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Guide to Old Tom Gin

Learn a bit about Old Tom Gin, it's relatively mysterious history and try some for yourself.

May 21, 2021

Learn a bit about Old Tom Gin, it's relatively mysterious history and try some for yourself.

Yup, you heard that right. There’s a gin out there named after what sounds like a main character in an old western. This drink goes way past westerns though. This form of mothers ruin (the best nickname for gin, probably ever) dates back to the 1800s and has strong history throughout England in the 18th and 19th century. Known to be sweeter than gins like London Dry, this varietal disappeared for a bit in the 20th century and is now back in action for you gin lovers out there.

What is old tom gin?

Old Tom is a style of gin that falls somewhere between genever and London Dry and is known to be on the sweeter side. It’s not quite as harsh as genever, but definitely has more of a sweetness than London Dry. That’s pretty much all we can say about what Old Tom gin actually is. Just like the history of the name, there’s no exact way to make it. It’s kind of lawless. This gin does require the use of juniper, like all gin. Other than that, there’s not a guideline for anything else it requires. It can be aged, sweetened and have a neutral base - but doesn’t need to. Overall the end product is a light, malty spirit that is a bit more approachable than genever but sweeter than London Dry.

History of old tom gin

In the 18th century, the column still hadn't been invented yet. Without this distillation process, drinks were...harsh...to put it lightly. So distillers of the time added some extra "ingredients" to their recipe. Think: turpentine, sulphuric acid - all sorts of stuff we wouldn't necessarily consider edible. To make it more drinkable, gin distilleries would also add sweeteners like licorice or sugar. Thus, old tom style gin was born.

While this history is pretty black and white on Old Tom, how it got its name is pretty mysterious. There’s a folk story or two about how this gin got its name. Some say the name is a reference to cat-shaped signs that hung outside of British pubs which were referred to as “old Toms.” Others say that Old Tom was the street name for gin at the time. There's also a tale of a tomcat falling into a vat of gin, giving this variety its namesake. While we don't really go for that one either - Old Tom has been connected with cats throughout history and often is featured on a bottle.

Old Tom vs. London Dry

The big difference between Old Tom (like Ransom Old Tom) and London Dry (like Tanqueray or Beefeater) is the flavor and the production requirements. Old Tom style is a malty, sweeter gin. London Dry style of gin has less sweetness and uses botanicals like citrus in its recipe. London Dry also has very strict requirements about production whereas Old Tom has almost no requirements.

What do I even do with Old Tom gin?

Great question, we have answers. The bartender in us suggests a Martinez. Here’s what you’ll need.

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces of Old Tom gin
  • 1 ounce sweet vermouth
  • ¼ ounce maraschino liqueur
  • 3 dashes orange bitters
  • 3 dashes aromatic bitters
  • Lemon twist
  • Instructions:

  • Add the gin, vermouth, liqueur and bitters into a mixing glass and stir
  • Strain into a glass
  • Garnish with lemon twist
  • Shop top Old Tom gins