In today's craft distilling industry, more and more distilleries are experimenting with both the concept of barrel-ageing gin, and also of returning to a sweetened and softened Old Tom style. Here’s where these concepts came in the history of gin distilling.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, all spirits were stored in barrels.
But gin, Britain's most popular spirit, was never stored for long. Gin was barrelled, but not aged. Gin was sweetened, but only to make this badly distilled “bootleg” gin palatable. It was served like this to rabble-rousers of the 1800s as Old Tom, the forbidden nectar of prohibition times.
This very particular spirit got its name from the practice of dispensing the gin through a pipe disguised in the mouth of an Old Tom cat wooden plaque on the wall. Clear gin (masquerading as water in these times of gin prohibition) came pouring from the cat’s mouth. So this might have been the world’s first drink dispensing machine, which is awesome.
And as primitive as it sounds today, this not-very-barrel-aged, slightly soft, slightly sweet style of gin rode a wave of popularity until the start of the 1900s when London Dry styles really took off. Poor Old Tom was no longer the cat's pyjamas in the gin game – London Dry then took and held that honour for more than a century.
But recently craft gin distilleries have been experimenting with ageing gin in barrels, to make a softer, sweeter gin. Four Pillars Gin started ageing one of our first batches of Rare Dry Gin in old Chardonnay Barrels at the end of 2013, and now have three barrel-aged gins and a barrel-aged cocktail.
The range of gins we've produced between our Chardonnay Barrel Gin (aged in... Chardonnay barrels), Sherry Cask Gin (Sherry and Apera casks) and Australian Christmas Gin (aged in muscat barrels) is astounding, and a testament to our place in one of the greatest wine producing regions in the world.