Old Tom Gin
Gin History in Snippets

Old Tom Gin

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Not a rangy old unneutered male cat but a style of gin!


As you landed on this blog post, you probably already knew that anyway. But if you are new to gin then you might not have heard of Old Tom Gin. If so, then you are in for a treat.

Old Tom gin is sweeter than London Dry but drier than Dutch genever, forming a historic bridge between the two. Long-suffering from ‘ignored middle child syndrome’ (I made that up!) Old Tom is currently seeing a resurgence in popularity.

The origin of Old Tom as a style of gin is elusive. It emerged at the time of the Gin Crazewhen gin distilling was primitive, crude and sometimes downright poisonous. One train of thought is that sugar or liquorice was added to these coarse gins to make them more palatable. This makes sense.


What’s in a Name?

But where the name Old Tom comes from is just as elusive. One version is that following the Gin Act of 1736 a one Captain Dudley Bradstreet set up a gin shop called the Puss & Mew. In the window of his shop, he hung the sign of a cat. There was a slot under the cat’s paw where money could be fed. The gin would then be poured through a pipe by Bradstreet straight into the waiting client’s mouth. Classy!

Though the existence of Bradstreet’s gin shop is undisputed, this doesn’t explain why a style of gin should be named after one gin shop. After all, there were approximately 7,000 gin shops in London at the time.

Another version of the origin of the name is that an old tomcat fell into a vat of gin. Not particularly believable as the gin afterwards would have been undrinkable. It also doesn’t state if the cat died or was rescued. That’s the sort of detail I need to know!

The final version of the name’s origin and the most credible comes from a distillery. Hodge’s Distillery had a young apprentice named Tom Norris. The Master Distiller was one Thomas Chamberlain ~ you’re beginning to see which way this is going. Young Tom, after finishing his apprenticeship opened a gin shop in Covent Garden selling a gin called, you guessed it ~ Old Tom.


The Gin Shop
The Gin Shop cartoon by Cruikshank


Wherever the name came from it stuck to the style of gin like sugar. Wooden plaques shaped like black cats were hung outside gin shops and public houses in the 18th and 19th centuries to advertise that they were selling Old Tom. But the 20th Century saw a demise in the popularity of Old Tom gin ~ until 2007.


Old Tom Resurrected

In 2007 Haymans released an Old Tom gin using an old family recipe. This sparked a revival in Old Tom among craft distillers which happily continues today. Now if you want to sample Old Tom there is a whole gin cabinet to try from. And that, as they say, is history.


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