A Sit Down with the Tanqueray Global Ambassador, in Honor of Sinatra (interview)

On 12-12-12, Tanqueray Global Brand Ambassador, Angus Winchester, cracked open a bottle of 1960s Tanqueray London Dry gin to celebrate a liquid and a decade that are truly timeless. With Tanqueray’s New York Brand Ambassador, Rachel Ford, by his side, Angus transported guests back while crafting an authentic vintage martini complete with 1960s Tanqueray London Dry gin, 1960s Vermouth and 1960s barware. Myself, a few editors and the Tanqueray brand paid homage to Mr. Sinatra’s birthday, with a toast. A nod of gratitude at Little Italy’s, Mulberry Street Bar, old stomping grounds for Frank. I had the good fortune of talking to Angus about the fine tuning of a gin cocktail, how to order an appropriate drink at a crowded bar and the future of the brand that has made itself synonymous with the word gin.

On the subject of the Frank Martini, I feel like I can’t order a martini at a busy bar, out of fear that the bartender won’t make it proper. Is there a secret to ordering a simple drink, with complex measuring at a crowded bar?

You have to order appropriately and drink appropriately. People say whats your favorite drink? I say the one you’re about to buy for me. The thing about martini’s is that I can have a different one every day for the rest of my life, and never duplicate, but I do know if I walk into a busy bar and ask for a Tanqueray martini stirred with a lemon twist, the bartender will just go and make you the same type of martini they normally would.

So if not a martini, what would you order at a crowded bar if you know the bartender wont have time to make a complex drink?

Fist I’ll look at the back shelf, see what they’re featuring and what they have to offer. Tanquery, 10? ok. a bevy of flavored vodkas? na. Another thing would be fresh fruit. Fresh limes, fresh lemons. A fruit bowl is good. Fresh fruit means they understand the twist in a drink. I’ll also have a look at the cocktail menu.
The next is the order. I’ll say, can i have a gin and tonic, and if they dont ask what type of gin weather it be Tanqueray or Seagrams or another gin, than just means you don’t care. And if you don’t care about making a gin and tonic, how can I trust you making an $18.00 signature cocktail. So I start out with a simple drink. More and more bartenders are starting to realize you will be judged on your classics.
I can remember going into a bar and read on their menu, they had a drink called the Truman Capote. Tanqueray gin, dry vermouth and a jalapeno. So I was impressed and asked the bartender for a Truman Capote and he said “Oh you mean a Truman Capoat?” and I thought “Oh well now it’s awkward, have you missed pronounced one of your signature drinks or have I been mispronouncing it for some time now?”. So he got me the drink, one sip and I couldn’t taste anything else. Too many cocktails are about big bold flavor, like someone shouting in your ear.
Personally I’m a gin and tonic guy, you can really play with the twists, I prefer mine with a lime and two small wedges of grapefruit, but you can accent with sticks of cloves, cinnamon or juniper berries its really all in the details that make the biggest difference with a gin drink and that’s why we go back to the Sinatra thing, because he was a man who really appreciated the little things. The cufflinks, the tiny vocals in the background of a song, the handkerchief. Things that set you apart in the slightest way.

I keep hearing grapefruit being thrown around, an unfamiliar twist in a drink to me, is that a staple accent with most of your gins?

We use Grapefruits in No. 10 and are the only gin to use fresh citrus fruits in our distilling process.

Infused flavored gin. The new trending alcohols are infusing flavors most traditionalist would weep over, and some gins are taking a leap in that direction?

That’s interesting, so in 2008 they redefined gin. Not in geographical terms, but the definition of gin, always made with a neutralistic vodka with a fusion of berries, botanicals and juniper always being the dominant flavor. So you start out with the plastic bottles, cheaper gins, these only use artificial flavors; oil of lemon, oil of juniper, oil of coriander. Then you have distilled gin as the flavor is implied. You put vodka into a distill, add the natural ingredients and heat up so the liquid evaporates, but obviously flavored with the ingredients sitting in the still. Then you’re allowed to add artificial essences and flavors. Rosemary, cucumber, which are very difficult to distill at temperature so the essence artificial flavors must be added. Finally we have the dry gin which is much more distinct and only used with natural ingredients and the most difficult to make.

It seems as though gin has been on the up and up lately. Are you seeing a growing trend or comeback in the industry?

I was fortunate enough to spot gin trending around 5 years go. gin was coming back to its rightful place in the spirits industry, when gin and whiskey were the American bartenders spirit of choice. I started in this industry in what I call 2 BC, which is 2 years before cranberry juice was a prevalent mixer, and now people are becoming more sophisticated in what I call today is 10 AD which is 10 years of Angostura Dependence, because if you said bitters for the first 10 years of my career, it was like I was speaking German. now you going into just about any liquor store and you ask for bitters and they’ll have anywhere from 5-40 bitters for purchase.

We’re having a 1960’s homage theme this evening, so where do you think cocktails have evolved to today from 50 years ago?

It’s constantly evolving. That’s why I don’t call myself a mixologist, because cocktails go out of touch just like fashion. They become ubiquitous. You drink something cause it’s cool, less cool people start drinking it, so you stop drinking it. Also because they become to fussy. In the 50s and 60s affordism and mass production were huge. People were also more concerned with being blown up by the Russians than ordering a fancy drink. It was a little weird and the last hurrah of stylish drinking. After that it became an era of sour mix mass production. I want it fast, I want it now, I want it big, and none of those things leads to quality, but now we’re getting back to that era where bartenders care about the drink they’re serving you, they will check, they will jigger, they will care. And in the world we live in where their reputation lives and dies by a review online the quality of their drink improves.