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Old-tom-gin

Old Tom Gin – Everything You Need To Know

Old Tom Gin is a historically rich spirit known for its distinctive sweetness compared to the more prevalent London Dry Gin. Originating from 18th-century England, it offers a unique flavor profile with a pronounced juniper taste, subtly sweetened by licorice or sugar. Old Tom’s versatility shines in classic cocktails like the Tom Collins and Martinez, providing depth and a smooth, mellow character. Its production varies, leading to diverse expressions of this traditional yet enigmatic gin style.

Hayman’s Old Tom Gin



What Is Old Tom Gin?

Old Tom Gin is a traditional style of gin characterized by a slightly sweeter profile than the more common London Dry Gin. Originating in 18th-century England, Old Tom Gin is known for its rich historical background and unique taste. The sweetness typically comes from the addition of licorice or sugar during distillation. Its flavor is a harmonious blend of botanicals with a notable juniper presence, balanced by its signature sweetness. Old Tom Gin is a favorite for classic cocktails, offering a smoother and more nuanced flavor profile that distinguishes it from other gin varieties. Its resurgence in the craft distillation scene marks a renewed appreciation for this historically significant and versatile spirit.

History of Old Tom Gin 

The history of Old Tom Gin is a fascinating tale intertwined with the social and legal history of England, particularly during the 18th and 19th centuries. Here’s a detailed look at its historical journey:

Gin Craze Era

  • Early Beginnings: The story of Old Tom Gin begins in the early 18th century during a period known as the “Gin Craze” in England. Gin consumption soared due to its affordability and the lax regulations surrounding its production.
  • Regulation and Rebellion: The British government, concerned about the social problems associated with excessive gin consumption, introduced a series of acts to control its production and sale. However, these regulations were often circumvented, and illegal gin sales flourished.

The Puss and Mew Shops

  • Innovative Sales: To bypass the stringent regulations, some gin producers and sellers used creative methods. One such method involved the use of “Puss and Mew” shops. These were secret establishments where gin could be purchased through a clandestine transaction.
  • Old Tom Iconography: The name “Old Tom” is believed to have been derived from the wooden plaques, often in the shape of a black cat (or “Old Tom”), that were mounted on the outside walls of some pubs or houses. A passerby could deposit a coin into a slot in the plaque, whisper their desire for gin, and receive a shot of gin poured through a tube under the cat’s paw.

Distinction in Sweetness

Sweetening the Gin: Old Tom Gin was notably sweeter than the standard gins of the time. This was partly to mask the impurities of the less sophisticated distillation methods used during the era. The sweetness was often achieved by adding licorice or sugar.

Decline and Resurgence

  • Eclipse by Dry Gin: With advancements in distillation technology and changing public tastes, the popularity of the sweeter Old Tom Gin declined in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The dryer styles, like London Dry Gin, largely overshadowed it.
  • Craft Distillation Movement: In recent years, there’s been a resurgence in the popularity of Old Tom Gin, fueled by the craft distillation movement and a growing interest in classic cocktails and historical recipes. Modern distillers have embraced the style, producing variations that respect the traditional sweetness while incorporating contemporary flavors and techniques.

The history of Old Tom Gin is not just about the spirit itself but also reflects broader societal trends, legal battles, and the ingenuity of those who produced and sold it. Today, it enjoys a revered place in the world of spirits, celebrated for its unique taste and storied past.

Did You Know?

  • The origins of the name “Old Tom” are a bit murky. One popular theory suggests it was named after old-fashioned gin vending machines in England where one would deposit a coin and receive a shot of gin from a cat-shaped dispenser, often referred to as an “Old Tom” cat. Another theory posits it might be named after a notable distiller or seller of the spirit.
  • During the infamous “Gin Craze” of the 18th century, gin was sometimes more accessible and cheaper than beer or even clean water in parts of London. This widespread consumption of dubious-quality gin contributed to public health problems and social unrest.
  • “Old Tom” might have been linked to a unique sales technique. Some stories suggest gin was sold from under the paw of a wooden cat mounted on the wall. Patrons would place coins into the cat’s mouth, and in return, they would receive a shot of gin from a tube beneath the cat.
  • The Old Tom style is believed to be the missing link between the juniper-forward London Dry gins and the maltier, sweeter genever gins from the Netherlands. It strikes a balance with its slightly sweet yet still botanical-heavy profile.
  • The famous cocktail, the Tom Collins, originally called for Old Tom Gin. Its name might even hint at its original main ingredient!
  • Today’s Old Tom Gins can vary considerably from one another. Some are aged in barrels for added complexity. In contrast, others use varied botanicals or sweetness levels, allowing cocktail enthusiasts to explore a wide range of flavor profiles within this single gin category.

How Adaptable Is Old Tom Gin?

Old Tom Gin is quite adaptable, both in terms of its production and its use in various culinary and mixological contexts. Its unique characteristics make it a versatile spirit, well-suited for a range of applications. Here’s a closer look at the adaptability of Old Tom Gin:

Cocktail Versatility

Old Tom Gin’s slightly sweeter profile and richer botanical flavors make it exceptionally versatile in cocktails. It can be used in recipes traditionally made with London Dry Gin for a sweeter twist, and it’s especially well-suited for classic cocktails from the 18th and 19th centuries, like the Tom Collins, Martinez, or the Ramos Gin Fizz.

Innovation in Production

Since there are no strict regulations defining Old Tom Gin, producers have considerable freedom to experiment with the botanical mix, aging process, and level of sweetness. This flexibility leads to a wide range of flavor profiles within the Old Tom category, appealing to a diverse range of palates.

Culinary Uses

Beyond cocktails, Old Tom Gin’s rich and slightly sweet profile makes it suitable for culinary uses. It can be an interesting ingredient in cooking, particularly in sauces, marinades, or even desserts where its unique flavor can complement a dish.

Global and Cultural Adaptability

The resurgence of Old Tom Gin has seen it being embraced not just in its place of origin but globally. It fits well into the growing trend of craft and artisanal spirits, appealing to consumers and bartenders looking for historical and unique flavor profiles.

Craft and Experimental Spirit Movement

In the movement of the craft and experimental spirit, Old Tom Gin stands out as a canvas for creativity. Distillers around the world experiment with local botanicals, different types of sweeteners, and aging processes, offering a contemporary take on this historic gin style.

Old Tom Gin Regulations

Old Tom gin is a style of gin that dates back to the 18th century, and it has specific historical characteristics and regulations associated with it. While these regulations may vary from one region or period to another, here are some general characteristics and regulations that were often associated with Old Tom gin:

Sweeter Profile

Old Tom gin is typically sweeter than London Dry gin. This sweetness can be achieved through the addition of sugar or other sweetening agents.

Botanicals

Like other styles of gin, Old Tom gin is flavored with a variety of botanicals, including juniper, coriander, angelica root, and citrus peel. The exact botanical blend can vary among producers.

Historical Origin

Old Tom gin is believed to have originated in England in the 18th century. It was popular during the gin craze of that era.

Cat-shaped Plaque

One of the most distinctive features of Old Tom gin was the use of a wooden or metal plaque, often in the shape of a cat, mounted on the outside of the gin shop or bar. Customers would insert a coin into the cat’s mouth, and the bartender would dispense a shot of gin through a pipe or spout.

Slightly Amber Color

Old Tom gin was often slightly aged and had a pale amber or golden hue, which contributed to its unique character.

Sweetening Methods

Sugar or other sweeteners were often added to Old Tom gin to give it a sweeter taste. Some variations used caramel for color and sweetness.

Historical Variations

Over time, Old Tom’s gin recipes and production methods varied widely, and the category included a range of styles.

It’s important to note that these regulations and characteristics were more historical, and the production of Old Tom gin today may vary significantly from these traditional standards. Modern craft distillers have revived Old Tom gin as a distinct style. While they may incorporate some of these historical elements, they are not necessarily bound by all of these regulations. Gin regulations also vary by country, so the specifics can differ based on the legal definitions and standards of the region in which the gin is produced.

What Are The Ingredients In Old Tom Gin?

  • Juniper Berries
  • Sweetening Agents
  • Coriander Seeds
  • Angelica Root
  • Citrus Peels
  • Licorice
  • Orris Root
  • Cassia Bark or Cinnamon
  • Almonds
  • Neutral Grain Spirit
  • Water
  • Optional Ingredients such as herbs, spices, fruits, and floral elements.

What Are The Tools Used To Make Old Tom Gin?

  • Fermentation Vessels
  • Copper pot or a column still
  • Condenser
  • Alcohol Measurement Tools
  • Sweeteners
  • Water
  • Bottling and Packaging Equipment
  • Quality Control Instruments
  • Aging Barrels (if applicable)

How Is Old Tom Gin Made?

The production of Old Tom Gin involves several key steps, combining traditional gin-making techniques with the distinctive sweetening process that characterizes this style. Here’s an overview of how Old Tom Gin is typically made:

Selection of Botanicals

The process starts with selecting the botanicals. Juniper berries are essential, but other botanicals like coriander, citrus peel, angelica root, and various spices and herbs are also chosen, depending on the recipe.

Preparation of the Base Spirit

Old Tom Gin is made from a neutral base spirit, usually grain-based. This spirit is essentially a blank canvas that allows the flavors of the botanicals to come through.

Maceration (Optional)

Some producers begin by macerating the botanicals in the base spirit. This process involves soaking the botanicals in the spirit for a period (which can vary), allowing their flavors and oils to infuse into the alcohol.

Distillation

The botanical-infused spirit is then distilled. In a pot still, the mixture is heated, causing the alcohol and flavor compounds to vaporize. These vapors are then condensed back into liquid form, capturing the essence of the botanicals. In some cases, a vapor infusion method is used, where the botanicals are placed in a basket within the still, and the alcohol vapors pick up the flavors as they pass through.

Sweetening

After distillation, Old Tom Gin is sweetened. This is what sets it apart from other types of gin, like London Dry. The sweetening can be achieved by adding sugar, simple syrup, or sometimes naturally sweet botanicals. The amount and type of sweetener vary among different brands.

How is Old Tom Gin Different from Others?

Old Tom Gin stands out from other types of gin due to several distinct characteristics in terms of flavor, sweetness, and historical context. Here’s a comparison to illustrate how it differs from other gin varieties:

Sweetness

Old Tom Gin: It is notably sweeter than most other gins. This sweetness is often achieved by adding sugar or sweetening agents post-distillation or through the use of naturally sweet botanicals.

Other Gins: London Dry Gin, for instance, is famous for its dry profile with no added sugar post-distillation. Contemporary gins might have a varied flavor profile, but they typically don’t have the same level of sweetness as Old Tom.

Flavor Profile

Old Tom Gin: The flavor tends to be more rounded and fuller than London Dry Gin, with a botanical complexity that’s not overly dominated by juniper.

Other Gins: London Dry Gin is juniper-forward and crisp. Plymouth Gin, another variety, is smooth and fruity but less sweet than Old Tom. New Western or American-style gins often emphasize other botanicals over juniper.

Historical Context

Old Tom Gin: It played a key role in the history of gin, acting as a bridge between the malty Dutch Genever and the clean, crisp London Dry Gin. Its recipe and style reflect a historical gin-drinking experience.

Other Gins: Each type of gin, like Genever or London Dry, has its historical context and evolution, reflecting different periods and preferences in gin consumption.

Production Methods

Old Tom Gin: There are no strict regulations governing its production, allowing for a variety of distillation and flavoring techniques. The addition of sweetness post-distillation is a common practice.

Other Gins: London Dry Gin, for example, has strict rules regarding distillation and prohibits the addition of any flavor or color after distillation.

Barrel Aging

Old Tom Gin: Some versions are aged in barrels, giving them a slight color and additional complexity. Barrel aging is not a standard practice across all Old Tom Gins but is a notable feature in some.

Other Gins: Barrel aging is uncommon in London Dry Gin but more prevalent in Genever and some contemporary craft gins.

Usage in Cocktails

Old Tom Gin: Its sweeter profile and full flavor make it ideal for certain classic cocktails like Tom Collins or Martinez, where the sweetness balances other ingredients.
Other Gins: London Dry Gin is versatile in a wide range of cocktails, especially where a prominent juniper flavor is desired. Contemporary gins are often used in more modern cocktail recipes.

Types of Old Tom Gin

Old Tom Gin has seen a variety of interpretations by different distillers. While all Old Tom Gins share certain characteristics like a sweeter palate and a more rounded juniper profile, the specific botanical recipes and production methods can vary. Here are some notable examples of Old Tom Gin, each offering a unique take on this classic style:

Hayman’s Old Tom Gin

A classic representation of the Old Tom style, Hayman’s is known for its balanced sweetness and subtle botanical flavors. It’s often recommended for classic cocktails like the Martinez or Tom Collins.

Ransom Old Tom Gin

Unique for its barrel-aging process, Ransom’s take on Old Tom Gin offers a more complex flavor profile with hints of oak, spice, and citrus, in addition to its sweetness.

Genever-style Old Tom Gin

Some distilleries produce Old Tom gins that draw inspiration from Genever, a Dutch and Belgian precursor to gin. These gins may have a maltier base spirit and a different set of botanicals, offering a distinctive flavor profile compared to more traditional Old Tom gins.

Jensen’s Old Tom Gin

Jensen aims for historical accuracy, replicating the Old Tom gins of the 19th century. It’s known for its botanical intensity and is less sweet than some other Old Toms, making it a good choice for those who prefer a more subtle sweetness.

The Dorchester Old Tom Gin

This variety, created by the famous Dorchester Hotel in London, is a premium example of the style. It has a rich and smooth profile with a pronounced sweetness.

Barr Hill Reserve Tom Cat Gin

An American take on the Old Tom style, Tom Cat is aged in new American oak barrels, giving it a unique character with woody and honeyed notes.

Both’s Old Tom Gin

Both versions are known for their traditional recipes with pronounced sweetness and a rich, complex flavor profile.

Tanqueray Old Tom Gin

A limited edition release from Tanqueray, this Old Tom Gin is a throwback to an older recipe, offering a sweeter and lighter alternative to their classic London Dry style.

Hammer & Son Old English Gin

Hammer & Son’s Old Tom is based on an 18th-century recipe and is made in small batches. It’s known for its deep, rich flavors and thick, syrupy sweetness.

Secret Treasures Old Tom Gin

A more modern interpretation, this gin is known for its unique blend of botanicals and slightly higher sweetness level.

Ableforth’s Bathtub Gin – Old Tom

This gin combines traditional cold compounding with a distinctive Old Tom sweetness, resulting in a rich, complex flavor profile.

New World/Old World Old Tom Gins

Craft distillers often experiment with Old Tom gin by incorporating a wide range of botanicals, both traditional and exotic. These “New World” or “Old World” Old Tom gins can feature unique flavor combinations, such as using local botanicals or international spices.

Limited Edition and Artisanal Old Tom Gins

Many craft distilleries create limited-edition or small-batch Old Tom gins, often featuring hand-selected botanicals and unique production methods. These gins cater to connoisseurs and enthusiasts seeking distinctive and rare offerings.

Barrel-Aged Old Tom Gins

Some Old Tom gin producers age their products in barrels, such as oak barrels, for extended periods. This aging process imparts additional complexity, color, and flavors to the gin, similar to aged spirits like whiskey.

Navy Strength Old Tom Gins

Some distilleries produce Old Tom gin at higher alcohol content, known as “Navy Strength.” These gins are typically over 57% alcohol by volume (ABV) and are known for their robust flavors and strength.

Flavored Old Tom Gins

Some modern distillers create flavored variations of Old Tom gin, adding unique twists with ingredients like herbs, fruits, or spices.

It’s important to note that the diversity of Old Tom gin types continues to grow as craft distillers experiment with botanicals and production techniques. When exploring Old Tom gins, you may encounter a wide range of flavors and styles, making it an exciting category for gin enthusiasts to explore.

Buy Old Tom Gin Online

Old Tom Gin is a slightly sweetened flair of gin that sits somewhere between the more modern London Dry Gins and the older genever-style gins. It was popular in 18th-century England and has seen a resurgence in the craft cocktail scene of the 21st century. Here are some high brands known for producing Old Tom Gin:

Hayman’s Old Tom Gin 

A family brand that’s been around for a long time. They produce a version of Old Tom that’s both faithful to historical recipes and quite popular among contemporary bartenders.

Hayman’s Old Tom Gin



Ransom Old Tom Gin

This is an American-made Old Tom, which is interesting given the style’s English origins. It’s made in Oregon and is aged in wine barrels, giving it a unique color and taste.

Ransom Old Tom Gin



Tanqueray Old Tom Gin

A well-known name in the gin world, Tanqueray has also released its version of Old Tom, resurrecting an 1835 recipe.

Tanqueray Old Tom Gin



Anchor Old Tom Gin

From Anchor Distilling in San Francisco, this Old Tom is made with stevia, a natural sweetener, which gives it a slightly different sweetness.

Anchor Old Tom Gin



The Botanist Old Tom Gin

Known for its widely popular dry gin, It also ventured into Old Tom territory with a high-quality product.

The Botanist Islay Dry Gin



Barr Hill Old Tom Gin

Barr Hill takes its base gin and then ages it in American oak barrels, producing their version of Old Tom.


Both’s Old Tom Gin

A German-made version, it brings some unique flavors to the table.


Recipe Variation

Old Tom Gin’s unique, slightly sweet profile lends itself beautifully to various classic and innovative cocktails. Here are a few delicious Old Tom Gin recipes to try:

Martinez

Ingredients

  • 2 oz Old Tom Gin
  • 1 oz sweet vermouth (like Carpano Antica or Dolin Rouge)
  • 1/4 oz maraschino liqueur
  • 2 dashes of orange bitters

Instructions

Muddle all ingredients with ice in a mixing glass. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Embellish with an orange twist or a cherry.

Tom Collins 

Ingredients

  • 2 oz Old Tom Gin
  • 1 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz simple syrup
  • Soda water

Instructions

Mix up gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup in a tall glass. Load the glass with ice, top with soda water, and give a gentle stir. Garnish with a lemon wheel.

Improved Gin Cocktail

Ingredients 

  • 2 oz Old Tom Gin
  • 1/4 oz maraschino liqueur
  • 1/4 oz simple syrup
  • 2 dashes of aromatic bitters (like Angostura)
  • 1 dash of absinthe or anise-flavored liqueur

Instructions 

Muddle all ingredients with ice in a mixing glass. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Old Tom Punch

Ingredients 

  • 2 oz Old Tom Gin
  • 1 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 1 oz simple syrup
  • 2 oz strongly brewed tea (like Earl Grey or English Breakfast)
  • 2 oz sparkling water or lemon-lime soda

Instructions 

Combine gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, and tea in a large glass or punch bowl. Chill until ready to serve. Before serving, add sparkling water or soda. Serve in individual glasses filled with ice cubes and garnished with lemon slices or berries.

Old Tom Toddy

Ingredients

  • 2 oz Old Tom Gin
  • 1 tablespoon honey (adjust to taste)
  • 1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
  • Hot water

Instructions

Muddle the gin, honey, and lemon juice in a heatproof mug. Top up with hot water and give a gentle stir. This is a wonderful drink for chilly evenings or if you have a cold.

These recipes showcase the versatility and unique character of Old Tom Gin, from classic cocktails to warm, comforting drinks. Experiment with the ratios to match your taste and enjoy the rich history and flavors that Old Tom Gin brings to the table. Cheers!

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