Complete Guide to Old Tom Gin

By Timo Torner / Last updated on April 25, 2023

Old Tom Gin was most popular during the 18th century in England. In modern times, it became almost extinct until the craft cocktail movement brought it back into people's minds.
Old Tom Gin Guide

Old Tom Gin, also often called Old Tom or Tom Gin is a common ingredient in classic cocktail recipes. For instance, it was the original base spirit in Jerry Thomas' Martinez cocktail and the initial ingredient used to make a Tom Collins. 

Over time this rather sweet type of Gin was more and more displaced from London Dry Gin. It made a comeback when bartenders around the started to re-create old and traditional cocktail recipes during the craft cocktail renaissance. 

So, what is it exactly? Learn what makes Old Tom Gin unique, how it all started, and why this Gin is an important link between London Dry and Genever.

What is Old Tom Gin?

Old Tom Gin is a sweeter type and less botanical-driven. During the 18th and 19th centuries, Old Tom was probably the go-to Gin for mixologists and bartenders. 

Like with New Western Dry Gin, there aren't many rules when making Old Tom Gin. It can come in all sorts of colors, with added sugar or not, aged or unaged, and based on various types of spirit - neutral or not. The only significant rule this category of Gin follows is that its main flavoring is juniper.

Old Tom Gin is generally seen as a link between London Dry Gin and Genever. It's more sugary than traditional London Dry Gin but at the same time drier than Dutch Genever. That also makes it a brilliant replacement for those two spirits in case you want to prepare a cocktail respectively slightly sweeter or drier in taste.

Old Tom Gin cat advertisement

How does it taste?

The taste of an Old Tom Gin can vary a lot depending on the level of sweetness, the botanicals, and whether it's aged or not. It's certainly sweeter than a classic London Dry and often has a more or less pronounced malty taste. The rest of the flavor profile is defined by botanicals and the time the Gin spent in wooden barrels for aging.

Why is it called Old Tom Gin?

The story behind the name of Old Tom Gin remains a mystery. Today, the most popular theory is that it got its name from the wooden plaques shaped like “Old Tom” black cats that used to hang on the outside walls of pubs in 18th Century England. An iconic symbol of the era, these plaques were thought to ward off bad luck and were often considered good luck charms by the patrons of the pubs. 

History taught us that throughout London, pubs and bars had these signs featuring an old tom cat in their windows. Below the cat's paw was a slot to fit in a coin connected to a funnel inside the building. As they walked along the streets of London, parched customers could drop a penny into the slot and enjoy a quick sip of Gin. 

The below example can be found at Beefeater Gin distillery and shows exactly how this trade worked.

Tomcat wall mural selling Old Tom Gin at Beefeater distillery

How to serve

One great way to experience the taste of Old Tom Gin is in cocktails. Luckily, one of the most popular cocktail recipe books features loads of recipes based on Old Tom Gin - Jerry Thomas's "Bartenders Guide: How to Mix Drinks"

As a starting point, try to focus on the following classics that are part of this cocktail almanac: 

  • Martinez cocktail made with Old Tom, Vermouth, Maraschino liqueur, and simple syrup
  • Ramos Gin Fizz made with Tom Gin, lemon juice, egg white, heavy cream, orange flower water, syrup, and sparkling water
  • Tom Collins made with Old Tom Gin, gomme syrup, lemon juice, and soda water
  • or an Old Fashioned made with a rich and malty Old Tom.

3 Old Tom Gins to try

Tanqueray Old Tom Gin

Tanqueray Old Tom Gin

Tanqueray's take on an Old Tom Gin is derived from an original recipe dating back to the 1800s and contains 47.3 ABV. It gets flavored with classic Gin botanicals like angelica, coriander, juniper, and licorice, then blended with an unaged and wheat-based spirit and sweetened with sugar derived from sugar beet.

Compared to other Old Tom Gins, Tanqueray's expression is relatively light, making it an excellent fit in a Ramos Gin Fizz or Martinez.

Hayman's Old Tom Gin

Hayman's Old Tom Gin

Hayman's Old Tom is made after an old family recipe from 1870 and contains 40% of alcohol. Interestingly, this recipe doubles the amount of juniper used. That also reflects in the taste of the final product, which is dominated by juniper and complemented with notes of lemon and plenty of sweetness.

Ransom Old Tom Gin

Ransom Old Tom Gin bottle

The Old Tom produced by Ransom in collaboration with cocktail historian David Wondrich is rather heavy and quite malty in flavor and comes with 44% of alcohol by volume. The reason is that it's made from malted barley and flavored with classic botanicals like juniper berries, orange peel, lemon peel, coriander, cardamom, and angelica root.

After distillation, the Gin ages in French oak barrels for 6 to 12 months. Due to its rich and malty taste, Ransom is excellent in drinks like an Old Fashioned or Tom Collins.

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