What is Old Tom Gin? There are no exact rules but Old Tom is a gin that is often barrel aged and lightly sweetened. Before the advent of the column still, spirits were often much cruder and it was common to add sweetening agents to make them more palatable. And palatable this gin was indeed! Before London Dry Gin stole the show, Old Tom Gin was the gin of choice in 18th century England. In fact, it was so popular that it led to a gin craze that was seen as problematic in the eyes of the government. Several prohibitive laws were passed to slow consumption but this only drove the gin scene underground.
How did Old Tom Gin get its name? Well, like the history of many cocktails and spirits, nobody knows the exact answer but there are several theories. Some think an old tomcat fell into a vat of gin. Yikes. Others say that two men named Tom worked at a distillery, one young and one old, and that Old Tom was the one that invented this style of gin. The most fun theory seems to center around a wooden cat. Since gin was nearly outlawed, pubs secretly selling this ‘mothers ruin’ would alert interested parties to its availability by putting a wooden plaque of a cat outside their building. After a coin was deposited through a slot in the wall, the bartender would slyly pour a shot through a pipe out to the patron. This is the story we like to believe.
How do you drink Old Tom Gin? There are many classic cocktails that call for Old Tom Gin— two that are quite popular are the Martinez and the Tom Collins. We find that our New Deal Old Tom Gin, which is aged in Oregon wine barrels and sweetened in the traditional style, is quite good simply served on ice with an orange twist. It also shines in citrus forward cocktails like the Sour Puss and a spin on a Hemingway Daiquiri called a Cat’s Paw. Even more Old Tom cocktail recipe ideas can be found here.