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Hayman’s Old Tom Gin

Review: Hayman’s Old Tom Gin  88/100
A review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Posted August 06, 2013

Old Tom Gin represents a style of gin which was popular in 18th Century England prior to the introduction of London Dry Gin. According to gin lore, Old Tom Gin derived its name from Captain Dudley Bradstreet who in the early 1700’s purchased property in London which had a good amount of gin on the premises. He set a picture of a “tom cat” upon the window facing outside and allowed word to be spread that gin was available at the establishment with the cat in the window. A passerby who wanted a shot of gin would place a penny in a slot in the wall under the windowed cat which would roll into the establishment signalling the bartender inside to pour out a shot of gin which would be funneled into a tube running through the wall. The passerby would either drink it  directly from the tube or collect it to consume later. Apparently this practice spread throughout London, and gin generically became know as that ‘Old Tom’ Gin in reference to the Tom Cat which signaled the presence of gin within an establishment.

Hayman’s Old Tom Gin is apparently produced from an old English recipe which can be traced to the 18th century. The style of this gin is softer and sweeter than the more typical London Dry Gin. Part of the reason for this is that the gin is lightly sweetened (which in 18th Century England was probably done to mask the taste of impurities as distillation was in its early days of refinement). When the Coffey still was introduced, a better quality of spirit became more readily available which did not need to be sweetened and the resulting style of London Dry Gin gradually replaced Old Tom Gin as the industry standard. However many old cocktail books from the 19th century still refer to Old Tom Gin in their recipes. The recent cocktail renaissance has led to a demand for this older style of gin.

Note: According to their website, Hayman Distillers is the longest serving family owned gin distiller in England today. Their Old Tom Gin has recently arrived in the Alberta market imported by Lifford Spirits who provided me with a bottle to review upon my website.

SAM_0866 Hayman'sIn the Bottle 4/5

Pictured to the left is my bottle of Hayman’s Old Tom Gin. It is a tall square bottle with tapered corners. The front label features a logo of a black tom cat representing the heritage of this gin style very well. If you look through the bottle you can see a stylized illustration of an old British Tavern with upright barrels of Old Tom Gin stacked upon a platform behind the patrons. The back of the bottle features a recipes for the popular Martinez and Tom Collins cocktails. The Martinez in particular tastes very nice with Hayman’s Old Tom Gin (see recipe below).

I like the bottle, except for the metallic screw cap which is rather flimsy and threatens to lose its seal every time I unscrew it.

In the Glass 8.5/10

When I poured myself a small glass of gin, I decided to give the glass a quick tilt and twirl to examine the legs. The Old Tom gin has a ‘thickened’ look to it, and the crest of gin releases small legs that run slowly down the sides of the glass. This thickened appearance is, I believe an indication of a small amount of sweetness added to the spirit which is a characteristic of Old Tom Gin. The initial breezes above the glass also reflect this sweetness as the resulting aroma has a pleasant sweetness with effervescent citrus notes underlying a soft but firm juniper presence.

If you take time with the glass it is possible to catch glimpses of orange peel, lilacs, hints of anise and a soft earthiness. These light nuances in the breezes serve to accent the more dominant citrus and juniper and I find myself enjoying the breezes above the glass.

In the Mouth 53/60

The dominant flavour of the Old Tom Gin is juniper. A firm sugarcane sweetness accents the juniper keeping its bitter flavour in check, and a lemon-like citrus zest quickly follows with spicy cardamom strengthening the effervescent push of the citrus. There seems to be a hint of orange flavour running through the gin as well a subtle earthiness probably associated with angelica root. A floral lilac combined with a light lemony balsam, and a vague anise (licorice) flavour all seem to float within that spicy effervescence and light earthiness as I sip.

I decided to make a few cocktails and quickly determined that this gin wants other ingredients to work with. Simple cocktails like the gin and tonic, and the gin martini seem diminished with the Hayman’s Old Tom Gin, whereas more complex offerings like the Martinez, and recipes which mix with fruit juice and soda like the Darby seem to be lifted to a new level. It makes sense actually; the gin and tonic, and the martini are cocktails designed for London Dry Gin. Old Tom is a softer sweeter gin obviously meant for a different style of gin cocktail.

In the Throat 13.5/15

The gin has a spicy-sweet finish with the back of the throat first feeling a rush of ginger and cardamom which is then tempered by a lingering sweetness. This exit is very appealing, and that spicy sweetness bodes well for more cocktail explorations.

The Afterburn 9/10

I think Hayman’s Old Tom Gin is more of a bartender’s gin than it is a gin meant for mixing martinis and gin and tonics at home. This is because the gin wants to play with other ingredients bringing its magic to more complex recipes. In a bar setting where all those ingredients are close at hand Hayman’s Old Tom should be right at home.

Having said that, if you are willing to put a little effort into the cocktail experience, squeezing out some of your own fresh fruit, and keeping a modest amount of cocktail ingredients in your own bar fridge, then I think the Hayman’s is more than worth the investment as a cocktail gin for the home bartender. (See a few recipes below.)

You may read some of my other Gin Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.


Suggested Recipes

SAM_0874 MartinezMartinez

2 oz Hayman’s Old Tom Gin
3/4 oz sweet vermouth
2 dashes Luxardo maraschino liqueur
1 dash Angostura bitters
Lemon twist for garnish

Pour the ingredients into a metal shaker with ice
Shake until the sides of the shaker frost
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Twist the lemon peel over the drink and drop it into the glass

(Note; If you substitute Ruby or LBV Port Wine for the Sweet Vermouth and add chunks of ice the cocktail becomes a Ruby Martinez (see recipe here))


SAM_0877 Uncle Tom's CabinI was invited to the soft launch for Hayman’s Old Tom Gin, and when I arrived I discovered I was expected to make an original cocktail for the event. The pressure was on, and this is what I came up with.

Sunshine Days

2 oz Hayman’s Old Tom Gin
3/4 oz Fresh Lime Juice
3/4 oz Fresh Orange Juice
1/2 oz Luxardo Limencello
1/2 oz Sugar Syrup
Splash Soda
Lemon Slice

Pour the first five ingredients into a metal shaker with ice
Shake until the sides of the shaker frost
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Add a splash of Soda
Float a lemon slice on top

And things worked out nicely…

Please enjoy my cocktails Responsibly!


My Final Score is out of 100 and you may (loosely) interpret that score as follows:

0-25 A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49 Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59 You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69 Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74 Now we have a fair mixing spirit. Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79 You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84 We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89 Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94 Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+ I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and Bronze medal scale as follows:

70 – 79.5 Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5 Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95 Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+ Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)

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