See Tom Mix
People always forget about Old Tom gin. They shouldn't. Because Old Tom makes your martini variations even more awesome.
When David Wondrich published his landmark cocktail book, Imbibe, in 2007, the gin scene was nothing like what is today. In unearthing all those classic 19th century cocktails, Wondrich immediately ran into an early 21st century problem of sourcing gins. Among the missing ingredients were both Dutch genever and Old Tom, which many of the original cocktails called for.
“This one’s a real problem,” Wondrich wrote. “Old Tom is completely unavailable.” In the can-do spirit of the aughts cocktail renaissance, Wondrich advocated for a DIY approach: “about the best thing to do is take a good, fragrant London Dry and sweeten it…A half ounce of gum per bottle should do.”
Thankfully, very soon after Imbibe was published, a couple of Old Tom gins found their way to market. Haymans Old Tom Gin from the UK and Ransom Old Tom Gin from Oregon became the standard bearers for those who were trying to recreate classic recipes like the Martinez or the Turf Club.
For those who don’t know it, Old Tom gin is a sweetened and (sometimes) aged style of gin that was created in England in the mid-18th century — during an era when there was a ton of awful bathtub gin that needed some additive to make it palatable. Over time, as it became more refined, early bartenders tended to favor it in many popular pre-Prohibition cocktails. Bon Appetit once called it the “the corduroy-clad hipster of gins.”
However, like a lot of products that popped up during those cocktail crazy years of the 2000s, Old Tom gin sort of quietly disappeared from the conversation about a decade later. I started seeing it less and less on cocktail menus.
It had been so long since I’d seen it, I literally asked the question on Twitter: What happened to Old Tom gin? Happily, in response, I got a bunch of new-ish versions I’d never tasted, and I’ve been experimenting widely. I’ve found that it brings a lovely roundness and texture to a number of martini variations, including the two recipes below.
Here are three I suggest seeking out:
Made by resting their Watershed Gin in pear brandy barrels for about six months, resulting in a blonde yellow color. The flavor is enhanced slightly with the addition of about 10 percent sugar, which brings fruity notes to the fore along with juniper and other spices and botanicals. 92 proof.
Aged in American oak chardonnay barrels, which impart vanilla and toasty notes, balanced by spice and citrus. But still great juniper punch, works well in all the cocktails below. 88 proof.
The most botanical forward of the bunch, with significant anise and juniper, as well as the clearest and lowest-proof. Soft and silky, it works well in the Astoria Vecchio cocktail below. 80 proof.
There are many variations on the early-20th-century Astoria cocktail, itself simply a variation on the martini. This is my version, which calls for Old Tom gin and blanc/bianco/white vermouth (I like Dolin). The result here is a rounder, affable, less bracing take on the martini.
2.5 ounces Old Tom gin
1 ounce blanc/bianco vermouth
2 dashes orange bitters
Orange peel twist
Combine liquid ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir vigorously, then strain into a cocktail glass. Express orange peel over the top, then add as garnish.
Early martinis generally included Old Tom gin and sweet vermouth, as well as a few dashes of bitters, a simple syrup, and usually a smidge of liqueur such as curacao, maraschino, or even absinthe. For instance, in the 1882 classic Harry Johnson's New and Improved Bartender's Manual, the “Martini Cocktail” recipe calls for “a dash of curacao or absinthe, if required.” The Martinez and the Turf Club recipes I published last week mine the same territory — the former adds maraschino, while the latter omits the liqueur and changes the Old Tom-vermouth ratio. The Fourth Degree calls for absinthe, which makes this cocktail sing. I hadn’t made one of these for a long time, and I was shook by how good it is. It’s become my go-to spring martini variation.
2 ounces Old Tom gin
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1/2 teaspoon absinthe
2 dashes aromatic bitters
Lemon peel twist
Combine liquid ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir vigorously, then strain into a cocktail glass. Express lemon peel over the top, then add as garnish.