Sometimes you know a bottle is good, but when you sit down with the spirit and give it a full day in court, you’re out-and-out blown away by the quality. Tanqueray No. Ten is very much one of those “sleeper” kinds of bottles.
I’ve written a few times in the past of the “New American” gin style. It used to be the case that just about every gin was defined by a shotgun blast of pine needles, with consumers having the choice of whether they wanted to get both barrels (Tanqueray) or just one (Bombay). Eventually, smaller brands realized the big boys had left the barn doors wide open and began to cater to the niche of consumers that, well, hadn’t fully embraced the shock-and-awe nature of what juniper does for gin.
Two of the most noteworthy entries here are Aviation, which charges hard on citrus (especially lemon), and Hendrick’s, which became a darling of bartenders and drinkers for a then-unconventional profile of rose and cucumber. In the years since, we’ve seen gins that double down on pepper, chamomile, saffron, and any other variety of botanical you’d care to name.
Part of the reason I put off reviewing Tanqueray 10 for the longest time was simply because I’d bought it on sale a few times and found that it served admirably as a “cocktail” gin, putting in the same amount of work as something like Broker’s, Ford’s, Aviation, or Bombay Sapphire. Each time I used it, it made a darn good drink, which lead me to figure that the 10 was probably formulated by the big boys at Tanqueray to be a top-shelf mixing gin that could get out of its own way when combined with other ingredients. And, at a $25 price point, it puts a big check mark in that box. If you’d asked me to describe what I thought Tanqueray was going for with this product extension, I’d have probably said, “Another gin for people who hate juniper.”
So I was stunned (stunned, I sez) when I tried it on its own and found it to be probably the single best iteration of a citrus-forward gin I’ve tasted. Gins like Aviation and Broker’s suggest citrus. They are evocative of citrus. You will be aware that there is a faint taste of lemon and lime as you drink. With the Tanqueray Ten, it literally explodes on the palate. This is a juicy gin—that’s the single best word I can use to describe it. It jumps out of the glass and bursts on the palate with orange and grapefruit. There’s a great supporting flavor of chamomile, but this is a citrus show all the way.
Apparently there’s a commonsense reason for all that. Most gins typically use the rinds of citrus for botanicals. The Tanqueray 10 uses the whole fruit. As a result, there’s more sweetness and fullness of flavor. You taste orange, straight up, rather than something akin to orange rind, orange zest, or orange oil. Note that there’s nothing wrong with subtlety! However, I side with that classic O’Jays tune: “Give the people what they want.”
As I’ve said before on these pages, a good way to get my highest rating is to be better than you have any right to be at a certain price point. I would have cheerfully bought a character-driven, more mellow, more citrus-forward gin as a Tanqueray brand extension when I needed a mixer that didn’t come out swinging. But for the big boy to beat the indies at their own game in the New American style? Well, that right there is the stuff legends are made of.