As I explained in yesterday’s gin post, there are three basic types of gin: the most common is London Dry, next is Dutch Genever, and finally, the newly revived Old Tom style gin.
Cocktail writer Gray Regan described it thus:
“Old Tom was a sweetened gin—that’s right, they added sugar to it—and it’s thought that sugar first was added to gin back in the 1700s when distillation methods were somewhat crude, and some “off” flavors needed to be masked. That all changed in the mid-l9th century with the invention of the continuous still, which made it easier to produce a clean spirit suitable for gin production, but Old Tom stuck around for about a century and is an ingredient in many cocktail recipes written before 1940.”
Regan, author of “The Joy of Mixology,” wrote the above description in 2001 after a friend found a bottle of Old Tom gin somewhere. Regan was excited because no one had made this style of gin since the 60s.
Now there are a few producers. One of them, the 13-year-old Oregon-based Ransom Wine & Spirits, worked with another well-known mixologist, David Wondrich, to create Ransom Old Tom Gin. It’s nothing like a typical gin: Instead of neutral spirits, the 88-proof (44% alc.) Ransom uses a mix of corn and barley spirits. It’s stored in barrels for 3-6 months, giving it an amber hue.
It’s definitely gin—the juniper flavor is clear—but it’s got something extra. When I tried it alongside Plymouth, a smooth and mildly juniper-y gin, it was as if you could taste more ingredients. “If Plymouth is like one high note,” my girlfriend mused, “then Ransom is a lot more complex, like a chord.”
And if Plymouth tastes good straight, Ransom’s Old Tom is superb. Its ingredients include orange peel, lemon peel, coriander seed, cardamon pods, and angelica root.
If someone poured me a glass of this without telling me what it was, I wonder if I would say it’s an odd gin, or if I would call it a whiskey that had juniper in it. Either way, it’s a great mixer, too. Try it in any classic gin cocktail, like a Martini, a Martinez (gin, sweet or dry vermouth, maraschino liqueur, orange bitter), or a Tom Collins (gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, thyme sprigs, soda). Or substitute for whiskey and experiment.
One last word: it’s called “Old Tom” because, according to most historical sources, at least one 18th century gin purveyor in London dispensed gin (illegally) through a pipe coming out of the paw of a cat-shaped sign in his window. It’s Old Tom as in tom cat.