Serious Eats: Drinks
Gin Revival: The Return of Tanqueray Malacca
London dry gin is an iconic spirits category. To many imbibers, London dry is gin, full stop. However, recent years have seen a flood of new gins branching off into novel territory. Some of these experiments in distinct and innovative flavor profiles have been a return to tradition—the revival of Old Tom and sloe gin, for instance—but others have been an exploration of new territory. The so-called new Western dry gins, or new American gins, leave the strict London dry formulation of a juniper-dominated spirit in the dust, instead investigating the full range of botanical possibilities (Bluecoat and Dry Fly are worthy examples).
But would you be surprised if I told you that Tanqueray was ahead of the curve of the new gin movement? In 1997, they released what was perhaps the most revolutionary gin to come out of a major English distillery to date. Malacca, based on a recipe by Charles Tanqueray from the grand old year 1839, was a revelation to many in the burgeoning cocktail scene. A softer, citrus-forward gin, uniquely suited for mixing in the new wave of drinks created by barmen across the country, Malacca instantly developed cult status. Unfortunately for its newfound following, Malacca was taken off shelves in 2001.
But the impact of a mixable, complex citrusy gin proved to be lasting. Discontinued bottles of Malacca commanded high prices in online auction houses, and the market eventually responded with the debut of the aforementioned new gins. Tanqueray, to its credit, released Tanqueray 10 to fill the gap, but the by now mythic Malacca had left large shoes to fill.
Many years later, the whispers you've heard are true: Malacca is back on the shelves, albeit in limited quantities. 100,000 bottles of the sauce are being released, and we've gotten our hands on a bottle of the legendary stuff.
So What Does Malacca Gin Taste Like?
Sampling the newly-reissued gin neat, grapefruit takes the lead, wrapped in a distinctly floral scent. The gin is soft and round, with prominent cinnamon and bubblegum flavors. It finishes clean and easy, almost leaving you wondering if you were drinking booze or rosewater.
To gain proper perspective, we tasted the re-released Malacca side by side with Tanqueray's classic London dry, and there's absolutely no confusing the two. Tanqueray London Dry is unapologetic and brash, but also focused, driven, and demanding of center stage. Malacca is more the little sister: contemplative, with soft, smooth edges, happy to cooperate.
A martini reveals the weaker side of Malacca: the varied botanicals and softer spices lose cohesion in the face of a touch of vermouth and melted ice, whereas the London dry's juniper kick stands tall and provides the skeleton you need to support a good stiff drink with a twist of lemon. The classic G&T is a more level playing ground, however. Tanqueray's London Dry is a rather one-dimensional strongly spiced summer refresher, but the Malacca is an effortlessly amazing spiked citrus punch.
Bottled at 80 proof and individually numbered, Malacca is listed for a suggested $28/liter. It's a no-brainer: I can't recommend this gin highly enough. It's a sip of history, and more balanced and sure of itself than many of its current imitators. It's going to be very popular though, so if you spot it, don't hesitate to snap it up!
About the author: Andrew Strenio is a lover of all things potable. Since sneaking his grandmother's bourbon balls, he's moved on to touring distilleries and sipping snifters. He works by day making documentary television and films for an independent production company in Brooklyn.
Gin samples were provided for review consideration.