DISTILLER, AUTHOR AND EDUCATOR
Marcel Thompson (Ngāti Whātua, Waikato, Ngāti Koata) is an international award-winning distiller, craft spirits industry advocate, educator, bestselling author and podcast host.
What was your first proper introduction to gin?
I learnt to make gin at scale, before I started drinking gin for pleasure. A role as Assistant Distiller for United Distillers (NZ) Limited was my first job, so spirits has played a significant part in my narrative for well over 30 years. It was in this role that I learnt the right way for a distiller to make Tanqueray, Gordon’s, Booth’s High and Dry, Boords and Boodles. When it comes to gin introductions, there are fewer more intense or satisfying experiences.
What do you like about gin as a spirit?
It’s delicious, vibrant, and relevant with an unmatched range for expression. The imaginative use of botanicals yields so many products, from different areas, resonating with so many, yet created by so few.
Most modern producers start from scratch without craft-spirits business experience. In my first book, Still Magic, one of its driving principles is that inexperience is no barrier to success. To me, inexperience is fast becoming a gin-making superpower for contemporary times. What’s not to like about gin as a great spirit, when coupled with the human spirit that goes into making great gin?
How do you drink gin?
Neat! Once a distiller, always a distiller. That said, I do like Martinis, Negronis, Southsides and Last Word cocktails made with strong, flavoursome gin. My summer quencher go-to is gin with tonic.
Have you tried any new gins lately?
Does a tiger shark bite? Is that a question? Yes! There are so many wonderful gin-makers all over the globe, each with their own nuances. I have gins from Africa, Scandinavia and the Americas, whose makers produce gins that are the embodiment of their environment. That’s what makes gin so remarkable – a simple idea, expressed in a multitude of different ways, all over the globe. A rich tapestry indeed.
What is your most memorable gin experience?
This is tough as there are so many highlights. But the most profound experience would be my first day as Assistant Distiller, where I experienced the aroma of a gin still charge; assessing the heads, heart and tails fractions, and the surprisingly delicious smell of spent botanicals. It’s sensory overload and one that I will never forget, nor ever want to.
You are a gin-based cocktail – what would you be?
That’s Gin Society in a nutshell; posing the tough questions! If I were to hazard a guess, perhaps a French 75. In essence, it’s a Southside – the traditional gangster’s tipple from Chicago’s prohibition years – supplemented with champagne. It’s an unlikely array of characteristics where the whole experience exceeds the sum of the parts.
What are your 3 desert-island gins?
Tanqueray. One I enjoy as much today as those heady gin-filled days in 1980s New Zealand. Understated class and simplicity. A 19th century giant that remains vibrant and relevant today. Poor Toms Fool Strength. Described by the International Wines and Spirits Competition (IWSC) judges as having ‘toothsome viscosity’ on the way to winning Gold in 2018. A complex, balanced gin with a great finish. Perfect for my favourite cocktails. Packs the flavour of a navy-strength gin without the navy-strength price. Roku Gin Select Edition. A remarkable expression where east meets west. Superb when neat, great with tonic and a slice of ginger, makes an excellent Martini and a delicious lemon-based Southside. The way this gin manages to deliver a great-tasting experience in so many different formats is what makes Roku a standout.
What do you like about Gin Society?
Gin Society gives gin-makers a voice in the crowd. You provide high-quality published resources for the gincurious, the ginthusiast and even the ginsceptic. The in-depth cover stories are excellent and demonstrate gin’s collegial sense of community. Bravo! Carry on, no one will tell you when to stop.