Sipping Old Tom history
Tasting Ransom Old Tom gin is like sipping history. That’s because Old Tom gin had largely disappeared from the U.S. market by the 1940s, so there wasn’t much to go by when Oregon distiller and winemaker Tad Seestedt decided to make one. “I didn’t even know what Old Tom was,” Seestedt told me in October. So he relied on historian, author and cocktail guru David Wondrich, who scoured technical journals, old books and the like to determine how such a spirit would have been made back in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century.
It was a time of great transition—most distillers were still using pot stills and sweetening their gin to cover up its wretched nature. But the column still came into use in the early 1800s, and quality began to improve. Soon, unsweetened London Dry gin supplanted Old Tom. Seestedt combined the best of both distilling methods, perfected his recipe and launched Ransom about two years ago.
The first thing you notice about Ransom Old Tom gin is that it doesn’t look like gin. It’s a light, orangy brown, thanks to the four to five months it spends in used wine barrels. Then there’s the nose—distinctively gin but uniquely Ransom, with juniper, citrus and earthy coriander notes blending with oaky vanilla ones. Seestedt starts with a base wort of malted barley; that’s combined with high proof corn spirits infused with juniper, orange and lemon peel, angelica root, coriander and cardamom. It all goes through an alambic pot still for a final distillation.
The result is a well-balanced gin, rounded out with a touch of malty sweetness, and a full, almost buttery mouthfeel. It finishes warm and long, lingering in a whiskey-like way. Matt Tady, a bartender at The Farmhouse, likes it enough to sip solo on ice, and the Westport Cafe & Bar serves a revelatory martinez. At home, I’ve been mixing it with Q Tonic and garnishing it with orange peel for what’s become my favorite G&T. I don’t know if that’s quite historical, but it’s certainly tasty.