Much less malty than genever and extra full-bodied than London dry, Previous Tom gin bridges the hole between its Sixteenth-century Dutch predecessor and the modern standard-bearer, each stylistically and chronologically. And although it’d all however disappeared by the mid-Twentieth century, its early-aughts revival was met with enthusiasm from bartenders for good motive: Not solely does this barely candy model higher our understanding of traditional gin cocktails, it’s additionally helped heal the picture problem of one of many backbar’s most divisive spirits.
Although it could finally turn out to be its personal distinct model, Previous Tom started its story as an unsavory offshoot of the extensively fashionable genever. By the early 18th century, tighter authorities regulation—put in place to curb alcohol consumption throughout London’s Gin Craze—had pushed distillers underground. With real genever briefly provide, gin distributors resorted to slicing their product with turpentine, usually masking its taste with naturally candy botanicals like licorice root, which resulted in a distinctly sweeter bootlegged product.
The period noticed numerous steep licensing charges imposed on gin sellers, too, spurring a secretive workaround from which many counsel Previous Tom takes its title. The observe, which supposedly started in 1736, was the brainchild of an Irish immigrant, Captain Dudley Bradstreet, who put in a painted signal above the window of his store depicting a black cat—colloquially, a “Tom.” His thought, which was extensively copied at related institutions round London, was that in-the-know gin seekers would insert cost by way of the window and name “Puss,” at which level, if spirit was out there, the vendor would possibly reply “Mew,” and dole out a serving of gin.
By the tip of the century, the title had caught, as had the sweeter model. (A turpentine-free model was first correctly bottled and bought below the title Previous Tom in 1800.) It wasn’t till a lot later within the century that the London dry model would turn out to be mainstream, aided initially by the 1830 creation of the Coffey nonetheless, which allowed distillers to provide spirits at the next purity and with a lighter physique.
Many years later, in 1897, The New York Herald famous drinkers’ altering tastes in an article describing the drinks record on the Waldorf-Astoria lodge: Although the Manhattan and the Martini (made with Italian vermouth and Previous Tom gin) had been the most well-liked of the lot, the article emphasised a brand new, drier drink, consisting of equal components French vermouth and Plymouth gin. “The current demand is for the dry,” wrote the creator. Prohibition dealt Previous Tom its ultimate blow: Not solely was there little incentive to bootleg the model, there was even much less to resurrect it by the point Repeal rolled round.
Previous Tom wouldn’t formally be revived till 2007, when Hayman Distillers introduced again a household recipe courting from 1870. However since then, it’s made a fast leap to the backbar, with bartenders wanting to recreate the flavors of historic, pre-Prohibition-era cocktails that featured the spirit—notably, the Martinez, Tom Collins and Alaska. Nevertheless, although it’s mostly present in spirit-forward, stirred drinks, it might probably work nicely on the base of lighter drinks like a julep, as in David Boelte’s summery Honeysuckle Julep.
“Previous Tom is an exquisite factor,” says Danny Shapiro, head bartender at Chicago’s Scofflaw, the place company are inspired to benefit from the housemade Previous Tom straight, out of a spent oyster shell. “I get pleasure from its versatility—it performs so nicely with so many issues.” In Shapiro’s Brockton Navy, Previous Tom acts as a counter to bittersweet Amargo-Vallet liqueur, which will get a citrusy kick from lemon and a contact of sweetness from orgeat.
Utilized in mixture with different gins, Previous Tom can add depth to drink bases. In Brian Miller’s Double Barrel Winchester, Previous Tom is a part of a four-gin mix, for instance, whereas Al Sotack calls for 2 completely different Previous Tom gins—one and a half ounces of Hayman’s, plus a half-ounce of Ransom—in his tackle the Bronx. “The Ransom is such a bizarre, particular factor,” says Sotack, and it really works finest as an accent spirit.
At The Gin Joint in Charleston, South Carolina, beverage director James Bolt deploys the Previous Tom in his Baboso to stability the bitter notes of two gentian-based aperitifs—Suze and Bonal—whereas rye, Cynar and Carpano Antica add a fall-friendly veneer to this full-bodied, stirred drink, garnished with a charred habanero. The fashionable drink is a far cry from the classics Previous Tom is understood for, and that’s by design. Bolt argues that the model is a uniquely approachable spirit: “Previous Tom is a good gin to get non-gin drinkers to start out having fun with gin,” he says.