Gin has been around for centuries. Chances are you're familiar with the London Dry style simply because it's everywhere. The funny thing is Old Tom style gin is closer to genever, gin's ancestor. It is a little maltier, less botanical, and a little sweeter than the gins you know. Old Tom is not sweet in a sugary oh dear God I'm going to have a diabetic coma way. It's more like a mix of dry gin and whiskey. Old Tom is a great gateway gin for people who think they hate gin (I used to be one of those people).
So who is Old Tom? That's sort of a trick question, because it implies the answer is a human. During gin's heyday in 18th century England Old Tom was a slang expression for a black cat. Both Mooch, our former cat who inspired my first original creation, and Satchmo, our current cat who's featured in the Orange Satchmo and the Hurricane, were and are sort of Old Toms (they're tuxedo cats). Back in the day pubs would have a picture of a black cat to indicate they served the stuff. Fast forward to the 19th century. Even though the first celebrity bartenders used Old Tom style gin in their concoctions, the London Dry style became more popular on both sides of the Atlantic. Between that and the advent of Prohibition in the United States, Old Tom pretty much became extinct. It wasn't until roughly 2006 when Old Tom's resurrection began.
You've read this far and you're wondering ..... why should you care? I can think of two reasons. First, Old Tom Gin is a key component of historic and delicious cocktails such as the Martinez. Second, it can help you create great variations on other gin, or even whiskey, based cocktails. Old Tom style gin can be tough to find because it's not common. With a little effort you can find brands such as Hayman's or Ransom (I recommend both; the latter is aged) in stores and/or online.
Even though curiosity might have killed the cat, it won't kill curious cocktail people like us. Time to gin up (pun intended; it's an older expression meaning to get moving, possibly in a bad way), get some Old Tom style gin, and have fun.