Maybe you’ve seen “Old Tom” on a gin bottle label and wondered exactly what that means.
AIROWS was recently invited for a tasting of Old Tom gins at Whitechapel bar in San Francisco, a beguiling space fitted out in Steampunk style which boasts the largest gin selection in North America. We got the scoop from Whitechapel's resident expert Carl Brown.
- “Old Tom was a kind of gin made in the mid-1800s,” Brown says. “They would add sugar to mask the flavor of the impurities. The style disappeared from the market for a long time. A lot of distilleries are experimenting with them now.”
- The name comes from a custom at the time whereby vendors had a mechanical tomcat and a customer would place a coin into the cat’s mouth to receive a portion of gin in his cup (or even into his cupped hands).
- Hammer & Son is the closest to what an original Old Tom tasted like. Tanqueray was producing an Old Tom for a while but has now discontinued (though a small supply remains available at Whitechapel).
- If an Old Tom is from an established gin distiller, the formula is generally the same as the company's regular product, but with an added sweetener such as sugar or molasses. Then they may or may not barrel age it for a bit. Barrel aging can appeal to whiskey drinkers who want to venture into the world of gin.
- Brown’s favorite cocktail for an Old Tom is the Martinez. Old Tom gin, sweet vermouth, Luxardo maraschino and a dash of bitters.
- Another great cocktail is a Tom Collins, made with Old Tom gin, lemon, sugar and soda water.
- “I also just like Old Tom on the rocks,” Brown says. “It’s really delicious. Gin itself can be not the most pleasant thing on the palate. This bridges the gap for someone who wants to try gin.”
Citadelle is distilled in France in pot stills with nineteen botanicals including orange peel, yuzu and cardamom. The sweetener is a specific type of brown sugar from the Caribbean. The bottle alone is eye candy on your shelf. Worth looking for.
“This is my favorite Old Tom--the only botanicals in this are juniper and honey,” Brown says. “Then they age it in whiskey barrels. It is probably the closest you can get to a whiskey flavor in a gin. Really delicious.”
Anchor Old Tom is crafted in San Francisco by the company that makes Junipero gin and shares the same botanicals. The added sweeteners here are star anise and licorice root as well as stevia.
Himbrimi is a spirited homage to Iceland, made with Icelandic water and botanicals that are hand-picked each summer along the country’s wild riversides. A relative newcomer, Himbrimi has begun racking up industry awards.
Jensen's is a London dry gin that is sweetened with sugar. It is juniper-forward, so if you’re a gin guy, this one’s for you.