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Hayman's Old Tom Gin

Joe Riley

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A new and wonderful import from the U.K.

Distiller's website here.

From the importer's website:

Old Tom Gin is a botanically-intensive and lightly sweetened style of gin popular in the 18th Century and was the Gin of Choice in the 19th Century. Relative to London Dry Gin, the Old Tom style imparts a more complex and flavourful taste experience. With its distinctive profile the Old Tom style of gin is the key ingredient in classic cocktails such as the Martinez, Tom Collins and Ramos Gin Fizz. Hayman Distillers is the longest serving family owned gin distillery in England. Hayman’s Old Tom Gin is produced from an original recipe from the family archives.


Jay Hepburn's excellent cocktail blog Oh Gosh! recently did an Old Tom gin showdown, and he did a wonderful job of explaining just how Old Tom gin is different from London Dry or Genever Gin, and it's origins:

So what exactly is Old Tom?

Back in 1688 Dutchman William of Orange overthrew James II of England to become King William III. After William succeeded he banned import of French brandy and introduced heavy duties on German spirits, making Dutch spirits like Genever, the original Dutch gin, cheaper and therefore more popular. The English began to develop a taste for gin, and with production on home soil entirely untaxed and unregulated we began to make our own. Unlike the barley-based Genever our gin was made using readily available grain and entirely unaged.

Owing to the lack of taxes Gin became cheaper than beer and wine, which meant it became the popular choice amongst the poorer classes particularly in London where poverty and extreme overcrowding gave many people a strong reason to want to drink a lot of alcohol. This period of time became known as the “Gin Craze”, and at one point an average of 2.2 gallons of gin was being drank every year per person in the country. Considering most outside the cities stuck to beers that were more easily produceable that’s a lot of gin - for comparison the average Briton consumed just 3.7 litres of any type of spirit in 2003.

The initial gins produced in England were not particularly high quality, with relatively crude distillation techniques and a strong incentive to cut the spirit with products like turpentine and sulfuric acid to increase profit margins. As a result, it was common for sugar to be added to gin to mask these imperfections and make the gin more palatable. As gin production improved these imperfections were slowly eliminated, but having gained a taste for sweetened gin sugar continued to be added, and it’s this style of gin that became known as Old Tom.

Nobody knows exactly how the name Old Tom came about, though the popular theory relates to Dudley Bradstreet, a Londoner who sold gin illegally from his house through rather elaborate means. The story goes that he erected a sign outside his house in the shape of a cat, with a pipe leading from the cats paw back in to his house. A thirsty customer would deposit their money, call out “Puss, give me two pennyworth of gin!”, and Bradsheet would pour them a shot of gin down the pipe. This sign of a tom cat allegedly resulted in the gin becoming known as Old Tom, and whether true or not the packaging of both classic and modern Old Toms often has a black tom cat on it.

As distilling techniques improved in the nineteenth century with the invention of the column still and other refinements, it became less necessary to add sugar and gin slowly began to move away from the sweeter styles to the newer London Dry style. By the 1930s and 1940s Old Tom had fallen out of favour as tastes moved towards drier drinks, and for the past few decades Old Tom has been all but extinct. Anyway, enough history - to the gins…

And here's what he had to say about the Hayman's Old Tom Gin:

Hayman’s Old Tom gin was created in 2007 by Christopher Hayman based on what is claimed to be an original recipe from his family archives (Chirstopher’s grandfather created Beefeater gin, and Chris himself oversaw production of Beefeater for fifteen years). It is currently the only Old Tom gin that is widely available through traditional distribution channels.

Hayman’s has a sweet, slightly fruity nose, and a sweet initial taste with suggestions of lemon and other citrus plus a juniper undertone. The finish brings out a little spiciness, perhaps coriander, as well as further juniper and a mild sweetness. While the sugar definitely sets Hayman’s apart from other gins, the flavour profile isn’t vastly different to a number of London drys. Nonetheless, an interesting gin with a lovely smooth taste.

He goes on to give recipes for the Tom Collins, the Martinez, the Casino cocktail and the Tuxedo cocktail here.

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I used Jay's recipe for a Martinez - actually it was Jamie Boudreau's - last night with my fresh new bottle of Old Tom. 1 1/2 ounces Hayman's, 1 1/2 ounces Carpano Antica, 2 bar spoons Luxardo Maraschino, and two dashes of orange bitters. The first time I used Fee's, the second time Bitter Truth, and the second was the winner. However, both drinks were quite awesomely amazing.

Even my brother - not a gin fan - mentioned that the drink smelled really good.

Yay! Old Tom!

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