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Old Tom Gin

What is Old Tom Gin?

Old Tom is a type of off-dry (slightly sweet) Gin that had all but died out by the middle of the twentieth century. Today it is based on those available in its heyday of the 1700’s and 1800’s, when it was the most popular style of Gin available in the UK, and to an extent in the USA during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. For many it can best be described as “Gin’s missing link”, as it provides an understanding of how the whisky-like Genever evolved into the popular London Dry Gin of today.

History

A New King

By 1688 many Protestants in England were keen to overthrow their Catholic King James II. This became a reality when the Dutch Protestant King William of Orange was “invited” to become King William III of England (along with his English wife, Queen Mary, the daughter of the now deposed James II). What followed in 1689 under this new reign was a series of governmental policy changes including bans or excessive tax tariffs put on imports from Catholic countries (e.g. French Brandy). These changes also involved the reduction or cessation of taxes on imports from Protestant countries (e.g. Dutch Genever).

Price is King

Suddenly the juniper-flavored spirit Genever became an inexpensive option in the UK and started gaining increased popularity. Having developed a taste for Genever, or Hollands Gin as the Brits now called it, the English decided to make a homemade version. Spirit production in England at this time was untaxed and in essence unregulated, and the result was an English Gin that not only proved cheaper than Genever but also Beer and Wine. This was to be the beginning of a Gin Craze, particularly amongst the poverty-ridden working classes of London and other port Cities around the UK, which lasted into the 1750’s.

Favoring Rules

Using inefficient Pot Stills and undergoing no (intended) aging process in wood, this English Gin proved harsh to the taste. As numerous distilleries sprung up, including those in homes, English Gin was rushed through the production process in an eager need to supply consumers (and make money). Consequently, the quality level was extremely poor and distillers used (besides juniper berries) other flavoring agents (botanicals e.g. citrus) and sweetners (grain e.g. malted barley and botanicals e.g. liquorice) to mask the “rough” taste of their spirit. Some makers would take short cuts by using questionable additives such as turpentine (possessing a similar taste to juniper with resinous wood notes) and sulphuric acid (for a “real” alcohol burn)! The sulphuric acid was added because it creates new alcoholic compounds with the ethanol – an azeotrope (a catalyst increasing the levels of alcohol produced) and diethyl ether (a stupor inducing and addictive general anaesthetic), plus it results in a sweeter tasting spirit!

New Rules

The Gin Craze reached its peak during the first half of the 1700’s and, viewed as a social problem, the production and sale of English Gin became subject to a series of regulations. Some of these legal restrictions initially failed to achieve the desired changes, not to mention the populace protesting and rioting in the streets, and were amended accordingly. However the end result, by the middle to late 1700’s, was a series of better controls on production and sales plus a small but increased level of quality – not to mention the social improvements!

Sweeter Improvemants

The late 1700’s found increasing amounts of expensive sugar from the “West Indies” arriving on British shores. In 1802 a whole new section of London, called the West India Docks, was built to process sugar and this saw its price in the UK drop significantly. Distillers were quick to utilize this now cheaper product to sweeten their, still relatively poor quality, products and some used the term “Cordial” (also known as a “liqueur” in many countries today) to describe them. English Gin was no exception, with sugar being added as a sweetner, and some references from this time may find it called “Old English/Tom Gin Cordial” (or variations upon a theme!).

A Sweet/Dry Divide

The 1830’s saw improvements in distilling technology and equipment and, along with advances in water treatment, resulted in the ability to make superior quality spirit. By the 1870’s this distillation equipment was widely available and English Gin was being produced in two versions: Unsweetened and Sweetened. The Unsweetened Gin (containing less than 1% sugar, or even no sugar at all) is what would become known as London Dry Gin. The Sweetened Gin (containing between 2 – 6% sugar), while still referred to as English Gin by some, was now using a new moniker – Old Tom Gin (see Name below).

Gaining Gin Respect

By the late 1800’s English Gin (both Old Tom and London Dry) had become the benchmark for quality spirits and was subsequently enjoying increased demand. The fungal disease phylloxera had decimated vines across Europe, making Wine availability much reduced, and Brandy almost non-existent. This led the middle classes to seek alternatives and it no doubt played a part in the cocktail scene developing (particularly to the USA), with Gin a popular choice as the base spirit. All of these factors, amongst others, certainly found significantly increased levels of English Gin production and exports.

Popularity Contest

Old Tom was still the most popular style of Gin during the late 1800’s and the early 1900’s. Look at any cocktail book published during this period and Gin is often an Old Tom, although Plymouth Gin (technically a London Dry) makes a frequent appearance and Hollands Gin (Genever) is also mentioned. Old Tom is certainly a more versatile cocktail base than Genever and provides a better choice when used in “sweeter” mixed drinks. However, as palates changed to a drier taste (maybe led by people enjoying dry Champagne), and new drinks like the Martini and Bronx had become popular, the London Dry style of Gin started gaining the upper hand by the 1920’s.

The Death of Old Tom

Old Tom can be a little more expensive to make than London Dry, and as two world wars took their toll on resources (including restrictions on sugar), production of Old Tom Gin had declined quite rapidly by the 1940’s. Although some of the major UK distillers continued to make Old Tom for export to countries such as Finland, Japan and the USA, this style of Gin was no longer a “cash cow” and they too started to cease production. By the 1960’s Old Tom had all but disappeared with Gordon’s being one of the last UK producers to stop production around this time. By the end of the 20th century Old Tom was an extinct and almost forgotten entity with just a handful of drink industry specialists wondering what Old Tom Gin would taste like in older cocktail recipes (see Old Tom Revival below).

Name

Although this may have been referred to as English Gin, Old English Gin or sweetened Gin, it is the name Old Tom that has endured and, is how we know it today. All of these former names are understandable in their descriptive character but the name Old Tom is less forthcoming. Unfortunately there is no definitive evidence to be completely sure of its origins but there are a few stories that may hold some elements of truth to its birth.

Dudley Bradstreet - "Puss and Mew"

In the 1730’s (1733 or 1736 depending on sources) Captain Dudley Bradstreet was a customs and excise man who rented a home (via an acquaintance) in London. He managed to secure himself a consignment of Gin and, to get around the clampdown on Gin sales at this time he devised an elaborate but enterprising scheme, which may just have been the very first “walk-through” in history! He set up a painted sign of a black cat (an “old Tom”) in a window of the house and let people know his Gin was available for sale. Customers were able to put coins in a slot found in the cat’s mouth and received a shot of Gin (into their mouth or cup) via a lead pipe (attached to a funnel inside the house) coming out of the cat’s paw. Under this system, officials could not enter the house to stop the illegal sale of Gin, without knowing the name of the person selling it!

Soon others across London were copying Bradstreet’s idea, with the sign of the black cat alerting people who would call “Puss” from outside the building, and would hear “Mew” from within to confirm the availability of the bootleg Gin. While it is possible this arrangement of the black cat signage led to the name of Old Tom Gin, it almost certainly led to the common use of black cat imagery on bottle labels and advertisements much later in the second half of the 1800’s. Bradstreet wrote about his exploits, including this Gin ruse he ran for 3 months, in his 1755 book “The Life and Uncommon Adventures of Captain Dudley Bradstreet” but never refers to it as Old Tom Gin.

Thomas Chamberlain - The "Old Tom"

Thomas Chamberlain was a distiller and partner at the London based Hodge’s Distillery of Lambeth in the 1830’s. Thomas Norris was an apprentice of Chamberlain at Hodge’s who went on to open up his own Gin Palace in Covent Garden, London. Norris bought casks of Gin from local distillers including Hodge’s and it’s possible he named this Gin “Old Tom” after his previous mentor. This seems to be substantiated by the Gin manufacturer Joesph Boord during a court case in 1903.

Joseph Boord - "Cat & Barrel" Trademark

In 1849 distiller Joseph Boord registered a trademark, probably one of the earliest for Gin, covering his “Cat and Barrel” Old Tom Gin. Boord’s were also one of the earliest bottler’s of Gin and the label, no guesses here, featured a black cat sitting atop a wooden cask. In 1903 they successfully defended their trademark against Huddart and Company, a rival distiller. During the court case Joseph Boord claimed under oath that the product, using the cat as a pun, was named Old Tom after a man - namely “old Thomas Chamberlain of Hodge’s distillery.”

The Cat Reigns

While Old Tom seems at best to be a reference to Thomas Chamberlain it appears the black cat imagery is what has endured. There is even a suggestion that it got it’s name when a cat fell into a vat of Gin at an undisclosed distillery, giving the spirit a particularly distinctive flavor (we bet it did!). Evidence does point towards the mid 1850’s for the cat to become associated with the name but exactly when it became known as Old Tom (and why), is something we may never truly know.

Making Old Tom Gin

At least initially (late 1600’s), the makers of English Gin would have tried to emulate Genever i.e. made in pot stills from a malted barley base (and maybe aged in wooden barrels). Distilled to around 50%ABV (and diluted with water down to around 25% ABV) some of the flavor from the grain comes through in the spirit, unlike the high quality Grain Neutral Spirits used today and, hence with malted barley there is a sweeter taste. However, malted barley at this time in the UK was predominately used to make beer and was in short supply (and therefore relatively expensive). This led to English Gin producers using other substrates to make their base spirit, and corn proved to be a popular choice as it was more readily available (and cheaper) at this time. Although the earliest forms probably used a mix of barley and corn, as soon as someone experimented with just corn it would have immediately changed the character from a Whisky-like Genever to a Gin we may more readily identify with today.

If not added originally, as English Gin changed its substrate to corn, the taste would certainly have required some modification with more botanicals (besides juniper berries) being added. No doubt the early distillers would have experimented with the botanical mix, with the aim of finding those that could: replace the sweetness; mask the harshness; and provide a complimentary profile to the juniper. Readily available at the time were items such as dried liquorice root and dried citrus peel (from oranges and lemons). Other botanicals likely to have been included at this time were: angelica root, aniseed, powdered orris and coriander seeds (to name but a few).

To mellow the Gin it would have benefited from being rested in wooden barrels for at least several months. Although it is doubtful this happened by design (maybe at most by a few producers of this time), the majority of Old Tom Gin would only have spent a little time in barrels while being transported and stored prior to consumption i.e. a few weeks.

The 1800’s changed English Gin even further:  (i) the advent of the Column still to produce cleaner and higher quality pure spirit (reducing the need for masking its flavor and/or sweetening it) and increasing the “bottling” strength to around 40% ABV; (ii) cheaper sugar to add (reducing the need for liquorice as a botanical); (iii) nutmeg becoming a cheaper ingredient and sometimes added to the Gin; and (iv) stainless steel replacing wood barrels, for storage and transportation, resulting in no unintentional aging.

As Old Tom has evolved across several hundred years its characteristics have clearly changed and, with scant written records for reference, modern day distillers are faced with numerous options when seeking to replicate it. However, this also means distillers have a range of production choices to experiment with and this is one of the many things craft distillers enjoy doing! It is not just a case of using a London Dry Gin, adding some sugar and aging it in wood, we believe distillers and consumers would prefer to see more historical authenticity applied (although the addition of turpentine or sulphuric acid might be a “bridge too far”…and illegal!).

Tasting Old Tom Gin

Given where Old Tom Gin sits in history, it is relatively easy to say that it is sweeter than London Dry Gin and drier than Genever. Beyond this simple description is a diverse and interesting range of taste sensations, changing as this style of Gin has developed across the years. Some may use a malted barley base, have few botanicals and aged for a short time to be more Genever-like in style. This may then be flavored with liquorice to bring about the off-dry elements of sweetness anticipated in this style of Gin.

Alternatively it is just as likely to be made from grain substrates other than malted barley, unaged and sweetened using sugar with a range of botanicals (including those previously too expensive e.g. nutmeg) and some expected botanicals not included (e.g. liquorice). However, these broad variations are likely to have a more rounded, fuller bodied and richer mouth feel, and have a more intense botanical flavor than say a London Dry Gin of today. Many of the large distillers of today with greater heritage have access to records held by their company dating back to when Old Tom was available and even made by them. According to some of these companies this style of Gin is likely to have a more floral and/or fruitier flavor profile than we are used to today. This makes sense as the Gin would have needed to be have been more pungent to mask the harshness. It also seems as if the juniper was dialled back more to have a softness, perhaps similar to Plymouth Gin (which was first made in 1793).

We like some of the descriptions used by professionals in the drinks industry:

  1. Eric Seed, a representative of Hayman’s says: “Old toms tend to be very well rounded in flavor profile, whereas London Dry style tends to be more sharp and angular.”
  2. Texan Bartender Bill Norris says: “It’s not as aggressively flavored, so some of the more subtle nuances don’t get overwhelmed by the juniper influence. The alcohol is a bit lower, it’s a little sweeter and doesn’t have that botanical bite.”
  3. Californian bartender Chad Arnholt says London Dry is like the: “really sharp member of the family that you know is going to Harvard. Old Tom is…more like the slacker kid who is basically agreeable but unimpressive...until he surprises the world by founding a billion-dollar dot com".

Interestingly, many professionals seem to agree on one thing: people who don’t like Gin often find they like Old Tom Gin.

Drinking Old Tom Gin

While there may be several different versions on a theme of Old Tom Gin, the overall sweeter taste and fuller mouth feel makes it ideal for sweeter tasting cocktails. Typical examples, especially from the time frame of the Golden Age of Cocktails, are:

  • Casino (complimenting the Maraschino);
  • Gin Fizz (including the Tom Collins and Ramos Gin Fizz);
  • Gin Sling (including the Singapore Gin Sling);
  • Martinez (a popular choice for using Old Tom);
  • Martini (as a pre-dinner aperitif it helps reduce palate numbness, compared with using a juniper forward London Dry Gin); and a
  • Perfect Martini (using equal parts dry and sweet Vermouth).

The best way, as always, is to try Old Tom Gin in these cocktails for your self. Compare them when made with other types of Gin (e.g. London Dry) to see which work better for you (and your palate). In terms of the best general availability (and at good prices too) try making a Martinez individually with Beefeater, Plymouth and Hayman’s Old Tom - you’ll be surprised at how different the resultant cocktail is - it’s like three different drinks! Also, do not be afraid to experiment with other cocktails beyond just this list; see this as your starting point to move on from!

Old Tom Gin Revival

Wishes

Beginning in the 1980’s and really consolidating in the 1990’s there has been a growing popularity for cocktails, and this has taken us well into the new Millennium. Accordingly, Bartender’s have been seeking new and exciting offerings to entice and enthrall their customers. This has also caused some to not just create modern day recipes but to also look back in history to the golden age of cocktails for inspirations and recreate those drinks from the past. This has resulted in a few, in their wish to create authentic old recipes, to desire those spirits and liqueurs from those times – including Old Tom Gin – with growing numbers of requests for it to be remade.

Tanqueray into the Fray?

In 1997 Tanqueray released their Malacca Gin based on a recipe from 1839 by founder Charles Tanqueray. Although not referred to as an Old Tom Gin, it was more aromatic and spicier, with a sweeter and wetter approach than say a London Dry Gin (that dominated the Gin scene at this time). It is fair to say this product was ahead of its time and short lived, being discontinued in 2001 – although it has gained something of a cult status, which no doubt led to a limited edition of 100,000 bottles being produced in 2013. This, of course, still did not encourage distillers to rush out and make Old Tom Gin but mounting requests from bartenders continued for an Old Tom version to be made.

All Clear - Hayman's

Finally in 2007 Hayman’s Old Tom Gin, from Hayman Distillers, England, UK, was launched – the first Old Tom Gin to market for around half a century. Christopher Hayman, a descendent of the Burroughs clan (of Beefeater Gin fame), was already in possession of an old family recipe dating from the 1860s. Although the Beefeater Company ceased production of their Old Tom Gin in the 1950’s, Hayman’s has brought it back to life for this new Millennium. The clear unaged spirit has a dominant juniper profile but is soft and smooth and is notably sweet with its addition of sugar.

Flavor Pitch - Jensen's

Launched in 2008 By Christian Jensen of Bermondsey Gin Ltd., London, UK, this uses the botanical mix to create the sweetness rather than sugar, wood aging or malted barley. Based on a recipe from the 1840’s the botanicals include: almonds, angelica root, coriander seeds, juniper berries, liquorice (the key sweetening agent) and orris root. Juniper is dominant with violet floral notes and it finishes with a spicy sweetness (best described as off-dry). This is not as smooth and soft as Hayman’s or Ransom (see below) but has a little harshness or bite to it (something we personally enjoy).

Out of the Dark - Ransom

In 2009 Ransom Spirits based in Oregon, USA, launched their Ransom Spirits Old Tom Gin. This was a collaborative effort by distillery founder and owner Ted Henry Seestedt, with spirit and cocktail guru David Wondrich, to create their version of an authentic Old Tom Gin from the mid 1850’s of America. It uses a base of malted barley and corn; botanicals include: angelica root, cardamom pods, coriander seeds, juniper berries, lemon and orange peel; and it is aged for 3 – 6 months in barrels previously used for maturing pinot noir wine. Interestingly the slight sweetness, to what would otherwise be a Dry Gin, is gained from the wood aging and perhaps the malted barley.

Our View

Clearly these are three brands depicting three differing styles of Old Tom Gin and while it might be tempting to try and determine which is more authentic or better, this to us is a ludicrous waste of time. Each has it’s own take on what was a “movable feast” covering the many years Old Tom Gin was originally available. These spirit producers equally deserve the just and right accolades for each being the initial movers and shakers of introducing modern day drinkers to Old Tom Gin - and we thank them most heartedly. As to which of these you would like, it is purely a matter of choice according to your palate. We find Hayman’s a little too sweet and Ransom a little too much like Genever but really enjoy Jensen’s botanical quirkiness (when we can get a bottle of it!). This is not to decry the former mentioned Hayman’s and Ransom because they are enjoyable and we have met and know many who enjoy these too!

A Modern Day Revival

Since the arrival of these first three Old Tom Gin brands we have, from 2010 onwards, seen a number of Old Tom Gins appear on the market. Distilleries are now beginning to see the benefit of adding Old Tom versions to their Gin portfolio and this, in turn, means the most discerning and adventurous bartenders are producing more cocktails based on authentic classic recipes.

Old Tom Gin Brands

Here is an alphabetical list of Old Tom’s you may be able to find, although it may require a certain amount of searching:

* Anchor Old Tom

Launched in 2014 by the Anchor Distilling Company in California, USA. This is a clear Gin and uses only 4 botanicals to sweeten and flavor it: juniper berries, star anise, liquorice root and stevia (a natural non-sugar sweetner).

* Barr Hill Reserve Tom Cat

Launched in 2014 by Caledonia Spirits in Vermont, USA. This is sweetened with honey and barrel aged for 3 - 6 months. Sadly, local legislation has not permitted this to be called Gin, hence the use of the word “Cat” instead!

* Batshit Mental Ideas Very Old Tom

Made by Master of Malt in Kent, England, UK. This is a compond Gin and botanically includes: angelica, cardamom, clementine peel (fresh), coriander, grapefruit peel (fresh), earl grey tea, juniper berries, lemon peel (fresh), lime peel (fresh), liquorice, orange peel (fresh) and orris root. It has some sugar added to this and is barrel aged for 5 months, making it taste like a whisky liqueur.

* Both’s Old Tom

Made by Both’s Distillery for Hamorex in Germany. This is inspired by Booth’s Old Tom Gin (now discontinued) with a “furry” flock wallpaper style label used to imitate it’s predecessor. This clear spirit uses a strong botanical (floral, citrus and liquorice) presence to supply the flavor and sweetening too (possibly anise, fennel and/or caraway).

* Brothers Old Tom

Made by owner and distiller Brian Langwell of Left Turn Distilling in New Mexico, USA. Those who try this tend to be instant converts, making it much sought after by those in the know! It’s clear appearance; barley base; and botanicals (dialled back juniper, with citrus and cinnamon/nutmeg) make for a nicely balanced off-dry delight.

* Captain Black’s Old Tom

An offering made by the very small-scale Port Steilacoom Distillery in Washington, USA. Launched in 2014 we understand this Old Tom is made from a honey base (source of the sweetness), is barrel aged and has great smoothness and botanical complexity.

* City of London (COLD) Old Tom

The City of London Distillery produces a clear Old Tom with a taste profile consisting of juniper, citrus (lemon) and spice (cinnamon). It is lightly sweetened and the antique styled bottle is reminiscent of nearby St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, UK.

* Copper Fiddle Tom

This whisky barrel aged Old Tom is made by Copper Fiddle Distillery in Illinois, USA. The botanicals they use include: juniper berries, coriander seed, angelica root, orange peel, lemon peel and star anise (for a hint of sweetness). This certainly follows in the footsteps of Ransom Spirits.

* Copper & Kings Stray Cat

Better known for their Brandy this (perhaps one time offering) is made by the Copper and Kings American Brandy Co. in Kentucky, USA. Only 750 half bottles were produced and this 12-month juniper barrel aged, apple brandy based (the sweetness), non-chill filtered (cloudy) offering is quite unique. We understand it is a very silky smooth masterpiece by the notable head distiller Brandon O’Daniel.

* Counter Old Tom

Made by Batch 206 Distillery in Washington, USA. It is a 6-month Hungarian Oak Chardonnay barrel aged version of their New Western style Counter Gin, the aging providing the subtle sweetness.

* Dodd's Old Tom

Launched in 2016 this limited edition is made by The London Distillery Company in London, UK. Aged in American oak it is a variation on their standard Gin but with some changes including the addition of liquorice to provide a little more sweetness.

* Downslope Distilling Ould Tom

This is a citrus dominated offering by Rocky Mountain Craft Spirits from Colorado, USA. This barrel aged Old Tom uses a cane sugar base to provide the sweetness and a full-bodied mouth feel with herbal, apple and cinnamon flavors providing botanical complexity.

* Eccentric Old and Young Tom

This oddball distillery by owner Tom Newman, opened in 2014 and is based in Wales, UK. They use the sacred Celtic botanical “Wild Sunflower” (a.k.a. “Elfwort”) in each of their Gins (which imparts a subtle sweetness and floral bitterness). The Old Tom uses fennel seeds and caraway as part of it’s botanical mix while the Young Tom uses fennel and star anise plus an IPA fermented wash at it’s base. Both are barrel aged with the Old Tom rested for a slightly longer period, hence the use of “young” and “old” in their names.

* Endeavour Old Tom

This flavorsome creation is from Liberty Distillery based in Vancouver, Canada. It uses an organic wheat base, is distilled with 10 botanicals and infused with 5 further botanicals post distillation. It is barrel aged in French Oak for several months and based on an American 1850’s recipe. The juniper and spice dominate with sweetness from the addition of fruit (e.g. Mulberry) and it certainly one to try.

* Escape7 (E7) Old Tom

Although made in the UK, and based on a recipe from 1761, this is primarily sold in Spain. Made at 25% ABV it has all the characteristics of a traditional Gin but is technically a liqueur and has a great full-bodied mouth feel (with juniper, citrus, spice and hints of vanilla). A nice digestif to sip neat after dinner.

* Gin Lane 1751 Old Tom

Launched in 2015 this is made by Thames Distillers in England, UK. Based on a classic Victorian style it uses 8 botanicals: angelica, cassia bark, coriander, juniper berries (the predominant flavor), lemon, orange, orris root and star anise (the main sweetening agent).

* Golden Cock

This is a modern day Old Tom made by Arcus AS in Norway (at 38% ABV) and is said to date back to 1936. They use traditional botanical ingredients including juniper berries, citrus peel and coriander seed with the sweetness coming from liquorice.

* Greenhook Ginsmiths Old Tom

Made in New York, USA, this has many unique qualities for an Old Tom Gin: (i) it’s made using a vacuum still, (ii) it has the highest ABV at 50.5%, and (iii) it’s aged for over a year - 1 year in bourbon barrels and then (most unusually as this practice never originated until the 1960’s with Whisky) 1 to 3 months in Oloroso Sherry butts. It may not historically speaking be entirely authentic but it has a very workable blend of old and modern in it’s approach – malty sweetness with cinnamon and almond flavors.

* Hayman’s Old Tom

See “Old Tom Gin Revival” above.  

* Hernö Old Tom

Founder Jon Hillgren makes this multi-award winning clear spirit from the Hernö Brenneri AB distillery in Sweden. It uses the same 8 botanicals, as with other Gins made by Hernö, but with an increased quantity of meadowsweet (during distillation) and a little honey and sugar added (post distillation). For most people this is perhaps what they expect an Old Tom will taste like and therefore is highly recommended.

* Jensen’s Old Tom

See “Old Tom Gin Revival” above.

* KIS (Kangaroo Island Spirits) Old Tom Aged

Made on Kangaroo Island in South Australia, KIS are true artisans and use a standard local botanical in all their Gins: Myoporum insulare (also known as Native Juniper or Boobialla). This Old Tom was (perhaps) a one time offering for the “Tasting Australia” event in 2014 and used their Wild Gin as the base but with lemon and aniseed myrtle’s and aged in a small French oak barrel.

* Liberator Barrel Aged Old Tom

Made by the Valentine Distilling Co. in Michigan, USA it uses their Liberator Gin, which is aged in American oak barrels for 2 years. The juniper is dialled back and mellow with hints of citrus, woody spice and vanilla. This aging period is worth the wait and thoroughly deserves the title of “Best Cask Gin in the World” it gained from the World Gin Awards.

* Old English

Launched in 2012 this is made in the UK by Langley Distillery for Gin expert Henrik Hammer of Hammer & Son Ltd. in Denmark. Made to a 1783 recipe: using a base spirit of wheat; 11 botanicals: angelica, cardamom, cassia, cinnamon, coriander, juniper berries, lemon, liquorice, nutmeg, orange and orris root; and a small amount of sugar added post distillation. Henrik has created a true authentic masterpiece and this is highly recommended to seek out and try.

* Poetic License Old Tom

Launched in 2015 this is made by the Poetic License Independent Small Batch Distillery in England, UK. It is oak aged and its sweetness (according to the distillers) is gained from the botanicals (which include hibiscus and rose petals), although we found this quite dry to the taste.

* Professor Cornelius Ampleforth’s Bathtub Old Tom

Made by Master of Malt in the UK it was launched during 2012. They use their standard Bathtub Gin made by the compound method (tasting of juniper, citrus (orange) and spice) and suspect a little sugar is added to provide its sweetness.

* Queen's Courage Old Tom

Made by the Astoria Distilling Company in Queens, New York City, New York, USA. This clear spirit is made from a base of malted barley and has a cornucopia of spice, herbal and fruit flavors and is sweetened with honey collected from the rooftops of the city.

* Ransom Spirits Old Tom

See “Old Tom Gin Revival” above.

* Scofflaw Old Tom

Launched in 2013 and made exclusively for the cocktail bar Scofflaw in Chicago, Illinois, USA by North Shore Distillery (also based in Chicago). This Gin uses juniper, coriander and citrus supported by anise (for the liquorice sweetness) and tea made from osthmanthus blossoms (for a light floral note). We understand it is soft and flavorsome with good complexity and a long finish.

* Secret Treasures Old Tom Style

Created by Master Blender, Hubertus Vallendar in Kail, Germany for the Haromex company (like Both’s Old Tom Gin). It is a clear spirit with only a slight sweetness, probably from the botanicals rather than any added sweetner.

* Settler's Old Tom

This clear Gin is made by McLaren Vale Distilling Company in South Australia. It is unusually for Gin and probably uniquely for an Old Tom Gin produced from a grape base spirit. Liquorice and star anise is included for sweetness and its spicy warm flavor profile comes from cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and (native Australian) Pepper berries.

* Sound Spirits Old Tom

Made by Sound Spirits in Seattle, Washington, USA, they give their Gin some color by resting it with oak chips for a month. The juniper is restrained with the orange and cardamom becoming more prominent, supported with notes of vanilla and sweet caramel from the wood.

* Spring 44 Mountain Old Tom

Made in Loveland, Colorado, USA it is barrel aged in American oak providing a butterscotch sweetness. A strong juniper presence is nicely maintained and supported by notes of citrus and spice in the background from an eclectic list of botanicals, including galangal root (providing a celery like earthy sweetness), lemongrass and rosemary.

* Tanqueray Old Tom

Made by Diageo in the UK this was originally launched in 1835 but finally discontinued in 1921. In 2014 they launched a Limited Edition of 100,000 bottles of their Old Tom Gin based on the original recipe by company founder Charles Tanqueray.

* The Clumsies Old Tom

Made for The Clumsies Bar in Athens, Greece by a local distillery (Finest Roots Spirits) and we believe is a limited edition. Launched in 2015 this clear spirit has chamomile and rosemary in it’s botanical ingredients, plus nutmeg and liquorice (providing the sweetness).

* The Dorchester Old Tom

Originally made by William Grant (who also make Hendrick's) it was devised in 2006 and launched in 2007 for the exclusive use of The Dorchester Hotel in London. Since 2014 it has been made by City of London Distillery (COLD) to, we believe, a different recipe.

* Two Birds Old Tom

Made by Union Distillers Ltd. in Market Harborough, Leicestershire, England, UK. Launched in 2015, this clear spirit is juniper forward with strong pine notes, and gains its sweetness from liquorice root.

* Zuidam Dutch Courage Old Tom’s

Made by Zuidam Distillery in Baarle Nassau, Holland, this is a barrel-aged version of their Dutch Courage Gin. Its gentle sweetness is obtained by using liquorice root from India and has a complexity of flavors including citrus (orange and lemon), spice (cardamom, cinnamon and coriander), and wood (toffee, honey, toast and caramel) plus vanilla beans (an unusual addition).

Old Tom, in Name Only!

As can be seen from the list above, most Old Tom Gins make use of the term “Old Tom” in their name to help differentiate this category of Gin from other Gin styles. However, there are some Gins brands that utilize the term “Old Tom” (or a variation of this term) in their name too:

Boord's Old Tom

The London based Boord’s Distillery was established in 1726 and made an Old Tom Gin which was trademarked back in 1849 – see the section on “Name” and “Joseph Boord” above. In its day the brand was very well known, particularly enjoying high levels of export to the USA. Today the brand is owned by the global drinks group Diageo, and has been made at The Boord Distillery in Missouri, USA since 1993. While the historical name has been maintained it is no longer made as an Old Tom Gin but is a dry compound value brand of Gin, and tastes as such (often disappointing those who are expecting an Old Tom Gin).

Poor Toms

Launched in 2015 this is made in Sydney, Australia by boyhood friends Griffin Blumer and Jesse Kennedy. Both have the same middle name of Thomas and their creation was certainly started on a shoestring budget, hence the name “Poor Toms.” Similar in style to a London Dry Gin it is not quite as restrained as this label suggests and is therefore referred to by them as a “Sydney Dry Gin.”

Wray & Nephew's Old Tom

Made in Kingston, Jamaica by famous Rum distillers, this is not (despite its name) an Old Tom Gin. Although it may be made from sugar cane, this clear spirit has little Gin flavor, and is perhaps more like Vodka.

Old Tom Like?

A question that may not give us sleepless nights but does occasionally cause a pause for thought is: Are there Old Tom Gins out there that are not recognized as, or called, Old Tom Gins? Our experience indicates there are Barrel Aged Gins that have a similar flavor to Old Tom Gins that have undergone barrel aging (e.g. compare them with Ransom Spirits Old Tom Gin); there are also New Western styles of Gin that dial back the juniper to provide greater botanical democracy and frequently include licorice/anise tasting botanicals, putting them on a similar palate profile to Old Tom Gins. Maybe distillers have consciously or even unconsciously produced Old Tom styled Gin and perhaps, not realized or simply not called it thus to prevent it from being overlooked in a niche category. It could be we are simply experiencing a further modern day evolution of the Old Tom style of Gin!

There is certainly a range of examples that could be discussed but with varying degrees of subtlety, this may prove too vast to definitively prove any point (one way or the other). Instead here are several examples of what we would use to highlight this (debatable) view:

  1. Death’s Door Gin made in Wisconsin, USA has a reasonable distribution exposure across the USA and is well received and liked by many Gin enthusiasts. Made from just three botanicals, it is juniper forward but enjoys peppery citrus from the coriander and sweet anise from the use of fennel, the wheat substrate also provides a fuller mouth feel. Technically made in the London Dry style of Gin, it has all the elements of a classic Gin but strong elements of New Western and Old Tom styles of Gin (e.g. compare this with Jensen’s Old Tom Gin). Most choose to simply enjoy this wonderful Gin but it could easily be considered an Old Tom Gin in disguise.
  2. There are two Gin distillers in the North East of the USA (Apiary Gin made in New Hampshire and Barr Hill Gin made in Vermont – who also make Barr Hill Reserve Tom Cat, see “Old Tom Gin Brands” above) that use honey to sweeten their Gins. Granted, simply sweetening a Gin does not an Old Tom make but these are what many people consider Old Tom Gins to taste like. While for us they taste more like liqueurs the elements of their composition combined with the sweetness could put them in the running as Old Tom Gins (e.g. compare them with Hayman’s Old Tom Gin).

The Future of Old Tom

With around 40 Old Tom Gins available this category still only represents (at most) 2% of the total number of Gin brands available today. The USA and UK produce a significant number (over two thirds) of all Old Tom brands, making the ability to find one outside of these two countries difficult, although imports and some locally produced options may prove lucky finds.

Although this category of Gin is unlikely to regain its prominence from centuries past, experts and now amateurs are seeking out this style of Gin. Due to this we fully expect to see continuing growth, particularly in other countries around the world, with this small but likeable Gin style. Its improving status can best be summed up by a quote from James Hayman (of Hayman Distillers): “Old Tom gin is a niche category, but it is respected by those who understand its role in the history of gin.”

Suggested Reading

Looking for something to read while sipping your drink of Old Tom Gin?

  • “The Life and Uncommon Adventures of Captain Dudley Bradstreet”; or
  • Try "Tommy's Honor" the story of old Tom and young Tom Morris, Golf's founding Father and Son team, by Kevin Cook.



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