Last week I had the pleasure of meeting up with Christian Jensen, a Danish IT specialist who has without doubt the coolest “hobby” I’ve ever heard of – his own gin company. Christian fell in love with old-fashioned London dry gins at a bar he frequented whilst working in Japan. The bar in question had a wide stock of old gins dating from as far back as the early twentieth-century, and after trying these he found modern gins lacking.
On his return to the UK, armed with the remains of a bottle gifted to him by the bar in Japan, he contacted a London distiller with the aim of creating a similar gin. After much research in to which botanicals to use, numerous test batches and a long search for what would give the gin the silky texture that was desired, Jensen’s Bermondsey gin was created. The result is a delicious gin that features a strong juniper lead, intense fresh botanicals and a wonderfully smooth texture. It’s fast become my favourite gin for a Gin and Tonic, and it makes for a mean Ramos Gin Fizz too.
Not content with recreating classic-style London dry gin, Christian then set his sights on Old Tom gin. After unearthing a few old recipes from the early history of Old Tom it became clear sugar wasn’t initially used to sweeten the gin. It’s not something I had ever considered before, but it makes perfect sense when you think about it: In the late seventeenth century when gin production in Britain began to take off sugar was incredibly expensive and distillers certainly wouldn’t have wasted it in their Old Tom, even if they could have afforded to buy any.
The recipes revealed that the harsh properties of the gin were instead being masked by using extra amounts of certain botanicals, either added during a second distillation or simply in large amounts during the first, which added sweeter and more powerful flavours thereby masking the impurities inherently present in the simply distilled early gin. It’s likely that as sugar prices came down during the late nineteenth century these botanicals were slowly replaced by sugar as it became more economical, and simpler, to do so, creating the sweeter and sweeter Old Toms that are better known today.
Jensen’s Old Tom Gin
Jensen’s Old Tom is based on a recipe from the 1840s, and is made without any use of sugar. A strong set of botanicals produce a very aromatic, almost earthy tone that finishes with a powerful hit of juniper. It’s a very different beast to any of the other Old Toms with only a very mild sweetness that is much less than even the Secret Treasures gin, though at the same time it definitely doesn’t have the dry qualities of a normal London gin. It also lacks the floral or fruit notes that were so notable in some of the other Old Toms I’ve tasted recently, except for perhaps a mild floral suggestion toward the finish.
Unlike Jensen’s Bermondsey gin, which is so smooth it could happily be drunk straight if you felt so inclined, Jensen’s Old Tom is a little rough and warm neat, and is definitely best served in a mixed drink. I haven’t had chance to try this in many cocktails yet, but in a Martinez works really nicely with a vermouth like Antica Formula creating a deep, dry and aromatic drink that is so different to a Martinez made with Both’s Old Tom you’d think they were different drinks. I’m looking forward to trying it in other cocktails too, though given how different it is to any other gin I can recall tasting I’m not really sure where to even start.
As I’ve said before whilst old recipes are intriguing from a historical point of view it is ultimately what the spirits taste like that really matters. Pleasingly with Jensen’s Old Tom it manages to be both academically interesting and also bring something new to the gin world. It’s not a gin you would use every day, but it’s also a gin I can see working really nicely when put to good use.
Jensen’s Bermondsey gin and Jensen’s Old Tom gin are available from The Whisky Exchange and Bedales on Bedale Street. They are also stocked at The Hide Bar in Bermondsey, where they make a fine Martinez with the Old Tom. Christian is hoping to expand Jensen’s Gin in the future, so watch this space.
Note: In the interests of full disclosure, the Jensen’s Old Tom gin reviewed here was supplied to me by Christian Jensen. The Jensen’s Bermondsey gin was purchased with my own money.
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