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My life in food: Tom Nichol

Master distiller, Tanqueray

Nichol started in the drinks industry more than 40 years ago at a whisky distillery in Tullibody, Scotland. He took up the position of Master Distiller of Tanqueray, the 183-year-old distillery, in 2006, having previously worked at a vodka distillery. Since turning his attention to gin he has overseen the resurrection of the much sought-after Tanqueray Malacca gin, often described as the “unicorn of the gin world”. He will be holding gin tastings at the pop-up Gin Palace, Floral Street, Covent Garden, London on 27 March.

What are your most and least used pieces of distilling kit?

Most used is my copy of Practical Alcohol Tables, to measure the amounts of alcohol in what I’m making at certain temperatures. The HMRC needs to know every unit of alcohol I use, so I need to be very precise. My least used? Some very old-fashioned gin-measuring jugs.

If you only had £10 to spend on food, where would you spend it and on what?

I’m a family man, so I would spend it on a family dinner. I’d buy a joint of beef from my local butchers – one I could get for £10, that is – and I would cook a nice roast.

What do you eat for comfort?

Comfort food for me is soup. If I’m run-down or not feeling that well I’ll always eat soup, especially Scotch broth. It’s nice and warming on a very cold Scottish day – and there are quite a few of those.

If you could only eat bread or potatoes for the rest of your life, which would you choose?

It would have to be potatoes. I look forward to when new potatoes come out; new potatoes and butter are absolutely fabulous. There are so many things you can do with potatoes as well. I’m trying not to say you can make alcohol with them… but food-wise, definitely potatoes.

What’s your desert island recipe?

I’d have to take the recipe for the new gin I’ve just got back, Tanqueray Malacca. At the moment I’m the only one that actually knows it. It’s an absolutely perfect gin and a perfect recipe. But it would be nice to mess about with it – maybe I could enhance it in some way. It would keep me occupied on the island.

What’s your favourite bar?

The bar at The Dorchester. I’m down in London quite often and the bar manager, Giuliano Morandin, is the one person in the world that makes me a Martini that is always perfect. Just watching him making it is good enough for me. The whole staff are the same. It’s like going out to the theatre. I can only make about four gin cocktails. These guys can make hundreds – if not thousands – of cocktails off the top of their heads. It just blows me away.

Who taught you about alcohol?

I want to say my father, because he was in distilling for 28 years before me. He got me into the industry – but unfortunately my father and I didn’t actually work together very much. But there was this wee man, Willie Graham, and he took me under his wing. He helped me not only to learn to think outside the box, but also inside the box. I needed to learn what was inside every piece of kit and what it does, not just what it makes at the end of it.