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 balanced and 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 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, it goes something like this: The initial gins produced in England were not particularly high quality, with relatively crude distillation techniques and a strong incentive to cut the spirit with products like turpentine and sulfuric acid to increase profit margins. As a result, it was common for sugar to be added to gin to mask these imperfections 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, but having gained a taste for sweetened gin sugar 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 1940s 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 often 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 Old Tom was 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 Old Tom gins had become the 40% ABV + gins we are more familiar with. The ascendance in the popularity of Old Tom as a style (between the 1880s and the 1920s) coincided with the Golden Age of Cocktails. Amongst other things, the cocktail became glamorous and sophisticated and its 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.
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 and bottled at 40% ABV, Hayman’s Old Tom Gin has sweet aromas of almond and citrus. The hints of ginger and light herbal-spiciness from the juniper and coriander give a more rounded fragrance. On the palate it provides balanced traditional Old Tom characteristics and is without a doubt the standard barer of this lightly-sweetened gin style. To be fair, although there are a few in the works for 2012, there are not that many Old Tom Gins out there so this may not be as lofty an accolade as it it seems. 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 well and it’s natural sweetness works well in those recipes.
Nobody knows exactly how the name Old Tom, nor why a black cat is used as the iconography in most Old Toms. A popular theory is that it stemmed from a man named Dudley Bradstreet who sold gin illegally from his house through rather elaborate means. Legend says that he erected a sign outside his house in the shape of a cat, with a pipe leading from the cats paw back in to his house. A thirsty customer would deposit their money, call out “Puss, give me two pennyworth of gin!”, and Bradsheet would pour them a shot of gin down the pipe. This sign of a tom cat allegedly resulted in the gin becoming known as Old Tom, and whether true or not the packaging of both classic and modern Old Toms more often than not has a black cat on it.
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 was also the earliest registered trademark for any gin. Boord claimed a different story about the origin of the Old Tom name, stating under oath that the product was named for an “Old Tom” who worked at another distillery. The 1903 challenge to Boord’s mark with the cat and barrel became a landmark case in UK trademark law.
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. At the time of writing this post, Christopher Hayman, who has over 35 years 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 the 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 miniature pack have consolidated their offering. They seem to be moving steadily in the right direction (all-be-it held back back what seems like a clunky website). It will be be interesting to 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 Haymans for daring to do something different, 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 it’s 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.
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