There are few historical figures that I celebrate on an annual basis, but Charles Tanqueray (born March 27, 1810) is one of them. Gin was the first spirit I fell in love with, and Tanqueray has always been my gold standard for London Drys. The following is an excerpt of an interview I did with Tom Nicol, Tanqueray’s previous master distiller.
“Tanqueray was a genius” says Nicol, explaining that Charles was passionate about making things and he invented many items – other than gin – over the course of his life. Some examples include a formula for horse saddle polish and medicines for injured animals.
It’s often reported that Charles rejected his father’s life in the church to distill gin, but there’s no evidence that Charles was on track to the clergy at any point. He was smart, to be sure, but Charles didn’t show any interest in attending university, and that was required for the pulpit. He sought to invent, to create, and to experiment.
Charles eyed other successful British gin distillers Felix Booth and Alexander Gordon, and decided to create “a better gin than theirs,” says Nichol. In his early 20’s, Charles Tanqueray developed several gin recipes, but it was his London Dry recipe that proved unforgettable. Nichol says “Charles won the lottery with that one.”
Charles Tanqueray reveled in his success. “He wasn’t the genius recluse like we sometimes see today, but Nicol recons that he was a genius who told everybody he was a genius. From his proud stature, to his knee-length frock coat, to his stately moustache and beard, Nichol says that “Charles liked to show off his success.”
Though he was a proud man, Tanqueray’s personal life is strangely undocumented. This leaves us to wonder: was Tanqueray obsessed with his business, but absent from his family? Or was he just a very private man who sought to protect his loved ones? By any account, we know few details of his personal life, in fact, we’re not exactly sure how many children Charles had.
The one child we do know of, though, is Charles Waugh Tanqueray, who took over his father’s distillery after his father died at 58. Tanqueray’s historians call Charles Waugh “an upright Christian gentleman of forceful character yet with social conscience,” and just like his father, Charles Waugh was a very young man when he began distilling. More of a businessman than an inventor, Charles’ son placed his attention on gin exclusively, resulting in Charles Waugh growing the Tanqueray brand much larger than his father, including his facilitating a merger with Gordon’s Gin—one of his father’s inspirations and competitors—in the late 1800’s.
Charles Tanqueray really seems to have been a proud genius who both flaunted his talent and shrouded his family in mystery. Today, Tanqueray stands as one of the oldest and most successful gins in the history of the world.
*Photo courtesy Diageo Archives.