How did Tanqueray become one of the highest selling gin brands in the world?
Charles Tanqueray (1810 – 1865) was the son of the Reverend Edward Tanqueray (1762 – 1847), rector of Tingrith in Befordshire.
With his elder brother Edward (1805 – 1838), Charles was apprenticed as ginmaker to Currie & Co of Bromley by Bow, one of the largest distilleries in London.
The two Tanqueray brothers partnered with Arthur Currie (1804 – 1875) to takeover the Bloomsbury Distillery, an established gin manufacturer at 3 Vine Street, Bloomsbury, in 1835. The building has not survived, but the street still exists, and has been renamed Grape Street.
Charles Tanqueray was an ambitious man, and he wanted to create a gin to rival, or even better, those of Felix Booth (1775 – 1850) and Alexander Gordon. He experimented ceaselessly through trial and error to perfect his recipe, and finally settled on just four botanicals: juniper, angelica root, liquorice and coriander seeds, the same four used by Tanqueray today.
Edward Tanqueray died in 1838, and Charles was assisted by his brother John Samuel Tanqueray (1817 – 1902) in the 1840s and 1850s.
Arthur Currie left the partnership in 1847.
Charles Waugh Tanqueray
Charles Tanqueray died in 1865 and the business was managed by his brother William Henry Tanqueray (1814 – 1887). Charles Waugh Tanqueray (1848 – 1931), the son of Charles Tanqueray, took over the distillery upon completion of an apprenticeship to a grocer in 1867.
Charles Waugh Tanqueray was perhaps more commercially-minded than his father, and under his leadership sales grew and exports increased. A keen sportsman, he was an upright Christian gentleman with a keen social conscience and a determined character.
Most Tanqueray gin was sold at a strength of 40.19 percent ABV in 1877. Some gin was also sold at 35.19 percent ABV.
Tanqueray Gordon and acquisition by Distillers
Charles Waugh Tanqueray approached Reginald Charles Wilford Currie (1854 – 1922), the proprietor of Gordon & Co, gin distillers of Goswell Road, London, regarding a merger of their two companies in 1897.
The two businesses merged to form Tanqueray, Gordon & Co, a company with a capital of £500,000, in 1898. R C W Currie became the managing director, and Charles Waugh Tanqueray took the opportunity to retire.
Following the merger all production was centralised at the Gordon distillery at 132 Goswell Road. Gordon’s London Dry Gin became the priority brand.
Harry Aubrey Tanqueray (1907 – 1982) was the only grandson of C W Tanqueray. He became a stockbroker, and does not appear to have been affiliated with the gin business.
Largely due to the growth of the temperance movement and a substantial rise in excise duty, alcohol consumption in Britain declined in the period following the First World War.
Perhaps as a way to make up for declining sales at home, Tanqueray was first exported to the United States from around 1918.
Tanqueray Gordon was acquired by the Distillers Company, which was heavily involved in consolidating the spirits industry, in 1922.
R C W Currie, managing director of Tanqueray Gordon, died in 1922.
Tanqueray Gordon was by far the largest gin distiller in the world by 1926.
Charles Waugh Tanqueray outlived his only son Charles Henry Drought Tanqueray (1875 – 1928), and died in 1931.
During the Second World War the Goswell Road site was nearly destroyed during the Blitz.
The distinctive Tanqueray green bottle, with a shape based on a cocktail shaker, was introduced from 1948.
The growth of Tanqueray overseas
Tanqueray began to marketed and advertised in earnest in the United States from the mid-1950s.
The premium-priced product became popular among affluent Southern Californians, and American sales took off from there. British gin was popular because it was smoother than its American counterpart, and was to prove a good mixer for a Martini cocktail.
100,000 cases were sold in the United States in 1961. Sales doubled in 1964. Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack became fond of Tanqueray martinis at the Buena Vista Social Club in San Francisco.
United States sales rose by 1700 percent over a four year period. Over 85 percent of the Goswell Road output was shipped to the United States by the 1960s.
John P Tanqueray (1934 -2012), the great-grandson of Charles Tanqueray, was appointed export manager for Tanqueray in 1964. He credited the success of Tanqueray in the United States to snob appeal, explaining, “our product appeals to status seekers and consumers who want an outstanding gin”.
The success of the premium Beefeater gin in the United States convinced Distillers to put significant marketing investment behind Tanqueray.
Tanqueray became one of the leading spirit brands in the world. 600,000 cases of Tanqueray were exported to the United States in 1975, where it was the highest proof gin, and generally the most expensive.
United States sales reached one million cases in 1979, second only to Beefeater in imported gin.
A new distillery and recent developments
The Goswell Road site struggled to keep up with increasing demand, and production was transferred to a purpose-built 26 acre distillery in Laindon, Essex from 1984.
Charles Tanqueray & Co won a Queen’s Award for Export Achievement in 1985. Tanqueray was the highest-selling imported gin in the United States.
Guinness acquired Distillers in 1986.
John P Tanqueray retired as commercial director of Tanqueray Gordon in 1989.
Guinness merged with Grand Metropolitan in 1997 to form Diageo. The combination of two spirits giants left the company with an excess of productive capacity. As a result, the Laindon distillery was closed with the loss of 220 jobs in 2000, and all production was relocated to Cameronbridge in Scotland.
Tanqueray held over 50 percent of the United States gin market in 2002.
The future for Tanqueray looks solid; global sales grew by 15 percent in 2018.