The History of Old Tom

Old Tom has had a big influence on our Gin Festival this year. We’ve fallen in love with the slightly dark but brilliant tale behind Old Tom the black cat, and the part he played in the gin industry in 18th Century England.

So what’s the story of Old Tom?

During the 18th century, gin was all the craze – it was THE drink of the time. So much so, that the British government tried to stop the rampant sale of gin by heavily taxing it.  Of course, this didn’t stop the gin-thirsty Brits of the time and so, rather than the gin industry becoming extinct, it simply moved underground away from the prying eyes of the law.

This is how the name Old Tom Gin was born.  In order to let punters know where they could get their hands on some gin, black wooden cats (Old Tom) were mounted on the outside walls of the establishments still selling their beloved gin. Under the paw of the cat was a money slot that people would use to shoot their cash down in a lead tube and in return, would come back as a shot of gin poured by the bartender.  


Old Tom Gin was a hugely popular gin recipe in the 18th century but became more and more rare during modern times until the more recent resurgence in the ‘Craft Cocktail’ movement. With a slightly sweeter taste than London Dry but still a little drier than the Dutch Jenever, it is sometimes referred to as ‘the missing link’ between the two.

We love the story behind Old Tom and we love Old Tom gins even more. This festival we are pleased to showcase both Hayman’s Old Tom and Bathtub’s Old Tom – two exquisite examples of the style. Visit our gin library to find out how best to pair each of them with the perfect tonic and garnish this Gin Festival. 

Make sure you watch out for Old Tom himself making an appearance during the Gin Festival this year. Who knows, he may even be giving away the secrets of a Secret Gin Party or two that we may be throwing this summer! The only way to keep in the know, is to download the app and wait to see what secrets Old Tom reveals...