In part one we explored London Dry, Plymouth, and Navy Strength gins. Highlighting their history and great examples to try. To complete our potted overview of gin styles we’re looking at sloe gin and Old Tom.
The sloe gin liqueur traces its origins back to the history of land enclosures in the early 17th Century. Common land was procured, under state supervision, by large landowners who needed a barrier to divide the land between farmsteads. Blackthorn hedgerows were the favourite choice, and every October – November the Blackthorn bushes gave forth sloe berries.
Wondering what to do with these berries, enterprising folk collected them, and soaked them in jars with sugar and gin (sugar is essential to release the sloe juice). The first wave of sloe gin was instantly popular, and overconsumption was a key part of London’s infamous gin craze. It’s decline had much to do with the backlash against gin debauchery and it’s only in recent times the drink has been rediscovered as rich, rewarding, liqueur.
Sloe gins to try
Sloe gin can be enjoyed anytime, but it is especially suited to colder times with its warming nature and rich taste.
- Sipsmith Sloe Gin is a handmade sloe gin with a ‘jammy’, marzipan character.
- Gordon’s Sloe Gin is one of the most popular sloe gins around.
Gin evolved from the older dutch drink, ‘genever’; a sweeter drink that used sugars to mask flavour impairments. Early gins (dating to before the invention of the Coffey Still) used the same technique to hide unusual (and potentially deadly) ingredients like turpentine, and back in the 18th Century ‘Old Tom’ was one of the best-regarded sweeter gin styles.
As distilling improved, the sweet style fell out of fashion, but not before Old Tom sweet gins had become the base alcohol for cocktails like Gin Rickey and Martinez. The cocktail renaissance over the last 10 years has pushed Old Tom back into popularity.
But why is it called ‘Old Tom’? Several myths surround the name, with the most realistic (but potentially least interesting) being that Hodge’s distillery in London had a head distiller and apprentice both called Tom (Thomas Chamberlain and Thomas Norris). Chamberlain, being the senior, was known as ‘Old Tom’ and it was his monicker stamped on the barrels that made their way to gin palaces.
Old Tom gins to try
Sweet and full-bodied define an Old Tom style gin.
- Hayman’s Old Tom Gin is at the forefront of the modern Old Tom style, based on an old recipe found in the distiller’s vaults.
The gin explosion over recent years has widely increased the variety available and hopefully our quick gin style overview has given you inspiration to try something different.