What Is Old Tom Gin? The Spirited Bridge Between the Original Gin and London Dry - Gin Raiders
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What Is Old Tom Gin? The Spirited Bridge Between the Original Gin and London Dry

A menagerie of Old Tom gin bottles, all excited to be mixed into your next sultry cocktail.

Just like the many varieties of wine, gin boasts an impressive list of different styles with distinct classification requirements, ingredients and flavor profiles. One stand-out style next to the popular London dry and barrel-aged gins is the amusingly named category of Old Tom gin. But just what is Old Tom gin — and what is its story?

What is Old Tom Gin?

Old Tom gin is a type of gin that is typically sweet, while still maintaining an emphasis on a juniper-driven profile. Where London dry gin is prohibited from including added sugars and flavoring components post-distillation, Old Tom embraces the sweeter side of our favorite evergreen-based spirit.

A few great Old Tom gins worth checking out are Barr Hill Tom Cat Gin, Citadelle No Mistake Old Tom Gin, Copper & Kings American Old Tom Gin, Greenhook Ginsmiths Old Tom Gin and Hammer & Son Old English Gin. These spirits truly encapsulate the Old Tom category and provide imbibers an insight into the type of gin people were drinking in the past.

The History of Old Tom Gin

Old Tom gin is often considered a bridge between gin’s original form, genever, and the London dry styles we know and love today. This is believed for two reasons: Old Tom appeared chronologically after genever did, and Old Tom gin is drier than genever but sweeter than London dry.

Genever is a Dutch spirit usually made from a malt spirit base (like whiskey!), flavored with juniper and a variety of additional botanicals (like gin!). As it became wildly popular in England during the Anglo-Dutch wars of the 1660s, fans of the stuff eventually attempted to recreate it for themselves. This is how Old Tom and London dry styles of gin came to be. Both styles are understood to have emerged around the 18th century.

Where Does the Name “Old Tom” Come From?

It is widely believed that the name Old Tom originated from the clever way pubs supplied gin to imbibers during the Prohibition era. After the British government established taxes and licensing to staunch the flow of gin, underground gin joints emerged.

To keep things covert, pubs would provide gin through metal tubing that ran to the outside of the building. These gin tubes could be found by looking out for cat-shaped plaques mounted on the exterior of the pubs. Individuals would then be served a measure of gin through the tube by putting money in a slot under the cat’s paw.

Thus, the Old Tom style of sweetened gin got its name from its association with the imagery of a cat, also called an “Old Tom.” This is also the reason why some Old Tom-styled gins may be called a “Tom Cat” gin.

Old Tom Gins Today

As time passed, the Old Tom gin style seemed to almost completely vanish in favor of London dry. It wasn’t until 2007 that the style relaunched into contemporary times when Hayman Distillers debuted an Old Tom gin based on an 1870s family recipe, according to Tales of the Cocktail.

Soon after, Ransom Spirits introduced its Old Tom and other distilleries followed suit. Still, the style has no formal boundaries on what makes an Old Tom gin an Old Tom — besides the fact that it will be slightly sweeter than dry gins. For example, in color alone, these types of gin can range from crystal clear to pale hay to deep barrel brown. And as for flavor, aged Old Toms can be packed with notes of vanilla, oak and brown sugar while unaged varieties emphasize citrus, herbs and florals.

Whatever Old Tom you choose to sip on, just know that you’re diving into a flavor that emerged and evolved through gin’s long history of war, prohibition, secret bars — and plenty of juniper.

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Candie Getgen is the managing editor for Gin Raiders. Before immersing herself in the world of spirits journalism, Candie has been many things: a bartender, a literary journal editor, an English teacher — and even a poet. Now, Candie shares her passion for gin with the world and hopes to help others fall in love with it, too (if they haven't already!). When not writing, Candie enjoys sipping an extra-dry martini while painting or relaxing by the pool with a thrilling mystery novel.