Friday Liquor Spotlight #10: Old Tom Gin


Happy Friday, everyone!

Do you remember last Friday when we told you all about Genever, and how it was a precursor to moden-day gin? Well, there is another piece to that historical puzzle, and that is Old Tom Gin.

So much intrigue, right?

Actually, the story of the evolution of gin is rather fascinating. “Old Tom” -style gin was the only gin in the 1800s, and was incredibly popular in Victorian England. It is also part of the story of the creation of vending machines. What? Huh? Don’t worry, we will explain.

side note: we apologize for our lack of pictures today. We have been unexpectedly out of town and do not have access to our bar. Things will get back to normal next week.

First off, a description. Old Tom Gin is a softer, smoother, and sweeter tasting gin than our modern versions, with a stronger botanical taste and more sugar.

It was made this way (sweeter and more flavorful) to mask the taste of the water used in the liquor-making process, which came from sources that were polluted and rather disgusting. Not great, right?

But it is the origin of the name Old Tom that gives us the most interesting part to the story.

The exact story is shrouded in a bit of mystery, but here is what we know: at some point in the early to mid-1800s, this gin became inexorably linked to the image of a black cat. Why a black cat? Well, because in mid-1800s England, shop owners began erecting large woonden structures shaped like cats, which contained secret compartments where coins could be accepted and, in return, open a tap to give the customer a small amount of — you guessed it — gin. These black cat vending contraptions were cheap, and became associated with the underbelly of society, but that didn’t keep them from making money by pouring that Old Tom Gin!

As sources of purer water became cheaper to come by, modern dry gin came into production and favor, and Old Tom fell by the way side. But lucky for us, there are several brands producing it today, and you can get a bottle for yourself for about $30!

We highly recommend you try Hayman’s Old Tom, even and especially if you are not a fan of dry gin. The stuff is delicious, and very different than what you are used to–so take the plunge!

You can purchase bottles at BevMo and many specialty liquor stores. Check it out!

Have a wonderful weekend, readers! Drink up, and drink responsibly.


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