What's new pussycat?

We take a look at some of the current Scottish Gin makers who are making their own new Old Tom style gins.

Published: 9th August 2019

The feline form became a recognised symbol for gin in the 18th and 19th centuries and a symbol that would come to represent a gin style of its own – Old Tom. Thanks to the popularity of Dutch Genever, demand for gin in Britain, particularly the capital city of London, was at an all time high in the first half of the 18th century as the ‘Gin Craze’ swept the city.

Thanks to the ‘Gin Craze’ that resulted in gin’s reputation as being a drink that was causing untold woe and degradation of society, the British Government felt the gin craze must be brought to a stop. With the introduction of taxes and licensing laws, plus some pretty shrewd propaganda from English artist William Hogarth, who in 1751 issued his Beer Street and Gin Lane prints that showed the evils of gin compared to the benefits of beer, unlicensed gin production became pretty much outlawed overnight. 

With new laws, many illicit gin producers moved their production behind closed doors to avoid having to pay the excessive taxes that had been imposed. These illicit gin makers and bars that sold gin began using the cat as a symbol that gin was for sale. Sometimes this would be a carved wooden feline figure on a door, sometimes a subtle sign in a window or even a carved wooden cat’s paw adorned above a door on on the door itself. There was normally a slot in the door where one would place a coin through the slot before being presented with the end of a lead tube through which a shot of gin would be poured. Soon the cat symbol became the tell tale sign that illegal gin was being sold, if not made, on the premises.

Production techniques, if they could be called such, for making gin at the time often involved the use of highly dangerous and poisonous chemicals, which were used to dilute the alcohol that was being flogged as gin, the spirits being produced would have been barely palatable. To conceal the odious flavours the gin makers would often add sugar or other sweet ingredients to try and mask the offensive tastes. Thus the Old Tom style of gin was born. The Old Tom style of gin in terms of the history of gin is often referred to as the missing link between the traditional Genever and London Dry Gin.

As to the actual origins of the name Old Tom the stories and myths are varied. Some have said the name was derived from the use of the cat on gin barrels that was seen as a sign of quality. Others sources have said the name was derived from the Puss & Mew shop, a gin place in London, that featured a sign of an old tom cat in the window. 

With the invention of new techniques and distillation equipment, the days of having to use sugar to hide turpentine and the likes, are thankfully a thing of the past. Fortunately the idea of creating sweeter gins using a variety of sweet ingredients has had somewhat of a revival. With Scottish Gin makers looking to the past for inspiration and paying their own homage to gins past, we take a look at some of the current Scottish Gin makers who are making their own new Old Tom style gins.

Crabbie’s 1891 Old Tom, John Crabbie & Co.

Based on an original recipe created by John Crabbie in 1891, this Old Tom crosses two gin styles/production methods. Not only is this an Old Tom, it’s also been rested and aged in ex-sherry casks along with the addition of orange peel, coriander and angelica. A flavour profile that carefully balances juniper with zesty bursts of citrus, with a touch of subtle spice and slight sweet woody notes. Orange and sherry notes also add a complexity to the sweetness with a tangy orange and a warm spice note on the finish.

Learn more about John Crabbie & Co. here.

Rock Rose Grapefruit Old Tom Gin, Dunnet Bay Distillers

Old in name but with the release of the Grapefruit Old Tom from Dunnet Bay Distillers, there’s certainly nothing old about this new grapefruit packed gin, which has been created by the team behind the award-winning Rock Rose Gin expressions. Described as “deliciously fresh” and distilled using hand peeled organic grapefruit peel, which is then hung in the botanical basket inside the gin still. Using vapour infusion along with traditional gin botanicals, the resulting gin is slightly sweeter with use of muscovado sugar.

Learn more about Dunnet Bay Distillers here.

Beyla Honey & Raspberry Old Tom Gin, Orkney Distilling

From the makers of Kirkjuvagr Orkney Gin comes Beyla. A sweet and fruity Old Tom style gin that’s based on the signature Kirkjuvagr Gin but with the addition of sweet Orcadian honey and fresh Scottish raspberries, also thought to a world’s first – an Old Tom Pink Gin. The name was inspired by both local folklore and the use of Orcadian honey with Beyla translating to Norse goddess of bees.

Learn more about Kirkjuvagr Orkney Distilling here.

Holyrood Auld Tam, Holyrood Distillery

A Scottish play on the name of Old Tom, Auld Tam from Holyrood Distillery is a botanically rich, sweet gin. Distilled using fresh peaches, Madagascan vanilla, chamomile, jasmine and orange flowers along with milk thistle seeds. The sweetness of this Old Tom gin is derived from the use of the botanicals only with no sugar or sweetener added.

Learn more about Holyrood Distillery here.

Old Tom Coconut Gin, House of Elrick

Distilled at the House of Elrick Distillery in Aberdeenshire, this Old Tom Coconut Gin is based on the classic House of Elrick Gin profile, which includes juniper, coriander seeds, angelica root and citrus peel, built around a core of heather, pink peppercorns, sweet fennel and rose petals. Sweet syrup and coconut flavouring are carefully blended with the base gin to create a tropical tase of summer in a glass.

Learn more about House of Elrick here.

Rhubarb Old Tom, Orkney Gin Company

The multi award-winning Rhubarb Old Tom from Orkney Gin Company, which was amongst the first Old Toms from Scotland’s gin makers, is a cold compounded gin that uses locally sourced Orkney Rhubarb. Inspired by a number of family recipes, this Old Tom includes rose petals, citrus, cinnamon and a lot of rhubarb. The main gin base and rhubarb are left to macerate for a period of time until the flavour profile from the sweetness of the botanicals and tartness of the rhubarb is just right.

Learn more about Orkney Gin Company here.

Makar Old Tom

Based on the award-winning Makar Original Gin from The Glasgow Distillery Co., this Old Tom expression is made with the addition of orange peel, almonds and honey. Still a gin that packs in the juniper but with a little spice from the use of black pepper and and slightly sweet finish thanks to the use of honey, it remains well balanced. Makar Old Tom is most definitely an Old Tom in the traditional sense but true to form also has one foot in the present, with a flavour profile that delivers.

Learn more about Makar Gin here.

Smithies Honeycomb Old Tom

A unique and original take on the Old Tom style of gin, this Old Tom gin from the team behind Smithies Gin and the popular Smithies delicatessen located in Arbroath, uses candy as the sweetener. It’s often called cinder toffee or honeycomb toffee. The honeycomb toffee is added to the original Smithies Gin then left to macerate before being bottled. The result is a rich, golden hue and a sweet and rich gin that works well neat over ice or served with ginger ale and ice.

Learn more about Smithies Gin here.

Esker Honey Spiced

Although there’s no mention of Old Tom on the label, Esker Honey Spiced Gin is most definitely an Old Tom style gin. Juniper and a creamy mouthfeel make it stand out as being distinctly ‘Old Tom’ in new clothes. Using the award-winning signature Esker Gin as the base, this gin uses locally sourced Deeside honey along with a variety of spices to create a rich, sweet, spicy and well balanced gin. With a rich and creamy mouthfeel this gin can be enjoyed neat over ice, or served tonic or ginger ale.

Learn more about Esker Spirits here.

Johannistag Navy Strength Old Tom Gin, Orkney Gin Company

Thought to be another world’s first, this gin actually crosses two gin styles of Old Tom and Navy Strength. Johannistag Navy Strength Old Tom Gin from Orkney Gin Company is a limited edition gin that was released in two batches of 500, with two different bottle designs. This special edition Navy Old Tom Gin was released to commemorate the centenary of the Scuttling of the German High Seas Fleet in Orkney’s Scapa Flow. Distilled using honey, heather and rose petals, the botanicals were selected to reflect Orkney’s summer months. Johannistag is also German for Mid Summers Day or St Johns Day.

Learn more about Orkney Gin Company here.

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