Old Tom Gin is an old name in the world of gin. It reached the pinnacle of its popularity in the late 1800s in England as a sweeter style of gin than today’s popular London dry. The only one left of its kind, Old Tom is making its way back onto cocktail menus, and onto the taste buds of a new generation of gin drinkers.
But what’s with the name? Who was Old Tom?
It may be more accurate to ask WHAT was Old Tom, actually.
Old Tom takes its name from plaques shaped like a black tom cat that were mounted on the outside of pub walls in 18th century England. Thirsty patrons would drop a penny into a slot in the mouth of the cat. The bartender would then poor a shot of gin down a tube held between the tom’s paws to the customer’s waiting mouth.
This “gin vending” practice is both terrifying and laughable, and it is not surprising that it eventually fell out of style. But in 18th century England, when the combination of cheap gin and unfettered production of alcohol encouraged extreme drinking habits, the Old Tom dispensers were probably as common as a soda machine is today.