What is Old Tom gin
Old Tom is a sweetened style of gin - often flavoured with liquorice.
Popular in the 18th and 19th Centuries, the flavourings were used to disguise its frequently very poor quality.
During the 1700s and 1800s, health and safety checks were not as vigorous as they are today. And let’s just say gin could be a pretty rough drink. It was not unknown to contain sulphuric acid.
In the 20th Century, Old Tom went out of fashion.
But in the second and third decades of the 21st Century, Old Tom has enjoyed a revival.
Today it is a far better drink - and a well-respected category of gin.
At York Gin, we slightly sweeten our London Dry gin with a sugar syrup from the Michelin-starred Star Inn, Harome. It has won multiple gold and gold outstanding medals at top international spirits competitions - proof of how far the category has come from its backstreet roots in old London town.
Where does the name come from?
Legends we can dismiss for a lack of any evidence include the myth that Old Tom got its name after an old tom cat fell into a vat of gin and drowned.
Potentially more believable is a story from 19th Century London distiller Joseph Boord which has two Toms working there. Apprentice Thomas Norris and boss and head distiller Thomas Chamberlain. The elder of the pair being distinguished by the moniker ‘Old Tom’.
But possibly the most persuasive theory is about a certain Captain Dudley Bradstreet - a cad and all round vagabond. Bradstreet created the world’s first vending machine (the 'Puss 'n' Mew') to get around the stringent efforts of government to reduce drinking during the ‘Gin Craze’.
A wooden plaque on the outside of his London establishment in the shape of a cat also had a slot for a coin and a lead pipe emanating from the cat’s mouth. The drinker would slot in a coin, ask for a penny worth of gin and the barman on the inside would pour gin through the lead pipe and into the waiting drinker’s mouth. No not very hygienic - but a way to get your gin!
The York Gin shop installed a Puss 'n' Mew machine during the Covid crisis to allow us to continue giving tasters to our customers while allowing us to socially distance!
Old Tom cocktails
50ml York Gin Old Tom
25ml lemon juice
25ml sugar syrup
125ml chilled soda water
Garnish: Slice of lemon.
Build the drink over lots of ice in a Collins or a hi-ball glass, stir and add a slice of lemon at the end.
Susy Atkins Martinez
40ml York Gin Old Tom
40ml sweet red vermouth
10ml orange liqueur (eg Cointreau).
Dash of orange bitters (optional)
Garnish: Twist of lemon juice.
Stir all the liquid ingredients over ice, then strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with a thin, twisted strip of lemon zest. Suzy is the Telegraph’s wonderful and infinitely knowledgeable drinks writer - and this was her twist on the classic cocktail using York Gin Old Tom.