In the simplest terms, Old Tom gin is often considered a sweeter version of the juniper spirit. This style of gin is said to have come into existence during London’s so-called Gin Craze of the 18th Century, when producers used sweeter or more flavoursome botanicals – from lemon to liquorice – and even sugar to mask the rougher notes present in their drink (thankfully, distillation practices have since come on leaps and bounds).
Back then, Old Tom gin was a hugely popular style: many claim it to have been the first taste of British gin for those overseas and it was called for in cocktail recipe books published around the time, including Jerry Thomas’ famous How to Mix Drinks. However, with the innovation of the Coffey still and the preference for a drier style of drink, the 19th Century saw London Dry Gin start to eclipse Old Tom in the popularity stakes – and by the 20th Century, the historic spirit style had all but died out.
However, thanks to a curiosity from bartenders looking back through the history books during the modern cocktail revival, plus a second coming of the Gin Craze in the 21st Century, Old Tom gin has seen a recent reversal of fortune, with distillers experimenting with the style once again. And experiment they do, since there are less rules around the drink’s production. Of course, it must still include juniper. But some modern versions include sugar while others don’t; some are even cask-aged in an attempt to mirror the style that washed up overseas in the 1800s when these sweet gins were transported by boat in wooden barrels.
Hence the array of flavours – from citrus and floral to earthy and woody – in this list of the best Old Tom gin from the IWSC 2022. In the below you’ll find Old Tom gin produced in England, but there are also award-winning offerings from the likes of Australia, Sweden and Slovenia, plus a Scottish entry that scored a very impressive 98/100 for its ‘woody undertone and lingering fruity finish’.
HOW DO WE JUDGE THESE SPIRITS?
We run a tightly structured, rigorous spirits tasting process. That means that each spirit sample is pre-poured into numbered glasses and assessed blindly by the judges. Most importantly, our IWSC spirit judges are experts in their field, who work across all sectors of the drinks industry. For evidence, see our full list of judges.
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