Archiving Gin Continued
Gin & Tonic break over… We’re back with part two of our interview with Senior Diageo Archivist, Joanne McKerchar.
If you missed part one and want to catch up, click HERE to view it. If you’ve done so, let’s jump right back in…
Being a Gin Archivist part two… the brands.
It’s time to delve into Diageo’s two most iconic brand’s history, Tanqueray and Gordon’s Gin. Both have been cornerstones of the gin category and given that they are now centuries old, they’ve both existed through golden periods as well as challenging and hard fought years while gin’s popularity has ebbed and flowed globally.
Gin Foundry: You’ve already mentioned Charles Tanqueray’s journal with all the amazing ideas from gin recipes to boot polish and even cleaning saddles! Let’s talk some more about what you’ve uncovered – What’s the most unusual bit of history you’ve come across in the archives?
Joanne McKerchar: There’s so much I’m not sure where to start. Probably the most unusual objects we have in the Gins collection are 8 muskets that were handed to the employees of Booth’s so they could defend their distillery during the Gordon Riots of 1780. Afterwards the muskets were used to arm the crew of “Victory”, whose mission to discover the North West Passage was solely funded by Sir Felix Booth.
However, my favourite items in the Gins collection include the apprenticeship indenture for Charles Gordon, son of Alexander Gordon (the founder of Gordon’s Gin), and ‘A Cocktail Chorus’ [pictured to the left]. The apprenticeship indenture outlines the very strict conditions of Charles’ apprenticeship. Despite being the son of the founder he was still required to train like everyone else. It proves that quality has always been forefront of Gordon’s Gin, and shortcuts were not allowed, even for the boss’s son!
Good to hear. We’d be willing to bet Charles probably had it tougher than most as he would have had to fight for his father’s respect when most would have assumed he was given an easy ride! What is the Cocktail Chorus?
The ‘Cocktail Chorus’ dates to the 1930s and was produced by Gordon’s to allow their consumers to throw the best cocktail parties at home. Gordon’s was as the heart of the cocktail revolution and this item is an absolute gem. You would spin the centre of the record to select your cocktail and the ingredients would be revealed in the notes. Everything you need for the perfect cocktail party.
And of course, the gin recipe books. I’ve talked about them earlier but I love nothing better than losing myself in the workings of our great founders and distillers. When reading them you almost feel as if you are in the still house with them, sharing their frustrations when a certain combination just isn’t right, and delighting in the achievement of perfection.
Gordon’s and Tanqueray both have iconic bottles. With Tanqueray No.10 changing to a new look very soon, we were wondering if you had to keep a physical example of each of the different bottles in all the varying sizes from around the world? They must change labels and design every so often and would get lost to time if no one kept a record! Given both brands are well over 100 years old, do you have the world’s biggest gin shelf? Where do you store it all?
Yes, we strive to keep at least 2 examples of every Gin bottle produced, including market variations. It’s quite a challenge, but our bottle collection is incredible. We have around 500 historical Gin bottles. Our earliest examples of bottles are amongst the most prized items we have. The earliest Tanqueray bottle dates to 1912, and I don’t know of any other in the world. For Gordon’s the earliest home bottle dates from 1909 and the earliest export bottles dates from 1908. We also keep label books which will sometimes fill in a gap if we don’t have an example of the bottle.
The bottles are currently kept in the archive building in locked cabinets, but we are in the process of moving 3,500 of our finest bottles to our new building which is due to open in late April. The bottles will be displayed in spectacular fashion in tailor made cabinets, and of course the temperature and air humidity will be maintained at the optimum level. I can’t wait to see the end result, but I must admit it’s quite nerve wracking to move such precious items, especially given how rare they are!
Let’s hope everyone has steady hands! Charles Tanqueray & Company merged with Alexander Gordon & Company in 1898 to form the Tanqueray Gordon & Co. Why did this happen exactly? Was it all about consolidating business or was it family marriage / romance that created the merger? Gin kindles all they say…
As much as I would love to say it was a decision inspired by romance I’m afraid it was purely business. Charles Tanqueray was very much the heart and passion of his brand. A truly inspiring entrepreneur of a man, he worked tirelessly to create his perfect Gin.
When he passed away in 1868 the business was handed to his son, Charles Waugh. I like to think of Charles Waugh as the business mind behind the company. Under Charles Waugh’s stewardship you begin to see the company grow and export increase. I assume he saw great opportunity for success in merging with Alexander Gordon & Co. Gordon’s was more established than Tanqueray, being almost 60 years older, and no doubt both parties understood the advantages that would be gained from pooling resources, knowledge and contacts. As it turned out, it was an incredibly smart business move, and the merger in 1898 established Tanqueray Gordon & Co as the largest Gin House in the World. The company has never looked back.
It was a bold business move that over time has proved to have been inspired. The result has meant that both brands have survived for years on end. Talking of which, we’ve always had huge respect for the enduring success of both brands but looking back through their history, do you think there’s a reason as to why Tanqueray and Gordon’s have been so successful over that time period?
Both companies historically placed a huge emphasis on quality of liquid, and this is something that I know continues today, but I can honestly say that the constant thing to come out of the records over the years is the true passion the employees have consistently shown to Tanqueray & Gordon’s.
The employees really love the brands they work for, and this immense pride drives loyalty and dedication that can only lead to great things. Of course shrewd business decisions have been taken to ensure commercial success, but it’s the passion of the staff that keeps the progression going from 1769 to today.
Nicely put and glad to hear it too. We could ask you another million questions but conscious that we’ve taken up so much of your time – we’ll have to leave it there for now. No doubt, once the refurb has been completed and that “gin shelf” is up, 1912 bottle and all – we’ll be up to see it first hand.
Thank you so much for taking the time to explain how everything works and for sharing your insight into two of the most iconic gin brands ever. It’s been a real pleasure to hear all about it.
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