As a result, in 1743 the government loosened the restrictions of the earlier law and passed acts that permitted the gin-shops to abide by the same rules as the ale-houses. As the 19th century rolled in the focus of legislation shifted to containing the “moral danger” in drinking, instead of just the economic concerns of the earlier century. The Gin produced around that time was the forerunner of what was known as Old Tom’s Gin, which was heavily sweetened. In the 1870’s Dry Gin was introduced and Gin took on respectability in England once again. Finer establishments served “Pink Gins” (with angostura bitter) and the cocktail age dawned in England. About the same time prohibition began in the U.S.
During prohibition, the Americans used a different recipe to produce Gin: by taking the poisons out of denatured alcohol to recover the ethyl alcohol. This was then flavored with juniper, diluted, and bottled. The name for this was “bathtub gin” and it probably tasted like the name. There were seventy-five different formulas to denature the alcohol, so if the purification process was not done by a skilled chemist, vile, and even deadly results occurred. In those days the meaning of the line “to die for” was totally different from today’s meaning… A little more literal.
Gin and Tonics were -like Gin itself- originally developed as a medicine. In this case to help fight malaria. When the British were in the East they became susceptible to malaria and eventually found out that quinine (an ingredient in Tonic Water) was useful for getting rid of the disease. Well, as you would probably expect, drinking Tonic Water by itself is pretty nasty (unless you’ve acquired a taste for it) and they had problems getting the British in the East to drink it.
Along comes our friend Gin to be mixed with the Tonic Water, which not only made drinking it much more pleasant, but also created an excellent drink that would be remembered from then on, even if its relationship to the disease was forgotten. So, as you can see, Gin and Tonic Water came about due to medicinal reasons, then caught on later for thier more pleasurable aspects.
On a minor note, the Lime (served in any GOOD Gin and Tonic) being a citrus fruit (and therefore containing Vitamin C) helps to prevent scurvy. Usually the limes are not the dominant ingredient of Gin and Tonic, so they won’t actually get rid of scurvy if you’ve already got it – unless you drink A LOT of Gin and Tonics of course.
Coriander, angelica and Juniper are listed as the primary botanicals used to give Tanqueray its unique flavor, but the company declares that there are numerous other ingredients that are “inconveniently sourced from around the world”.
After two more G&T’s, I had him bring me the bottle to try it straight to separate the flavors from the tonic & lime. Tanqueray smells wonderful neat, with notes of juniper and citrus. The first sip is very strong, and the alcohol shows through boldly, obscuring some of the flavor. Letting it sit in the mouth and breathing in allowed me to better appreciate the flavors and aromas of the essential oils. – Magnificent!
I really like the stuff, it is my new favorite gin.