Old Tom gin is a style of gin that was popular in the 18th and 19th centuries in England. It is a slightly sweeter gin than London Dry, and is usually made with a blend of botanicals that includes licorice root or sugar.
In this article I share my Old Tom-style gin recipe, and some tips to help you craft the perfect Old Tom gin at home.
Table of Contents
Let me first explain the Old Tom Gin Style;
The name “Old Tom” is said to come from a time when gin was sold in unmarked bottles and dispensed from wooden plaques shaped like a black cat. Customers would put a penny in the cat’s mouth and the gin would be dispensed from a tube under its paw. It was sweet because the sugar helped mast the rough taste of the often crude gin that was being sold in these times.
Now I said, sweetened with licorice or sugar.
That’s because originally sugar came to the British empire in the form of cane sugar and was incredibly expensive – much more so than was gin. Thus, the early Old Tom was made with liquorish root to give the impression of sweetness. Later, in the late 1800’s sugar started being refined from beets in Poland and Eastern Europe -leading to a drop in the sugar price and Old Tom being made with sugar instead.
With this in mind, this recipe is going to use liquorish and sugar to stay true to theme.
Here’s how to make your own Old Tom gin at home:
Ingredients: (to make 1L of finished gin)
- 450 ml of 95% high-proof neutral spirit
- 10 g juniper berries
- 2 g coriander seeds
- 1 g angelica root
- 1 g orris root
- 1 g licorice root
- 1 g cinnamon stick
- 1 g cardamom pods
- 1 g dried lime peel
- 26 g sugar
Step 1: Prepare the Botanicals
Crush the juniper berries, coriander seeds, and cardamom pods using a mortar and pestle.
Step 2: Prepare Your Base Spirit
We need to work out how much base neutral spirit to use. I recommend using a 95% neutral that you can make yourself, or buying something like Everclear which is also 95% ABV.
Tip: Since we’re chucking all the ingredients in the boiler (unlike macerating and straining) you can also use regular vodka (40% ABV) as this will take weeks to extract the same amount of flavor that 95% ABV will do in a day (I tested this!)
Since im making a 2L final batch here, i’m going to measure out 900ml of 95% Neutral.
Step 3: Macerate overnight
Add the crushed spices and all other ingredients to a large glass jar or bottle. Pour the vodka or high-proof neutral spirit over the botanicals and stir to combine.
Seal the jar or bottle and place it in a cool, dark place for at least 24 hours.
Step 4: Charge The Still
After 24 hours, pour the ontents into your boiler to charge your still.
Alternatively, you can strain the gin through a cheesecloth or coffee filter to remove all solids. This can lead to a cleaner distillation but you’ll sacrifice a bit of extraction
Place into the boiler of your still and distill and run.
Step 5: Run The Still
Discard the first 50ml and stop the distillation run at 95 degrees Celsius.
Leave the gin to air overnight at full strength.
Letting the gin sit overnight in an open container can help to release any unwanted flavors or aromas.
Similar to leaving the gin to mature, it also needs to air. This help drive off some of the highly volatile flavors and personally find it takes the edge off the flavor profile.
Note: Leaving it to air for too long can let the gin oxidize which may degrade some of the flavor compounds, so I’d suggest airing for 1 – 7 days.
Step 6: Cut and Add Sugar
Dilute the gin to 37.5% ABV with distilled water.
Add the sugar to taste. 26g should make quite a sweet gin (but I believe that was typical of old tom). You may also have trouble getting that to dissolve so shake well afterwards, or dissolve in the water before hand if you calculate exactly how much water is needed for dilution.
Step 7: Bottle and Enjoy
Bottle and enjoy your homemade Old Tom gin!
Gin can change flavor over time, so allowing it to sit for a week before tasting can help you identify any changes in flavor.
This may seem trivial, but I’ve made gins that taste terrible right off the still. I would pack up feeling disappointed that the past few hours of toil had been in vain.
However, when coming back to the gin a day, a week, or 2 weeks later it’s somehow transformed into something really enjoyable.
My Top 3 Tips When Making Macerated Gin
Here are a couple of tips when it comes to actually making gin. I put these in each gin recipe because hopefully, it means the recipes will make a little more sense to people who havent made much gin before.
1. Always work in grams
Measuring ingredients by weight rather than volume provides more accuracy and consistency. Also (as an engineer) a pet peeve of mine is seeing recipes say thinks like ‘1 piece of orange peel’. Like seriously – how big is that?
Like mentioned above, get yourself a good set (or two) of digital scales. One for large quantities of ingredients like Juniper, and one for small amounts of more delicate ingredients.
2. Normalise recipes for grams per litre
This means taking the weight of each ingredient and dividing it by the total volume of the spirits. This allows you to compare recipes easily, regardless of the volume of spirits you’re making.
It also means you can easily scale your recipes. Want to make 10L, simply times everything by 10x! (Yes, ok, in reality it doesn’t quite work that easily but that’s another book)
3. Always dilute with filtered water
This ensures that the water used to dilute the gin does not affect the taste. The topic of exactly what water to use is a big discussion. Do you use distilled water? De-ionized? RO filtered? Or do you collect fresh spring water with a natural terroir.
There’s no simple answer to this unfortunately. It comes down to price, taste, and what you actually have access to. But, I will say that 9 times out of 10 your household tap water won’t be good enough and could impair the taste or look of your gin.
I highly recommend making this recipe if you get the chance as most people haven’t tried an Old Tom style gin before (and they hard to find in shops too!)
Recipe Notes: You can adjust the sweetness by adding more or less sugar. You can also experiment with different botanicals to create your own unique Old Tom gin recipe.