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The History of Gin & Old Tom

If you are a fan of gin, you might be curious about its origins and how it evolved over time. In this blog post, I will take you on a journey through the history of gin, from its ancient roots to its modern variations. I will also focus on one of the most intriguing types of gin: old tom gin.


Gin is a distilled alcoholic drink that derives its predominant flavour from juniper berries. The word gin comes from the Dutch word jenever, which means juniper. Gin is one of the oldest spirits in the world, dating back to the 11th century, when monks in Italy used juniper berries to flavour distilled wine. However, the modern gin that we know today was developed in the 17th century in the Netherlands, where it was used as a medicine to treat various ailments, such as kidney problems, stomach pain, and gout.


Monkey 47 distillery still
Monkey 47 distillery still

Gin became popular in England after the Dutch king William III ascended to the throne in 1689. He encouraged the production and consumption of gin by imposing heavy taxes on imported spirits and allowing unlicensed gin production. This led to a period known as the Gin Craze, when gin was widely available and cheap, and consumed by all classes of society. Gin was often adulterated with harmful substances, such as turpentine, sulfuric acid, and sawdust, to increase its potency and flavour. This resulted in many social problems, such as crime, poverty, and disease.


To curb the excessive drinking of gin, the government passed several Gin Acts that imposed regulations and taxes on gin production and sale. One of these acts was the Gin Act of 1736, which required a high license fee for gin retailers and a hefty tax on gin sales. This act was largely ineffective, as it led to widespread smuggling and illegal distillation of gin. To avoid detection by the authorities, some gin sellers devised a clever scheme: they installed a wooden plaque shaped like a black cat (an old tom) on their wall, with a slot for money and a lead pipe. Customers would put a coin in the slot and whisper "Puss" to the cat. The seller would then pour a shot of gin through the pipe for the customer to drink. This is how old tom gin got its name.


Old tom gin is a slightly sweeter version of London dry gin, which is the most common type of gin today. Old tom gin was sweetened with sugar or licorice to mask the impurities and harshness of the base spirit. Old tom gin was very popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, especially in cocktails such as the Tom Collins and the Martinez. However, old tom gin declined in popularity in the 20th century, as London dry gin became more refined and preferred by consumers.


A picture of an old Tom sign
A picture of an old Tom sign

In recent years, old tom gin has experienced a revival, as craft distillers and bartenders have rediscovered its unique flavour and history. There are now many brands of old tom gin available on the market, each with their own recipe and style. Some old tom gins are aged in barrels, some are infused with botanicals, some are made with malted barley, and some are even flavoured with honey or citrus. Old tom gin is a versatile spirit that can be enjoyed neat, on the rocks, or in cocktails.


If you want to learn more about old tom gin and how to use it in your drinks, I recommend checking out these resources:


- The Gin Foundry: https://www.ginfoundry.com/gin/old-tom-gin/

- The Spruce Eats: https://www.thespruceeats.com/old-tom-gin-cocktails-760082

- Difford's Guide: https://www.diffordsguide.com/encyclopedia/2017-08-11/1303/bws/old-tom-gin


I hope you enjoyed this blog post about the history of gin and old tom gin. Gin is a fascinating spirit that has a rich and colorful past. Whether you prefer London dry gin or old tom gin, there is a gin for every taste and occasion. Cheers!


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