When a major liquor company kills a brand, it's a fair bet that it’s gone for good. "Hey, want to bring back that thing that didn't sell very well ten years ago?" doesn't sound like it would fly in most corporate strategy meetings. But in a sign of how much the liquor market, and American drinking culture, has changed in the past decade, Tanqueray Malacca Gin is back from the dead.
We can thank bartenders for most of the modern cocktail movement we have going on today–they're the ones who seek out old recipes, try to import bottles that haven't been in the U.S. for generations, and expand our palates by endlessly tinkering with their drinks–and we can thank them for Malacca’s relaunch, too, which Tanqueray is calling a "direct response" to bartender demand.
Malacca was discontinued in 2001 (after being introduced just four years earlier), but in the past decade it's built up a serious cult following. "It reached legendary status among bar people" is how Danny Shapiro, the bartender at the Chicago gin bar Scofflaw, described it to me, mostly because it filled a gaping hole in the American gin market. For years, the only variety available was London Dry gin, the juniper-centric style that most of us just think of as "gin." But Malacca was more similar to a style called Old Tom gin–wetter, less botanical, a little more citrusy–which (back in 2001) had been lost to the sands of time, even though it was the foundation of a lot of the classic cocktails that bartenders were digging up from 19th-century recipe books.
These days, other distillers (including Scofflaw itself) have brought out their own bottles of Old Tom gin, but Malacca was the bottle that brought the whole concept back, even if it was a little before its time. And historical significance aside, it’s a great-tasting gin. The juniper punch of London Dry is still my pick for a martini, but the Old Tom lets you sling your gin with a subtler hand, and its citrus-y side works perfectly in classic cocktails like a Tom Collins or a Martinez (a mix of gin, sweet vermouth, maraschino liqueur, and bitters).
But just because Malacca's back, don't think it'll be around forever: the production run this time around is only 100,000 bottles. That might seem like a lot, but when you’ve got every gin-obsessed bartender in the country hiding a case in her basement, supplies are definitely limited.