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Tanqueray master distiller Tom Nichol reflects on 42-years in the industry

Published:  02 June, 2015

Tanqueray's master distiller, Tom Nichol, who is retiring from Diageo after a 42-year career, has been awarded a lifetime award by the Gin Guild, at its annual dinner. 

Tanqueray's master distiller, Tom Nichol, who is retiring from Diageo after a 42-year career, has been awarded a lifetime award by The Gin Guild, at its annual dinner.

Nichol started his career at the whisky industry, at the Tullibody distillery, but moved to Tanqueray in 2006 as master distiller, to oversee the making of its flagship Tanqueray No. Ten gin, Tanqueray and Tanqueray Rangpur as well as the resurrecting Tanqueray Malacca spiced gin from a historic recipe in 2013.

Nichol, who has previously seemed unimpressed with some of the craft gins on offer, told the next move for gin distillers was in developing more exotic flavour profiles. "It is nice to see where things are going, but I'm not sure where they will stop - when is a gin, still a gin?" he asked. "Larger distilleries need smaller businesses coming up - we make fantastic gin, but it is nice to see what the smaller guys are doing. Soon, someone will come up with something that will blow us all out of the water."

Despite the boom in new gin distilleries that has seen more than 300 or so gins join the market, Nichol said there was room for them all, although he warned that gin distillation was an incredibly difficult process. "I don't think you can reach a saturation point," he said. "There is room for them, as long as they know that the consequences can be quite costly, so people shouldn't just jump in."

"Gin is very difficult to make and they cannot expect to make it right, straight off. If I was making a new gin, it would take months to get it right. It's a difficult, particularly if you don't have support - but I'm more than willing to help [new distilleries]. If someone is really keen, they should go ahead and try but they need to go in with their eyes open. It is a costly business and time-intensive."

He told Harpers his proudest achievement was in "surviving 42-year in the drinks industry", and that moving from whisky distillation to gin was a key highlight, as gin is such a complex spirit to create and has a "unique characteristic".

"It is very special to become part of an industry that can be able to make something and see it in bottle a day or two later, which obviously you can't do with whisky," he said. "It takes so long to get whisky into the bottle that things move more slowly in the whisky trade than in gin. And it is hard to change through the years - you don't know how people would react to flavourings for example. But it is rare to get a bad whisky, but it is easy to get a bad gin!" he said.

"One of the great things about gin is it is so versatile and easy to drink and can be used in cocktails. Whisky can be more of an acquired taste," he added.

Nichol was awarded a lifetime achievement award by The Gin Guild on Thursday night, during an installation ceremony, which saw 25 people from across the industry welcomed into the Guild, including Joanne Moore from Greenhall's and Sarah Thompson of Blackdown Spirits.

Nicholas Cook, director general of The Gin Guild said the award paid testament to the contribution Nichol had made to the gin category over the years. "Tom's passion, energy and drive will be missed by all of his Diageo colleagues. To have a Master Distiller who personifies the brand, as Tom does, is a real formula for success. He leaves Tanqueray back in growth - for which he was a key driver."

The Gin Guild also announced that Martin Riley, of Pernod Ricard's Chivas Brothers will take over from Christopher Hayman as Grand Rectifier of the guild in October. Hayman was one of the key drivers of the in the creation and development of the Guild.