Drinking Diageo – Part II: Tanqueray Malacca

As a spirits retailer who is friendly with people in the spirits industry, I end up ringing up purchases for many of my vendor appointments once we're through meeting. The people who spend their day selling booze usually spend their nights drinking it, but they rarely come to K&L to buy back their own products. The K&L liquor shelf is where they let loose. It's where craft distillers can indulge in all the big market booze they've been hearing about and where corporate sales guys can grab that micro-gin they read about in the Chronicle. That's always the way it works, too -- everyone wants to buy the polar opposite of whatever it is they sell! "I thought you weren't interested in all that Diageo stuff?" I'll say. "Are you crazy?" they'll reply. "If it weren't for Lagavulin I'd never have wanted to be in the booze business!" Despite what fronts people like to put up about craft booze versus corporate booze, in the end people like to drink what tastes good.

Gin production is one of the easier spirits to launch into the spirits industry -- mainly because you can purchase grain neutral spirit, source your own botanicals, and redistil that into something unique. There's no aging involved, there's plenty of room for experimentation, and gin is something that people drink in volume (meaning you can sell enough to stay afloat while you work on other things). Much like with craft beer, there has been an explosion of new craft gins over the past five years and there's no end in sight. Yet, even with all of the nuance, the creativity, and the fun new flavors we've seen over the past year, there's no doubt in my mind what the best gin of 2013 is for me: the Tanqueray Malacca. Judging by what I've seen in the store with the purchasing habits of industry professionals, bartenders, brand ambassadors, and local distillers, I'm not alone in this summation. Everyone I've talked to within the booze business is crazy about that gin -- even the crafty people who swore off corporate booze forever.

Tanqueray gin has been around since 1830 when it was initially distilled by Charles Tanqueray in London's Bloomsbury District. The brand was continued on after his death by his son Charles, who operated it until the distillery was severely damaged during WWII. Today, Tanqueray is produced in Cameron Bridge, Scotland and is owned by Diageo, who have launched several spinoffs during their ownership -- the most recent being the relaunch of Malacca. Diageo was so far ahead of their time with Malacca that they had to pull the brand off the market in 2001, only a few years after creating it. Originally introduced as "a wetter, fruitier" version of Tanqueray, the public had no idea what to do with it. Serious bartenders at the time loved it, however, and lamented its loss by stashing cases away for their own private consumption. Eight years later, Old Tom gin and other rounder, sweeter versions of gin would come back into fashion, making it the perfect time to bring Malacca back for a second round. Yet, with more serious competition and high-quality alternatives on the market, does the Malacca stand up next to other options?

First off, the price is very competitive. With most "craft" gins clocking in at $30+, the Malacca will run you $32.99 at K&L, but that's for a liter-sized bottle. Were it a standard 750ml, you'd be looking at about $25 -- very reasonable. When I nose the Malacca straight in a glass, I pick up the botanicals, but also a decent amount of fruit. It smells like it's already been mixed into a cocktail, but it's never pungent or intense. There's nothing that strikes me as new-wave or radical about the Malacca. There's nothing pronounced or extreme in either the aromas or the flavors. It's just simply delicious, in the same way that Campari is just delicious. I know there's nothing special or artisanal about what they did to flavor the liquor, they didn't travel to remote regions of Africa for a special plant or desert flower, I just know that I love it and I want to drink more. The Malacca makes a killer Tom Collins, a luscious Martinez, and fruitier Negroni, and, perhaps more surprising of all, a floral and quite lovely gin and tonic. I've personally gone through more bottles of Malacca gin this year than any other spirit in my home bar. I've repurchased four separate times, which is not something I usually do with any spirit.

When I wrote yesterday that, rather than buying out the competition, Diageo was retooling and remodeling its already stellar portfolio of products, this is perhaps the best example of that process. Rather than create a new gin, or attempt to be "crafty," Diageo reached back into the past, pulled out its trump card and said, "Yeah, we already did that, but we'll do it again if you want." And, boy, do I want it. The Malacca is a prime example of what Diageo can offer spirits consumers -- a multi-nation release, available to drinkers around the world, not allocated or impossible to find, that tastes good, provides quality for the price, and offers serious spirits fans an exciting alternative to the regular old thing. It pretty much does what other craft gins do, it's just more available (saving customers from serious frustration) and offers a better price point.

We've still got plenty, but I definitely plan on squirrelling away a case before all is said and done.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll