Hayman’s Old Tom Gin is a botanically intensive and lightly sweetened style of gin. Particularly popular in the 19th Century, Old Tom Gins tend to deliver a generally sweeter flavour profile, resulting in a distinctive cocktail experience. Hayman’s Old Tom is no different and for fans of the style, it’s considered one of the best ones out there.
To better understand what Hayman’s Old Tom is about, it is important to acknowledge where its roots are based. While this quick history is woefully short and misses out many details and the twists and turns in the story of Old Tom, it goes something like this: The initial gins produced in England were not of particularly high quality, with relatively crude distillation techniques and a strong incentive to cut the spirit with products like turpentine and sulphuric acid to increase profit margins.
As a result, it was common for sugar, sweetness or simply put – more of every botanical – to be added to gin to mask the coarse nature of the underlying spirit and make the gin more palatable. As gin production improved (with the invention of the column still and better quality grains etc…) these imperfections were slowly eliminated and base spirit improved greatly.
But having gained a taste for sweetened gin, sugar or other botanical sweetness continued to be added and it’s this style of gin that became known as Old Tom. Once the most popular type of gin available, by the 1940’s Old Tom had fallen out of favour as tastes moved towards drier drinks and by the 1970′s it was all but extinct.
From a flavour perspective, Old Tom Gin is sometimes described as the missing link between Dutch Genever and London Dry Gin. Although, without having done enough rooting around and sufficient research to see how wide spread this was, it seems that at the beginning of the 19th century some gins were in-fact being sold at around 20% ABV and resembled what we would consider now days to be a liqueur. It was only by the late 19th century that Old Tom Gins had reached 40% ABV and become the style that we are more familiar with today. The ascendance in the popularity of Old Tom as a style (between the 1880’s and the 1920’s) coincided with the Golden Age of Cocktails. Amongst other things, cocktails became glamorous and sophisticated and as a result popularity soared. With infamous star bartenders such as Jerry Thomas leading the way, the fashion for sweet cocktails spread from America throughout Europe, and Old Tom as a style of gin was at the heart of this trend.
Why the name Old Tom is used for this style of gin and how it came to be is debated by gin fans who all point to various references. Some say it’s due to a cat falling into a vat of gin. Others point to Captain Dudley Bradstreet who infamously sold gin by pouring it down a lead pipe that came out underneath a cat’s paw during the 1730’s, thus cunningly bypassing the restrictions of the Gin Acts underway at the time. However, there’s no real evidence linking him to the term Old Tom even if he did begin the trend for what were known as Puss and Mew houses that featured the black cat icon Old Tom Gins are recognised for.
We feel that the most likely story came from the 1830’s where a compounder by the name of Thomas Norris labelled his gin Old Tom, named after his former mentor Thomas Chamberlain, or “Old Tom”. This style (Old Tom Chamberlain’s style) is likely to have been taken on by Boord’s of London who used both the name and the cat icon on their bottle. As Boord’s was by far the best known gin brand around at the time, the name caught on. Joseph Boord was the first distiller to register the image of a cat in his 1849 Cat and Barrel trademark for Old Tom Gin, which incidentally is thought to be the earliest registered trademark for any gin. The 1903 challenge to Boord’s mark (Boord & Sons went to court to defend their trademark against Huddart & Company under ‘passing-off-laws’) became a landmark case in UK trademark law.
Back to Hayman’s – The re-introduction of Hayman’s Old Tom Gin in 2007 came by request of the London cocktail community who were interested in having the full spectrum of gins as specified in the recipes of so many of these classic cocktails of the early 1900′s. Hayman’s Old Tom Gin is made under the careful supervision of Christopher Hayman with a recipe drawn from the family archives (Hayman Distillers is one of the longest serving family owned gin distillers in England).
Distilled from 100% grain spirit and bottled at 40% ABV, Hayman’s Old Tom Gin has sweet aromas of almond and candied citrus. The hints of gingery and light herbal-spiciness from the juniper and coriander give a more rounded fragrance, but as with most Old Tom’s it’s the sweetness from the Liquorice root that shines through. On the palate it provides balanced traditional Old Tom characteristics and is without a doubt the standard barer of this lightly-sweetened gin style. It’s easy to see why the gin would be used in cocktails such as the Martinez or Tom Collins, as the nose and taste of Hayman’s Old Tom would compliment the drinks as its natural sweetness works well in those recipes.
The original company of Hayman Distillers was founded in 1820 and acquired in 1863 by James Burrough, the great grandfather of the current Chairman, Christopher Hayman. Although Beefeater Gin and James Burrough Limited were sold, the Hayman family retained part of the business and continued the tradition of distilling and blending gin, as well as other white spirits. Christopher Hayman, who has over 35 years of experience in the drinks trade, having joined James Burrough Limited in 1969, holds the position of Operations Director. A specialist in gin, Christopher is one of the most experienced ‘Gin Masters’ working in the industry today. This expertise and tradition has been directly instilled into the (re)production of this classic style of gin, and the final spirit typifies attention to detail and quality production.
Bringing back a style of gin that was as good as extinct to a market where bartenders were really calling for it was a clever move by the company, and Hayman’s move to widen their portfolio as well as create a miniature pack have consolidated their offering. It will be be interesting to see how they fair with 4 or 5 Old Tom Gins predicted to hit the UK shelves next year, but we think that it will be positive for them despite the increased competition. The more awareness around the style the more likely people are to try it and when it comes to spreading the word – more brands talking means more people talking…
We really commend Hayman’s for daring to do something different and Hayman’s Old Tom is an interesting gin. It brings a certain something to some of those Jerry Thomas era cocktails – the mix of botanicals and its sweetness makes for a change and will leave you wondering what else you could do with it. Credit given where it’s due – the team at Hayman’s saw the opportunity and have delivered on it impeccably.