When we decided to make a Victorian-style Old Tom gin, it quickly became apparent we’d need a kitchen.
The Old Tom style is slightly sweeter than London Dry and needs a sugar syrup to be added. And to make a sugar syrup you need a kitchen.
So we decided to aim high - and asked our favourite chef, Andrew Pern, of the Michelin-starred Star Inn, Harome (and The Star Inn The City and Mr P’s Curious Tavern) if he’d help.
Not only did Andrew say yes, he and his talented team spent countless hours creating, honing and perfecting an incredible syrup that bursts with flavours from Yorkshire’s hedgerows and his kitchen garden in Harome.
The main ingredient is the White Alba Rose. Native to Yorkshire hedgerows and famous for being the rose on the Yorkshire flag, foragers call this white flower the Dog Rose (with apologies to the Old Toms out there).
Adopted by the House of York in medieval times it’s pleasantly scented but not heavily petaled.
Andrew completed the Yorkshire sugar syrup with other ingredients from hedgerows and his kitchen garden, including Bronze Fennel and Star Anise. He completed the syrup by adding Angelica and pink peppercorns (Baie rose de Bourbon).
The Victorians would have used liquorice and locally-growing plants in their Old Tom. The fennel and anise are locally-growing plants in North Yorkshire that have a similar flavour profiles to liquorice. So we’re firmly following the Old Tom tradition with this version.
The final result is an Old Tom that bursts with flavour and Yorkshire character - juniper and pepper are complemented by the flavours of Yorkshire’s hedgerows. Enjoy in a G&T or a Tom Collins cocktail.
Launching at Junipalooza, London on World Gin Day, 8th June 2019
We're launching York Gin Old Tom on World Gin Day at the UK's premier gathering of gin distillers at Tobacco Dock in London.
You can order York Gin Old Tom so you're one of the first to try it.
A history lesson: Who, or what, is Old Tom?
Some London distillers of the 18th & 19th Centuries created such terrible gin that they needed to add liquorice, sugar and other sweeteners to disguise the taste. Inadvertently these distillers of terrible base gin created a whole new category, known as Old Tom.
The name ‘Old Tom’ is the subject of much debate - and much speculation (especially for cat lovers).
Cats are synonymous with the legends and myths surrounding Old Tom - and gin more generally. One story even has a poor tomcat drowning in a vat of gin!
After the 1736 Gin Act - one of many government attempts to cut down drinking during the ‘Gin Craze’ - the first Puss and Mew gin shop opened.
This had its very own cat-shaped vending machine attached.
According to one story, the thirsty customer put a coin into the cat’s mouth and received a mouthful of gin out of the tail – funnelled through a lead pipe. According to another story, the customer would whisper to the cat: ‘Puss, give me two pennyworth of gin’ and the ‘cat’ would ‘Mew’ if there was any illicit gin to sell.
There are stories of Old Tom gin being linked to a specific cat owned by an early producer of this type of gin. We don’t know if he was called Tom, or just an old tomcat.
In 1849, a distiller called Joseph Boord registered a cat and barrel trademark for his Old Tom gin. In 1903 Boord & Son ended up taking a rival called Huddart & Company to court to defend their trademark. Huddart’s gin barrels depicted a cat wearing ‘fancy garments’ like Puss in Boots and pouring the last drops of gin from a bottle.
Incidentally, cats are one of York’s symbols. The city’s ‘Cat Trail’ encourages visitors to spot the 20-plus cat statues adorning the outside walls of buildings in the city. One of our charities is York Cats Protection - when someone adopts a mog (whether an Old Tom, a kitten or something in between) they’re offered a York Gin mini to toast their new arrival. So we have several very good reasons to be making an Old Tom.
Non-feline history of Old Tom
One non-cat-related origin story from the 19th Century involves Thomas Norris, a former apprentice to another Thomas (Chamberlain) at Hodge’s Distillery in Lambeth, south London.
Norris left the distillery to set up a gin palace in Covent Garden. There, he sold gin from his old employers and marketed it as ‘Old Tom’ - because it was distilled by his old boss.
In one of his 1839 Sketches By Boz (Chapter 22, ‘Gin-Shops’) Charles Dickens describes a gin palace in London’s Drury Lane - contrasting it with the dank and dirty streets outside - and he mentions Old Tom.
“All is light and brilliancy. The hum of many voices issues from that splendid gin-shop which forms the commencement of the two streets opposite; and the gay building with the fantastically ornamented parapet, the illuminated clock, the plate-glass windows surrounded by stucco rosettes, and its profusion of gas-lights in richly-gilt burners, is perfectly dazzling when contrasted with the darkness and dirt we have just left. The interior is even gayer than the exterior. A bar of French-polished mahogany, elegantly carved, extends the whole width of the place; and there are two side-aisles of great casks, painted green and gold, enclosed within a light brass rail, and bearing such inscriptions, as ‘Old Tom, 549;’ ‘Young Tom, 360’ ...’
A George Cruikshank satirical cartoon from his Scraps and Sketches collection published between 1829 and 1832 shows a gin shop containing a large coffin bearing the inscription ‘Old Tom’. The scene also shows a drunk a mother feeding gin to her baby and the young bar maid is actually a skeleton wearing a mask. The whole scene resounds with death. Not a ringing endorsement of the demon drink!
Harry Johnson's Bartender's Manual (1882) describes Old Tom as one of his essential spirits. He mentions it in recipes for Tom Collins, sparkling gin fizz and many more.
The 20th Century saw Old Tom’s fortunes wane, as London Dry became flavour of the century. But in recent years, Old Tom has started to make something of a recovery. York Gin Old Tom is firmly part of this Renaissance.
Fever-Tree Indian tonic
Lots of ice
Pink peppercorns and/or Star Anise to garnish
3 parts York Gin Old Tom
2 parts freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 part sugar syrup
4 parts soda water
Mix the gin, lemon juice and sugar syrup in a tall glass with ice, top up with soda water, garnish and serve.