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World’s Best Gin Launches In Waitrose: Hernö Old Tom Gin

September 1, 2021 by Joel Davidge

The UK’s recent obsession with gin has been well documented, with 2021 sales reaching record highs compared to recent years.

But did you know that the last time the UK had a gin craze, the government tried to ban the spirit?

It’s a crazy story of illegal distilleries and how one of the world’s first vending machines was created as a secret method of serving gin.

And seeing as Hernö Old Tom Gin, inspired in part by this story and named the world’s best gin, has just launched in Waitrose, there’s no better time to dig into the history of the UK’s gin craze.


What is the history of Old Tom Gin?

Old Tom Gin is sweeter than the well-known London Dry gin.

The story goes that back in 18th century England you could buy this illegal beverage by using a black wooden cat places outside pubs.

Yes, you heard that correct – illegal.

Like the rise of gin in recent year, gin had become all the rage in England in the 1700s.

It was a time of unrest between Britain and France and gin provided a popular replacement for French Brandy.

The UK government of the time put forward laws restricting the importing of brandy and encouraging the production of local gin.

However, a few years down the line local lawmakers were blaming gin for a rise in “vice and debauchery”.

The British government then tried five different times to control the sale of gin by various laws. Talk about overkill.

The Gin Act 1736 put a heavy tax of 20 shillings per each gallon of spirit sold. Distillers also had to buy a £50 licence, which would set you back at least £8000 in today’s money.

Gin goes underground

The heavy gin taxes were put in place to stop gin distillers by making it an unprofitable business.

This approach worked in that, allegedly only two licences to distil gin were ever taken out.

What had the government not bargained for?

Well, for many gin distillers, the answer was to simply go underground and start trading illegally.

Hence the rise in black wooden cats named “Old Tom” sitting outside of pubs.

According to the legend, when a penny was placed in the cat’s mouth, the gin was served through a tube hidden in one of the paws.

The original vending machine: a replica Old Tom can be viewed on the Beefeater Distillery Tour. Source: TripAdvisor

Illegal distillers had read through the wording of the Gin Act, and worked out that the law did not allow police the authority to enter a building or pub.

Using the wooden Old Tom was a clever workaround, and in a few years there were thousands of gin distillers using this method and other crafty tricks to evade the law.

Though the original Puss and Mew pub no longer exists, a replica can be viewed at the Beefeater Distillery Tour.

Thankfully it’s now easier (and legal!) to enjoy amazing gins, and the current government doesn’t seem to be planning any similar methods to control the levels of gin in the UK!


Tell me about Hernö Old Tom Gin?

Hernö launched in 2011, when founder Jon Hillgren took his experience from working bars in London combined with a passion for the finest botanical ingredients.

Located in a UNESCO world heritage centre, the Hernö distillery is built in a traditional Swedish manor in wood painted in red and white.

Hernö is now available in 25 countries worldwide and between 2012-17, Hernö was the most awarded gin in Europe.

But don’t just take our word on it.

With Jon Hillgren inducted into the Gin Hall of Fame in 2019, and British Airways’ in-flight magazine ‘Highlife’ describing Hernö as the best distillery in the world to taste gin, you know it’s worth a try.

Hernö Old Tom Gin

Hernö Old Tom Gin

We love the story of Old Tom, and any drinks which evoke the spirit of the era of British underground gins.

So we were thrilled to hear that the gin which has dominated major drinks awards since it was first released 7 years ago, is now available for the growing number of discerning gin aficionados across the UK.

Hernö’s Old Tom is made from the same distilled gin as their Hernö Gin and Hernö Navy Strength Gin.

The only difference is the addition of extra Meadowsweet in the distillation, and after diluting it down to 43%, a touch of honey is added.

Described by the brand as “a great gin for a high-class G&T, a Tom Collins or Southside”, the Hernö Old Tom Gin is also incredibly versatile and fantastic in all manner of sour, spritz, gimlet or highball.

What does Hernö Old Tom Gin taste like?

Hernö Old Tom Gin is full-bodied with on the nose with a woody spice followed by bright, juicy, juniper and floral notes.

It has a super-smooth texture with a light sweetness and botanical notes. Imagine an array of juniper, green and crispy, followed by notes of pine flowers. Simply delicious.

You’re left with a floral sweetness combined with woody spice and long-lasting juniper.

Where can I buy it?

Rolling out in 36 stores across the UK and online through Waitrose Cellar, Hernö Old Tom Gin was first released by the Swedish craft distillery in 2014 and since then has clocked up an astounding 26 major international awards.

In recent times, this has included the ‘Best in Show’ Gin Taste Master title at last year’s Gin Masters 2020 and the International Wine & Spirit award for World’s Best Gin & Tonic in the same year.

Jon Hillgren, Hernö Founder, said:

“Following time living in London and then launching Hernö, it was always a dream to one day be on the shelves in Waitrose. We’re all ecstatic at the launch and can’t wait to introduce Old Tom to their discerning customers.”

You can find out more about Hernö by following them @hernogin 


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