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The story of perhaps London’s most famous gin begins in France. David Tanqueray was a Protestant, or Huguenots as they were known, who fled his home in Normandy and came to London to escape religious persecution. In 1717 married Anne Willaume, the daughter of a Huguenot goldsmith to whom he was apprenticed in Spitalfields. One of their sons became a clergyman in Tingrith in Bedfordshire – the old rectory is now known as Tanqueray house – and one of his descendants was a certain David Tanqueray.

He was meant to go into the church like his father but in 1830 took over a gin distillery on Vine Street (now called Grape Street) on the edge of Covent Garden in London. Meanwhile Charles’ brother Edward married Susan, the granddaughter of Alexander Gordon, another noted London distiller whose name might be familiar. At the Vine Street distillery, Tanqueray made London dry gin as well as the richer Old Tom and a special spiced gin called Malacca from the Straits of Malacca, a name synonymous with exotic spices.

But Tanqueray’s biggest innovation came in the form of delivering its gin in ceramic crocks. This was at a time when most gin was delivered in giant wooden casks to pubs and other establishments where it was often adulterated. Instead Tanqueray specialised in what we would call the off-trade supplying wine merchants and grocers. Each crock was branded with the Tanqueray name and the family symbol, a pineapple, and a pair of battleaxes. The axes are a reference to the family fighting in the Crusades with Richad I of Engand, and the pineapple a symbol of hospitality (which is why you see stone or concrete pineapples outside old houses)

After Charles Tanqueray died in 1868, his son Charles Waugh Tanqueray took over at the tender age of 20. He remained in charge right throughout the 19th century. The Gordon and Tanqueray families had long been close and in 1899 Charles Gordon and Charles Waugh Tanqueray (Charles was clearly a very popular name in Victorian England) decided to merge the two distilleries In 1899 they formed a new company Tanqueray, Gordon and Co. and production moved to Goswell Road in Clerkenwell, a mile or so east of this original distillery.

In 1922 the company was bought by the Scotch giant Distillers Company, the owners of Johnnie Walker and Dewars. Following the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, Tanqueray expanded rapidly into the US opening a distillery in New Jersey. Ever since then it has been one of the bestselling gins in America. Disaster struck, however, on 10 May 1941 when much of the Goswell Road distillery was destroyed by German bombers, but the Old Tom still survived and it is still (no pun intended) in use to this day.

The distillery on Goswell Road was rebuilt after the war ended and began to expand into the surrounding area. Eventually in the 1980s, the DC (a forerunner of Diageo) decided that it needed more space so the entire business was moved out to a new distillery but with the old stills in Laindon in Essex. So two of the most famous names in London distilling were now no longer in the capital. Then in 1995, all production moved up to Cameron Bridge in Scotland where both Tanqueray and Gordon’s are made to this day. Yes, these two icons of English distilling are in fact Scottish.

Today, Tanqueray is recognised as one of the great premium London Dry Gins. The standard expression based around juniper, coriander, angelica root, and liquorice, and now bottled at 43.1% ABV was joined in 2000 by Tanqueray Ten named after pot still number 10, a small batch gin that uses whole fresh citrus fruits, such as oranges, limes, and grapefruit, along with chamomile flowers and other traditional botanicals. Nowadays Tanqueray offers a full range of gins including the popular Flor de Sevilla orange gin, a zero ABV offering, and Malacca that harks back to one of Charles Tanqueray’s original recipes from 1830.

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