Gin & June Part 1, London Dry and Plymouth Gin
Gin & June Part 2, Genever
June's journey into the world of gin continues this week as we explore another long-lost type of gin called Old Tom. Old Tom is a lightly sweetened gin that reached the height of its popularity in 18th and 19th century England.
The name Old Tom comes from what is perhaps history's first beverage vending machine. According to lore, in 18th century England there was a pub which had a plaque in the shape of a tom cat (called an "Old Tom") installed outside the pub. There was a tube that ran from inside the pub to the plaque on the outside, which poked out between the cat's paws. Thirsty pedestrians who were short on either the time or patience to walk inside would instead deposit a few pennies in the cat's mouth and yell out, “Puss, give me two pennyworth of gin!” They would then place their mouths on the tube and receive a shot of gin poured by the bartender through the tube. Drunk for a penny indeed. Oh, the 18th century--those were the days weren't they?
In the gin continuum, Old Tom occupies the space between Genever and London Dry--both in terms of chronology and flavor profile. Ted Haigh (Dr. Cocktail) of CocktailDB describes Old Tom as "the missing link" between the old school Genever and the new school London Dry, as it is drier than the former yet sweeter and more botanically and aromatically intense than the latter.
The sweeter Old Tom gin was eventually muscled out by the new, cleaner London Dry style of gin, as tastes changed and improved distilling techniques did away with the necessity for masking impurities by adding sugar to the spirit. By the 20th century, cocktails like the Martinez that originally called for Old Tom gin were instead being made with London Dry gin (and ironically enough, sugar was often added to replace the sweetness lost in the replacement). By the mid-20th century, as the public palate trended toward dry gin, Old Tom had fallen out of favor to the point of near extinction, with the exception of a few novelty distilleries with limited distribution.
Fortunately today we are witnessing a modern-day revival of heritage gins as a result of the cocktail renaissance of the last decade, which has increased awareness of the Old Tom style of gin. As of fall 2008, Old Tom was made available again in major metropolitan markets in the U.S. with the launch of Hayman's Old Tom gin, which is supposedly based on a 19th century family recipe of Christopher Hayman, master distiller and great-grandson of the creator of Beefeater Gin. Currently Hayman's seems to be the only brand available through regular international distribution, though I have little doubt that more brands will soon want a piece of this renewed market.
All this history has certainly made me thirsty, so why not try a few pennies worth of Old Tom gin in a couple of cocktails? The first of the cocktails is the classic Martinez--a combination of Old Tom, sweet vermouth, bitters, and Maraschino that is cloying to some, yet divine to others (like myself). The rise and fall of the popularity of the Martinez mirrors almost exactly that of Old Tom gin, its base spirit. Like Old Tom, the Martinez was pushed off the stage by the newer, crisper Martini. Now that Old Tom is making its comeback it's only right that we give its sidekick another shot.
Martinez (pictured above, left)
1 1/2 oz Hayman's Old Tom Gin
1 1/2 oz sweet vermouth
1/4 oz Luxardo Maraschino
2 dashes orange bitters (you can also use Angostura but I find orange bitters brighten the flavor a bit)
Tools: bar spoon, mixing glass, strainer
Fill a mixing glass with ice plus all liquid ingredients. Stir briskly until frost develops on the outside and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Squeeze the lemon twist over the drink to spritz it with the citrus oil, wipe it around the rim of the glass, and drop it in.
The second Old Tom gin cocktail for today is called the Europa. It's a little something I made up as I was tinkering with the Old Tom and surmising on the role it plays in the Martinez. I like the combination of Old Tom gin and sweet vermouth. I think they're a natural pair, and wanted to keep them together but utilize them in a slightly different way.
Europa (pictured above, right)
1 oz Hayman's Old Tom Gin
1 oz sweet vermouth
1/2 oz applejack
1/4 Amaro Ramazzotti
Pinch of ground cinnamon
Tools: bar spoon, mixing glass, strainer
Place all ingredients except for cinnamon in mixing glass filled with ice. Stir briskly until frost develops on the outside and strain into a chilled coupe glass. Sprinkle a pinch of cinnamon on top.
The pinch of cinnamon really gives this cocktail a beautiful nose with every sip, and plays rather well with the applejack and the bitterness of the Ramazzotti, which themselves balance out the intensity and sweetness of the Old Tom and sweet vermouth.
This concludes part 3 of Gin & June. Next week is the fourth and final installment of Gin & June, in which the subject will be Sloe Gin, the forgotten gin liqueur. I guarantee you won't want to miss next week's cocktails, which are ideal for your summer sipping. Cheers!
Return every Wednesday for Paystyle's weekly Happy Hour column.
Photography by Vanessa Bahmani