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Old Tom Gin

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I see a lot of old cocktail recipes which call for Old Tom Gin. I know that this was usually a lower quality gin that was sweetened with sugar, but I haven't found any on the market. I've been using 2/3 gin - 1/3 simple syrup, as a replacement for Old Tom Gin, but I'd like to know if anyone else has their own recipe or a place to get Old Tom Gin.

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I've seen but not tried Boord's Old Tom Gin at a couple stores around town.

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just as an interesting piece of historical trivia...

Old Tom is a remaining example of the original lightly sweetened gins that were so popular in 18th-century England. The name comes from what may be the first example of a beverage vending machine. In the 1700s some pubs in England would have a wooden plaque shaped like a black cat (an "Old Tom") mounted on the outside wall. Thirsty passersby would deposit a penny in the cat’s mouth and place their lips around a small tube between the cat’s paws. The bartender inside would then pour a shot of Gin through the tube and into the customer’s waiting mouth. Until fairly recently limited quantities of Old Tom-style Gin were still being made by a few British distillers, but they were, at best, curiosity items.

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It is my understanding that real "Old Tom" gin has not been available for some time. The Boord's brand is an Old Tom in name only, and should not be confused for the real thing.

I believe it was Gary Regan who recently had a small bottle of real Old Tom gin, and while I wasn't present for the opening/tasting of said, the report back was that the flavor was far more than just gin with simple syrup. Probably the best way to approximate the proper flavor was to use Tanqueray Malacca gin (which has been defunct for several years) and add some simple syrup to it.

Sugar was originally added to gin as a way to hide it's impurities and make it more palatable. As distillation "craftsmanship" improved, the need for the added sugar was removed, and thus "London Dry" gin came into being, while at the same time the Old Tom style disappeared.

-Robert

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I'll have to ask Gary about it. Is it possible that it's closer to dutch Genever with simple syrup? I took a look on eBay to see if someone was selling a "collectible" bottle with some gin actually in it, but alas there was none.

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Don't know too much about the product, other than what's on their website.

I bought a couple of bottles in London at the weekend and made up some Ramos Gin Fizzes with it. They went down well but I would be surprised if a good dry gin like Tanqueray or Beefeater didn't taste better.

As I don't have an authentic Old Tom to compare it to, its difficult to make judgements but I wasn't too impressed. It didn't seem to have much complexity and was less sweet than I expected.

Not too sure when it will be rolled out in other countries but for those living in London, Gerry's in SoHo have it for sale for just under £20.

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I've been playing around with a few bottles and I think it's interesting. What's good - and perhaps most important - is that the botanics seem balanced for the added degree of sweetness. Take note - it's not a gin liqueur - maybe 10% to 15% sweeter than the Tanqueray and Beefeater, respectively. So far I've tried it in a Martinez, Ramos, and Tom Collins. Still going. Mine is but one palate...

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After reading this topic I picked up a bottle from Gerry's at the weekend. I agree with eas that it is well balanced. I found it quite subtle, but there are some interesting flavours going on - it reminded me most of a sweeter Plymouth gin. I wrote about my experience of it with several cocktails over at my blog - Old Tom gin. I really hope we see some other distilleries have a go at an Old Tom, this is certainly a promising start.


Edited by JayHepburn (log)

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I was lucky to meet John Burton, of the Santa Rosa Bartender School, this last weekend during San Francisco Cocktail Week.

An amazing man and just a font of knowledge about bartending and bar culture in America.

One of his early projects was to put together a reproduction of "Cocktail Boothby's American Bartender" based on a 1900 edition of that book. Boothby was a prominent pre-prohibition San Francisco bartender. Unfortunately, most of the copies of his early book and his cocktail library were destroyed in the fires after the 1906 earthquake. I was thrilled to discover that John had copies of that book along at the event and was selling them.

I'm just starting to get through the book, but one of the important distinctions Boothby makes is between regular "Old Tom Gin" and "Old Tom Cordial Gin."

Specifically, Boothby's recipe for the Martini calls for "Old Tom Cordial Gin". He notes, "This cocktail requires no additional sweetener, as the Old Tom Cordial Gin and Italian Vermouth are sweet enough." (That was from memory, so I could have the quote slightly wrong.)

So another interesting wrinkle concerning Old Tom. It was available in a sweetened cordial form and an unsweetened form. Some recipes from the late 19th and early 20th century which call for "Old Tom" may actually be calling for a cordial form, including, potentially, the Martini. And some recipes which call for "Old Tom" may be calling for an unsweetened form of that gin.


Edited by eje (log)

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I was lucky to meet John Burton, of the Santa Rosa Bartender School, this last weekend during San Francisco Cocktail Week.

An amazing man and just a font of knowledge about bartending and bar culture in America.

One of his early projects was to put together a reproduction of "Cocktail Boothby's American Bartender" based on a 1900 edition of that book.  Boothby was a prominent pre-prohibition San Francisco bartender.  Unfortunately, most of the copies of his early book and his cocktail library were destroyed in the fires after the 1906 earthquake.  I was thrilled to discover that John had copies of that book along at the event and was selling them.

I'm just starting to get through the book, but one of the important distinctions Boothby makes is between regular "Old Tom Gin" and "Old Tom Cordial Gin."

Specifically, Boothby's recipe for the Martini calls for "Old Tom Cordial Gin".  He notes, "This cocktail requires no additional sweetener, as the Old Tom Cordial Gin and Italian Vermouth are sweet enough."  (That was from memory, so I could have the quote slightly wrong.)

So another interesting wrinkle concerning Old Tom.  It was available in a sweetened cordial form and an unsweetened form.  Some recipes from the late 19th and early 20th century which call for "Old Tom" may actually be calling for a cordial form, including, potentially, the Martini.  And some recipes which call for "Old Tom" may be calling for an unsweetened form of that gin.

Erik--

I think you're running into a common problem with old cocktail books here, which is that the recipes are not consistent because they're drawn from different sources. I say this because Old Tom gin and Old Tom cordial gin are as far as I can determine one and the same thing--at least, "Old Tom gin," "cordial gin" and "Old Tom cordial gin" are used interchangeably in British sources from the mid-nineteenth century, when Old Tom first rose to prominence.

As with all things relating to Old Tom, I could be wrong.

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Is there a source or contact info available to purchase "Cocktail Boothby's American Bartender"?

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Erik--

I think you're running into a common problem with old cocktail books here, which is that the recipes are not consistent because they're drawn from different sources. I say this because Old Tom gin and Old Tom cordial gin are as far as I can determine one and the same thing--at least, "Old Tom gin," "cordial gin" and "Old Tom cordial gin" are used interchangeably in British sources from the mid-nineteenth century, when Old Tom first rose to prominence.

As with all things relating to Old Tom, I could be wrong.

The thing that made me think about the possibility there were both was that Hayman's does make a "gin liqueur" and an "old-tom gin".

I believe there are some vintage advertisements at the beginning of the book from various gin manufacturers. I will have to look at them more closely and see if they advertise a "cordial" version along with the other.


Edited by eje (log)

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I certainly admit I am occasionally guilty of reading too much intent into old cocktail books...

But here are a couple more passages from Boothby which made me think there was a distinct "cordial" version of Old Tom gin.

Old Tom Gin Fizz

Made the same as Plain Gin Fizz, with Old Tom gin substituted for Holland gin.  In using Old Tom Cordial always use a little less sugar, as the cordial is much sweeter than plain Gin.

Also, there are distinct recipes for an Old Tom Gin Cocktail and an Old Tom Gin (Cordial) Cocktail:

Old Tom Gin Cocktail

Make the same Holland Gin Cocktail, wit Old Tom gin substituted for Holland Gin.

Old Tom Gin (Cordial) Cocktail

Never use sweetening of any description in this drink, as the cordial gin is sweet enough.  Into a small mixing-glass place a piece of ice, about a teaspoonfull of orange bitters, a jigger of Old Tom Cordial and a piece of twisted lemon peel;  stir, strain into a small bar glass and serve with ice water on the side.

That's about it for Old Tom in the book, as most of the gin recipes call for Holland gin.

For completeness sake, here's the Gin Cocktail:

Gin Cocktail

Into a small mixing-glass place a piece of ice, a dash of gum syrup, a long dash of Bonnekamp bitters, and about ten drops of orange bitters or two drops of Selner bitters; twist and throw in a small piece of lemon peel and add a jigger of Holland Gin.  This drink to be palatable must be served very cold; therefore a through stirring is necessary.

And the Martini:

Martini Cocktail

This popular appetizer is made without sweetening of any description, as the Old Tom Cordial gin and Italian vermouth of which it is composed are both sweet enough.  Into a small mixing-glass place a piece of ice, four drops of Angostura bitters, half a jigger of Old Tom Cordial gin, half a jigger of Italian vermouth and apiece of twisted lemon peel; stir thoroughly, strain into aa small bar glass and serve with ice water.

I think the only other use of Old Tom is in the Tom Collins.


Edited by eje (log)

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But here are a couple more passages from Boothby which made me think there was a distinct "cordial" version of Old Tom gin.
Old Tom Gin Fizz

Made the same as Plain Gin Fizz, with Old Tom gin substituted for Holland gin.  In using Old Tom Cordial always use a little less sugar, as the cordial is much sweeter than plain Gin.

Also, there are distinct recipes for an Old Tom Gin Cocktail and an Old Tom Gin (Cordial) Cocktail:

Old Tom Gin Cocktail

Make the same Holland Gin Cocktail, wit Old Tom gin substituted for Holland Gin.

Old Tom Gin (Cordial) Cocktail

Never use sweetening of any description in this drink, as the cordial gin is sweet enough.  Into a small mixing-glass place a piece of ice, about a teaspoonfull of orange bitters, a jigger of Old Tom Cordial and a piece of twisted lemon peel;  stir, strain into a small bar glass and serve with ice water on the side.

Hmmm. Interesting.

Some brands of English gin sold here--Charles', Messenger's--were advertised as "Cordial Gin." Others--the famous Hodges'--were marketed as "Old Tom Cordial Gin" while yet others were simply "Old Tom." (Boord's--the one with the cat on the barrel--used this approach.) But "Old Tom" was also a generic term for any English gin of quality, virtually all of which were sweetened, at least until unsweetened gin caught on in the 1890s.

Sugar levels in English gins did vary, though, from some 3 oz a gallon to some 13 oz, according to one study in the 1850s (the average was about 6). Did this have any correlation with the brands that emphasized the "cordial"? The first two examples from Boothby seem to indicate that it does, but this is the only evidence of it I've seen.

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I think the only other use of Old Tom is in the Tom Collins.

Don't forget the Martinez and Ramos Gin Fizz...

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I think the only other use of Old Tom is in the Tom Collins.

Don't forget the Martinez and Ramos Gin Fizz...

Yes, true, of course!

I didn't mean generally.

Just that these were the only recipes I have noticed so far in this book where old tom was specifically called for.

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Hmmm. Interesting.

Some brands of English gin sold here--Charles', Messenger's--were advertised as "Cordial Gin." Others--the famous Hodges'--were marketed as "Old Tom Cordial Gin" while yet others were simply "Old Tom." (Boord's--the one with the cat on the barrel--used this approach.) But "Old Tom" was also a generic term for any English gin of quality, virtually all of which were sweetened, at least until unsweetened gin caught on in the 1890s. 

Sugar levels in English gins did vary, though, from some 3 oz a gallon to some 13 oz, according to one study in the 1850s (the average was about 6). Did this have any correlation with the brands that emphasized the "cordial"? The first two examples from Boothby seem to indicate that it does, but this is the only evidence of it I've seen.

I'm not sure if it indicates my level of spirits boorishness but, yeah, I think it is interesting too.

I've not seen another source that differentiates between "old tom" and "old tom cordial". Jerry Thomas does not, nor does Harry Johnson.

I dunno if it is a local thing or what.

I've seen some scans of Boothby's early post earthquake "World Drinks" and he does carry some of these recipes forward.

However by the "Cocktail Bill Boothby's World Drinks and How to Mix Them" copy I have, all trace of Old Tom seems pretty much to be gone.

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In the 1908 "World Drinks", the wording for the Old Tom Gin Fizz differs from the previous one.

Old Tom Gin Fizz - Make the same as Plain Gin Fizz, but remember that if the Old Tom is a cordial Old Tom, a little less sugar is necessary.

Seems pretty conclusive that there were different Old Toms available to the bartender.

Very interesting indeed.

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In the 1908 "World Drinks", the wording for the Old Tom Gin Fizz differs from the previous one.

Old Tom Gin Fizz - Make the same as Plain Gin Fizz, but remember that if the Old Tom is a cordial Old Tom, a little less sugar is necessary.

Seems pretty conclusive that there were different Old Toms available to the bartender.

Very interesting indeed.

Uh, wow!

Thanks for looking that up, jazzjeff!

I still think that it is a bit odd that Boothby is the only one to note this. Maybe it was too obvious a point for anyone else to even mention?

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Regarding the Old Tom/Cordial gin question--I was looking through Clarke's Complete Cellarman (1830) on Google books, and there's a bit on page 128 about how to convert the "strong, unsweetened" gin spirit into a usable gin (presumably Old Tom? Or something Old Tom-like?), and then another recipe on page 170 for Cordial Gin. Hollands is treated as a completely different beast altogether. The recipes aren't THAT different, but are in separate places and do contain slightly different ingredients.

Unless I'm misunderstanding entirely. ???

PS, how great is it that to make "gin" from an ardent spirit you ordered from the distiller you had to add "oil of vitriol"?

edited: extra words! vitriol!


Edited by auds (log)

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PS, how great is it that to make "gin" from an the ardent spirit you ordered from the distiller you had to add "oil of vitriol"?

Maybe this is why some of my friends state that gin makes them angry??? :raz:

Cheers!

Marshall

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This week up in Boston you can now get actual Old Tom Gin. The same company that fincanced the recent pimento dramm, creme de violette, and batavia arrack has found an English gin producer that still had the recipe for their defunct Old Tom Gin and started producing it again. Hayman's Old Tom Gin. The MA distributor is Ideal Wine out of Medford.

It's very tasty. It has a fuller, semi viscous mouthfeel. I was expecting it to be rather sweet, but it isn't really. Haven't had any time to play with it, just tasted it straight. Surprisingly a few of us that tasted it last night thought it was delicious and smooth enough to drink neat.

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