The misconception of Old Tom Gin

Some vintage Old Tom Gins
These days I have thought a lot about gin. There are a lot of gins coming on the market and some people are already calling it the “new vodka”.

While I do understand this notion, it is (out of my humble perspective) not at all comparable.
Yes - gin has been really exploited in marketing (like vodka) - but it is really like any mainstream trend. Vodka has been always a bit different: while a lot of gins have significant differences (especially due to their different botanicals) - quality vodkas lack the big differences and their subtle differences are subdued within the different moods people are in - or what they have eaten for breakfast or lunch, or if they had one drink before or simply with the mixers, the vodka is consumed with.

Anyway - one big topic I have contemplated about is Old Tom Gin. In my eyes, this style has been largely misrepresented and misunderstood.

The otherwise informative article in Imbibe shows exactly the issue - people get mislead by marketing of liquor companies which are selling their OTG with the fairytale of century old forgotten family recipe (call me a sceptic, or pessimist - but I don't "effing" one more spirit brand ambassador, who refers to the long history, unless he/xhe can proof it 100% - inclusive original and certified documents).
The big fallacy in gin is, to underestimate time.
Look, the difference between London Dry Gin and Old Tom Gin hasn’t been really that striking in the late 19th century. Why? Because spirits are not static, but they are evolving with their environment.

The most significant change for gin in the 19th century has been the “invention” (or should we rather say improvement) of the continuous still  (aka patent or Coffey still).

In the first half of the 19th century, the base of gin has been so called malt wines - more or less unaged whisky (probably mass produced Lowland Scotch). The point is, that the unmastured alcohol out of this process is quite harsh. The addition of sugar (today regularly used in a lot of different spirits), which is called rounding, would make harsh alcohol palatable.

Hence especially the first 50 (or more) years of Old Tom gin, the gin has been for sure sweetened - however as soon as the Coffey Still spirits took more and more over the “neutral alcohol” origin, Old Tom Gin was more and more developing into London Dry Gin style.

The big fallacy of a lot of people (inclusive brands, distillers etc) is, to see Old Tom Gin and London Dry Gin unlinked and as two independent styles.

Late Old Tom gins however were much closer to London Dry Gin, and would not make the difference, as most people would like to see - but in fact they are more “hybrids” than “real” Old Tom gins.
The real issue is, that basically all Old Tom Gins today are based on neutral alcohol. Gin producers are trying to emulate the botanical recipes of the respective gin - but everybody seem to forget, that the more original style has been based on malt wines.

It is unlikely to see anytime soon a gin producer making an authentic "Old Style Old Tom Gin" - but it would be interesting to see, if a whisky producer (like Glenmorangie" would take it on and would produce a gin.

I also don't want here to insist on perfect authenticity. Probably nobody would really like to drink the original OTG's today. They would be harsh. However a refined version (made with good quality double distilled new make whisky), would be true to its origins and would be a very interesting proposal for me.





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