Tuesday, 17 February 2015

A Journey through Gins lesser known relatives (Part 3: Old Tom)

Often talked about as the missing link between Dutch Genever and modern London Dry Gin, Old Tom is a sweetened style of Gin that was popular in the 19th century, it is also a style that almost disappeared entirely until its recent comeback.

I thought I would start with the history first because this time because as you will see the modern day versions are likely somewhat different from their predecessors.
Old Tom Gin became popular in the early 19th century there is evidence that in its early days it was around 20% and more of a liquer. By the end of the 19th century it was closer to the 40% strength we know today.
There are a few different possible stories as to where the name Old Tom came from and no real evidence linking any of them to the name. The most common and interesting is that of Captain Dudley Bradstreet in the 1730s. So this is before the name Old Tom was popularised. The legend goes that to get around the clampdown on Gin sales at the time the enterprising captain nailed a black cat sign to the side of its house with a led pipe concealed in one of its paws. Customers would simply push a coin in the cats mouth and the captain would pour Gin down the pipe into the customers cup/mouth.

This would also tie in with the fact that during the early 1700s in the swing of the Gin craze, distillers were using liquorice and later when it became available and less costly sugar to hide the bad tastes in their spirits. Perhaps this is also why Old Tom was sweetened as traditionally Gin had been during the Gin craze and this is what people had a taste for, or alternatively Old Tom is simply the evolution of the the Gin produced in the Gin Craze but in the 19th century under a more controlled/licensed way due to the governments Gin Acts.

The first known trademarked brand for any Gin is also thought to be the Cat and Barrel Trademark for an Old Tom style Gin produced in 1849 by Joseph Boord. It is also thought that the term Old Tom may have come about due to a Thomas Norris naming his Gin Old Tom after a previous distilling mentor of his Thomas Chamberlain, this name was likely picked up and popularised by Boords of London who trademarked it.

How is it made
Originally Old Tom Gin would have been made in Pot stills distilled to 40 or 50% or even lower then cut to the strength required with sugar added to sweeten and add body. I am guessing a little here as there is very little actual printed information available but given the distilling technology available in the 19th century this would have meant the spirit would have been a little more impure and have tastes of the grain that they were using in distillation similar to Genever. It is unclear whether then Juniper and other botanicals would have been steeped in with the grain and a single distillation or whether they may have had a second distillation where the botanicals were steeped in the already distilled grain and then redistilled to add the juniper character before being cut to strength with water and sugar. Either way Old Tom Gin was said to be a very pungent Gin this must have been because of the limits in there distilling processes.

More recently Distilleries are producing Old Tom using modern column stills the ethanol comes off at a very high alcohol percent leaving little of the flavour of the grain that you were distilling and then the botanicals are steeped before undergoing a second round of distillation followed by a cutting of the resulting distillate down to the required strength and adding of the sugar that is now the main defining feature of an Old Tom Gin. So in effect these Old Toms are as with London Dry Gin all about the Botanicals just with added sugar.

Old Tom Gin is making a resurgence at the moment because it gained its popularity during a golden age of cocktail drinking in the 19th century, so many old cocktail books had recipes specifying Old Tom. With the modern day resurgence of the cocktail many people wanted to taste these classic cocktails such as the Martinez (a predecessor of the Martini) with the specified products hence some distilleries have started producing this style of Gin again.

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