Old Tom Gin

The resurgence of interest in classic gin cocktails, and to meet the demands of bartenders, distillers are turning back the clock and bringing back Old Tom gin, once the only gin available.

What is Old Tom gin?

‘Old Tom’ is a generic term for sweetened gin, but at the beginning of the 19th Century all gin was sweet and referred to in this way. This was the era when gin was sold in, and served from, barrels and before the continuous still was patented in 1831. Poorly rectified (purified) base spirit meant that some unappealing flavours had to be masked by sweetening agents like liquorice or sweet fennel, and later sugar when it became a cheaper commodity.

Why is it called Old Tom?

There are so many stories about this one! One tale involves a cat falling into a barrel of gin, later immortalised in Boord’s Cat and Barrel trademark. Although the owner, Joseph Boord claimed that the Old Tom was the name of a distiller.


Another story involves a bootlegger named Captain Dudley Bradstreet, who, during the mid-1700s when the first clamp down on gin sales occurred, advertised gin using a sign of a cat in his window. Under the cat’s paw was a slot for money and a funnel from which the customer received their gin once they had paid. His idea began to be copied and soon ‘Old Tom’ became the street name for gin.

Old -tom-Cat-Gin-Dispenser
Old Tom gin dispenser

There is no definitive answer, but by the time branded bottles emerged, Old Tom Gins usually had an illustration of a cat, so the story of Captain Bradstreet seems the most likely.

How does it taste?

Firstly, It’s a very different proposition to London Dry! Secondly, distillers like to create their own interpretations of gins and Old Toms are no different. Some are aged, some are sweetened with sugar while others use botanicals to achieve the desired sweetness.

How do I drink it?

Many of the classic cocktails call for Old Tom gin to be used in their recipes. Try a Tom Collins or a predecessor of the martini, the Martinez. Some of the aged versions are delicious over ice. We tried the Tanqueray with tonic which was very subtle and the Ransom in a Negroni which gave an earthy depth to the drink. As with all things gin, experiment!

Tom Collins

6 Old Tom gins to try

A ‘litter’ of Old Tom Gins (clockwise from left: Ransom, Kangaroo Island, Tanqueray, Jensen’s, Hayman’s)
Tanqueray Old Tom gin

An original recipe book from the 1830’s was Master Distiller Tom Nichol’s inspiration for his Tanqueray Old Tom. Juniper, angelica root, coriander, and liquorice are distilled and then blended with some unaged wheat spirit (to mimic the base alcohol of the time) and some beet sugar for sweetness.

A good balance of juniper with liquorice and peppery notes. Very textural, almost chewy. Subtle sweetness

ABV 47.3%

Available from Master of Malt*

Ransom Old Tom gin

Possibly the most historically accurate Old Tom Gin of the lot, which is unsurprising given that it was produced in collaboration with historian, author, and mixologist extraordinaire David Wondrich. Ransom Old Tom has a base of malted barley (which gives a slight malty taste) mixed with a corn spirit that has been infused with juniper berries, orange peel, lemon peel, coriander seed, cardamom pods, and angelica root. After this blend has been distilled it is then aged in 100% used French oak wine barrels for six to twelve months.

Malt on the nose, citrus and juniper on the palate with liquorice and oak rounding out the flavour. Really tasty.

ABV: 44%

Kangaroo Island Spirits Old Tom gin

The only Australian Old Tom aged gin (as far as I know).  Made from a combination of their gins with a small amount of  locally grown Lemon and Aniseed myrtles added. The gin is then slightly sweetened before aging in a small reconditioned french oak barrel.

Hints of KIS Wild Gin in this one. Earthy with bold Australian flavours, a subtle sweetness and spicy finish.

ABV: 41.3 %

Available from KISpirits

Jensen’s Old Tom gin

This Old Tom recipe is taken from a handwritten distiller’s notebook dating from the 1840s,  spirit but and recreates a style of gin that was first shipped to America. It is an unsweetened Old Tom gin that relies on the use of classic gin botanicals to achieve the sweeter flavour profile.

Earth and root notes are easily discernible in combination with juniper. Very subtle sweetness and delicate mouthfeel. Beautifully done.

ABV 43%

Greenhook Ginsmiths Old Tom gin (not pictured)

Overproof AND barrel-aged for one year in bourbon casks before being finished in Oloroso Sherry casks, this Old Tom gin packs a punch! Bold and fruity with hints of plum and lots of heat and spice.

ABV: 50.05%

Hayman’s Old Tom Gin

Hayman’s use a family recipe from 1870 to create their Old Tom gin, which interestingly is made with twice as much juniper they use to create their London Dry.

Juniper notes on the nose, carried through to the palate with a little citrus, plenty of sweetness. Delicate mouthfeel. On the sweeter end of the Old Tom scale.

ABV: 40%

*please note I am an affiliate of Master of Malt. If you purchase through them, you won’t be charged any extra, but I will receive a percentage of the sale.

Gin and herbs, a match made in heaven

Whether it’s fresh basil sprinkled over a simple plate of tomatoes or a sprig of mint in the pan with some new potatoes, fresh herbs elevate the most basic of dishes to new flavoursome heights. It’s the same with drinks!

Fresh herbs work well with most spirits, but I think they work even better with gin, probably because plants and herbs (botanicals) are at the heart of how gin derives its flavour. Some herbs even contain the same organic compounds found in juniper berries.

I’m not very green-fingered but have managed to grow all of the above in pots and in the garden. Adding them fresh to drink is best, but you could also add them to ice cubes or make up a herb-infused sugar syrup to use in cocktails.


Julips, mojitos and Southsides wouldn’t exist without mint. The warm, aromatic, sweet flavour that comes from fresh mint leaves offers a wonderful lift to a drink. A couple of Australian gins, Archie Rose and Botanic Australis have used a native variety as a botanical.

Mind Your Peas & Qs by Rich Woods, Duck and Waffle, London

Mint goes well with strawberries as a G&T garnish or try it in a classic Southside, a simple blend of gin, lemon juice and mint, so refreshing!



Rosmarinus officinalis, to be fancy, is also a member of the mint family and has a bitter, astringent flavour. I’ve droned on for years about my love of rosemary paired with gin – it’s even a key botanical in one of my favourite gins, Gin Mare, which is unsurprisingly when you learn that α-Pinene, one of the organic compounds found in juniper berries, imparts a rosemary flavour.

Rosemary Salty Dog cocktail

Aside from being a fabulous garnish for a G&T it makes a delicious Rosemary Salty Dog, a blend of grapefruit, rosemary and salt. Check out Bad Frankie in Melbourne for a superb Rosemary Gimlet 


The aroma of Basil is such a favourite of mine, conjuring up holidays in the Mediterranean and I adore how it brightens a simple tomato and mozzarella salad. I was surprised to learn it too is a member of the mint family. I’m not sure whether the delicate leaves would stand up to making a sugar syrup, I would suggest maybe infusing the water first before removing the leaves then adding the sugar.

The Gin and Basil Smash is a winner at GQHQ, and so pretty, it must be good for you!

Gin and Basil Smash

You could also try it with Poor Tom’s gin and strawberries!

Strawberry Basil Gin Smash




Savoury and peppery, sage works in a number of gin cocktails. You could try it with cranberries here, but I opted for this beautiful understated Lady Sage cocktail, a delicious twist on a White Lady.



Lemon Verbena


As you’d expect lemon verbena adds a lemon flavour to food and drinks. You can also make a tea with it, but I liked it in this Peach and Verbena smash from Ryan Chetiyawardana’s book. I’m going to experiment with lemon verbena as a garnish in a G&T and maybe as a substitute for a twist of lemon in a martini.


Tarragon imparts a slight anise flavour that might not suit all palates, but I think most people would enjoy this Tarragon & Gin Lemonade. It adds just the right amount of savoury to a traditionally sweet drink.





This floral and sweet member of the mint family definitely adds colour to a G&T but works really well in this Bees Knees recipe. I sometimes serve it as an alternative martini garnish too.

Bees Knees Cocktail


Gin and Tonic with Lemon and Thyme garnish

Thyme’s subtle flavour minty flavour goes brilliantly with lemon in cooking so naturally that was where I started when experimenting. However, I stumbled across this recipe for a Thyme Gin cocktail and loved  the delicious flavour of thyme honey water.

Thyme Gin Cocktail

Do you have a favourite herb you like to use with your gin? Let me know.




My favourite new Australian gins of 2015

The Australian distilling industry has been growing rapidly since I launched The Gin Queen two years ago, and this year we’ve seen a bumper crop of new gins and distilleries. Rumour has it there are around 50 more potential distillers (not all gin) currently applying for their licences, so there will be more!

It’s been a challenge to keep up with all the new brands, but I’ve done my best! What characteristics do my favourites share? A good balance of flavours, excellent mouth-feel and length (how long the flavour lasts) and they mix well in drinks. Everything a good gin should be!

So, in no particular order…

Here are my favourite new Australian Gins of 2015


Archie Rose Signature Dry Gin, Sydney

Archie Rose Master distiller, Joe Dinsmoor is one to watch. At only 23 he’s turning heads in the spirit industry, not least with his first gin, Archie Rose Signature Dry. The blend of traditional and native ingredients, the triple distillation method and six-times filtered water results in a truly excellent gin. You can read more here.


Strawberry Basil Gin Smash

Poor Toms, Sydney

Poor Toms Gin is a lighter, floral style of Australian gin. Distillers Griff and Jesse, have used strawberry gum leaf, freshly pressed granny smith apples and chamomile to create a fresh, crisp gin with a subtle sweetness. Read more here.



Poltergeist Gin, Tasmania

Taught by Bill Lark, Master Distiller, Damian Mackey has been distiller for a little under 10 years. He recently joined forces with Shene Estate (the site of a new distillery) and launched not one, but two gins, Poltergeist ‘Unfiltered’ and Poltergeist ‘True Spirit’. While I was sceptical about the need to launch two varieties (especially with the same ingredients and ABV), having spoken to Damian I can understand why. These two gins have distinct personalities and appeal to different gin-drinkers. Read more here.



Distillery Botanica, New South Wales

Philip Moore, of Distillery Botanica is one of the most experienced distillers in Australia and is the man behind Mr Black’s Coffee Liqueur. Distillery Botanica gin is made using a technique that perfumers use “enfleurage” to fully capture the fragrances of its floral ingredients. The result is a delicate floral gin while retaining those delicious juniper notes we gin-lovers enjoy. Read more here.



78 Degrees, South Australia

A 100% vapour infused gin (like Bombay Sapphire), 78 Degrees has taken some pretty intense botanicals (clove, star anise and peppercorn for example), but master distiller Sacha LaForgia, has skilfully created a gin with that carries the bold flavours well, without overpowering. Read more here.


Loch Gin, Victoria

You have to admire Craig’s dedication and patience grinding all the botanicals by hand in a pestle and mortar before distillation.The result is a superb quality gin in a London Dry style. On top of that the distillery is a cracker! You can read more here.

So, there we have it my favourite new Australian gins of 2015. What have been your stand out Australian gins for 2015? Agree, disagree? Let me know!


*note I have not been paid to feature these gins, I just love them!




12 Gin and Tonic Garnishes You Must Try

It’s a question I’m often asked at my gin tasting events. “What’s the best garnish for a gin and tonic?”

After reeling off my favourite garnishes for a good 5 minutes, I realised that I needed to put together a post on this, so here are 12 Gin and Tonic garnishes you must try. The gins I’ve suggested are just some options, there are no hard and fast rules. Simply look at the botanicals used in making a particular gin and choose a garnish that you think will complement or enhance those ingredients.


Gin and Tonic with Pink Grapefruit garnish

Try with: Melbourne Gin Company Dry Gin, No.3 London Dry Gin, Tanqueray No. 10

Gin and Tonic with Rose and Cucumber

Try with: Hendrick’s Gin

Gin and Tonic with Orange garnish

Try with: Opihr Spiced Gin, Four Pillars Rare Dry Gin, Xoriguer Mahon Gin, Whitley Neill, Fords Gin

Gin and Tonic with Mint and Strawberry

Try with: Beefeater 24, Starward Mint and Strawberry Gin, Aviation Gin

Gin and Tonic with Lavender and Lemon garnish

Try with: Bulldog Gin, G’vine Floraison, Botanic Australis

Gin and Tonic with Lemon and Thyme garnish

Try with: Adnam’s First Rate Copper House gin, Ferdinand’s Saar Gin, Great Southern Dry Gin, The Botanist

Gin and Tonic with Jalapeño and Lime garnish

Try with : Opihr Spiced GinMcHenry & Sons Navy Strength, Stone Pine Gin

Gin and Tonic with Apple and Juniper Berry

Try with: Elephant Gin, William Chase Elegant Gin, 78 Degrees

Gin and Tonic with Strawberry and Basil garnish
Gin and Tonic with Strawberry and Basil

Try with: Martin Miller’s Gin, Gin Mare

Gin and Tonic with Lime and Ginger

Try with: Tanqueray Rangpur, McHenry & Sons Navy Strength, Opihr Spice Gin, G’vine Floraison Gin

Gin and Tonic with fresh Rosemary and Black Pepper

Try with: Gin Mare, Melbourne Gin Company, KIS Wild Gin

Gin and Tonic with Capsicum and Basil garnish

Try with: The West Winds Cutlass

I’d love to hear about your favourite garnishes!