Stopping by my local Piccadilly on the way home from the library last week (that’s right, I like to balance my educational experiences with a little bit of debauchery), I was delighted to find out that they had started to carry not only the new (old) formulation of Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth, but also Hayman’s Old Tom Gin, an old-style sweetened gin that I had been meaning and failing to try for several months. Of course, I bought both without regard to my budget (the gin, in fact, has played an essential role in making me feel better about that decision) and started playing around with the cocktail possibilities, and, a week later, I’m pleased to report that we have some winners.
I found the Noilly Prat Dry extremely pleasing, and may, in fact, substitute it for the Vya Dry I’ve been using for the sake of economy, but it’s really the Old Tom that I want to talk about here. Old Tom is an older style of lightly sweetened gin that was probably dominant (along with the dutch genever) before the unsweetened London Dry (and Plymouth) style of gin became popular. For years it has been unavailable, but Hayman’s recently began production again, and several other, smaller companies are also producing Old Toms. The Hayman’s Old Tom reminded me of a very mildly (but noticeably) sweetened Plymouth gin, with a strong citrus note. Quite smooth straight, it also made, to my mind, a fantastic 50/50 Martini with the new Noilly (according to CocktailDB, this would be a 50/50 Dorothy’s Delight – a charming name, although I also added a dash or orange bitters), but I prefer my martinis perfect, rather than dry, so your mileage may vary. It also made a wonderful Tom Collins (guess where that name came from), without the need for added sugar.
The cocktail, though, that won over the entire household is the Emerson Cocktail, and a variation thereon using Dubonnet for the sweet vermouth. I can’t figure out the provenance of this drink. I assume it’s something to do with Ralph Waldo, but, having only read an excerpt of Self-Reliance for 11th grade English class, I can’t even tell you if the man was a drinker. None of the cocktail books I have mention the drink (while I certainly don’t have an extensive collection, you’d think that the Savoy would mention it, since it is a vermouth drink), so I am at a loss. But I do recommend it highly.
The Emerson Cocktail (and slight variation)
- 1 1/2 oz Old Tom Gin (I used Hayman’s)
- 3/4 oz sweet vermouth (Martini and Rossi) OR Dubonnet Rouge
- 1/2 oz lime juice
- 1/4 oz Maraschino liqueur
Shake all ingredient well with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and serve with a lemon twist.
Both of these were received enthusiastically by myself, girlfriend, and roommate. The Dubonnet version, as you might expect, is lighter and at the same time more bracing, while the vermouth version, for lack of a better term, is more welcoming. Both of them bring to mind what I wished an Aviation tasted like – for me, an Aviation falls into that dangerous too-much-Maraschino zone. The vermouth (or Dubonnet) helps, as in the Red Hook.
At it’s lower-than-Plymouth price-point (at least in Illinois), it looks like Hayman’s Old Tom has earned itself a place on my shelf. Here’s to an exciting resurrection of a long-dead classic.