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Cocktail Recipes: The Vesper (variation)

So after reading the Chronicle's much better summation (see the link in the post below) of up and coming aperitifs, I was motivated to try the Vesper #2 that Heaven's Dog has added to their cocktail menu - without actually driving up to Heaven's Dog.  I already had a bottle of the Cocchi and some brandy at home, but I needed a bottle of the Ransom Old Tom gin - something we carry, but that I had never actually tasted.  It's made in Oregon and is barrel aged with just a touch of sweetness - more so than the Heyman's which I had just run out of.  Upon tasting the Ransom I was very impressed.  It was more what I had originally expected Old Tom gin to taste like.

If you're wondering what Old Tom gin is exactly, it's a style not a brand.  London Dry gin is called dry to distinguish it from slightly sweet gins.  Old Tom gins are always a bit sweet as they were the original ingredient in the Tom Collins.  From Wikipedia: The name purportedly came from wooden plaques shaped like a black cat (an "Old Tom") mounted on the outside wall of some pubs above a public walkway in the 1700s England. After a pedestrian deposited a penny in the cat's mouth, they would place their lips around a small tube between the cat's paws. From the tube would come a shot of Gin, poured there by the bartender inside the pub. They mix better than dry gins with sweeter cocktails like the Martinez or the Negroni.  The Vesper, however, sees no addition of sweet vermouth, so it's interesting that HD decided to go down that route.  I see the merit in this cocktail however and after getting a tip on what the basic formula should be I was ready to get down to business.

I tried to follow the classic cocktail mentality that your drink should always be at least 50% of its base - so:

1 oz. gin - .5 oz Cocchi - .5 oz. brandy - this tasted OK, but the Cognac overpowered.

I decided to beef it up a bit on the Cocchi and rather than decrease the brandy, I added more gin - that's the sweet spot!

What a fantastic cocktail.  You get all the herbacious qualities of the gin, the bitter notes from the Cocchi, and the brandy just helps to smooth it out a bit.  This is what James Bond wished he would have ordered in Casino Royal, rather than some bizzare vodka/gin/kina Lillet martini. 

-David Driscoll

Reader Comments (3)

I think a better way to look at it:

Old-Tom was one of the many nick names given to gins made in England. Initially, English Gins were modeled after Genever, probably based on pot still spirits. Well, if you were lucky. If you were unlucky, they were badly distilled spirits cold compounded with exciting things like turpentine and pine resin. As time passed, and the column still became more prevalent, drier gins also became more popular. People started calling the newer style London Dry to differentiate them from the Old Tom and Plymouth styles. Old Tom became the sole remaining name for English Gins made in the older style.

But remember, that Old Tom was a sliding scale, from early genever-ish gins like the ransom, to the later nearly dry style of the Hayman's.

The name Old Tom does not necessarily connote particular sweetness. Eric Seed has done some testing and found that many modern gins seem to contain more sweetener than his Hayman's product.

However, there was also a sub-style of Old-Tom Gin called "Cordial Old-Tom", which was more heavily sweetened. You will find notes in books like Boothby saying, "If you are using Cordial Old Tom, no additional sweetener should be added".

As a side note, recent research indicates that 19th Century Plymouth Gin was also much closer to being on a Whiskey base, than the modern London Dry Style of that Gin.

David Wondrich's recent article in Saveur is a good source.

June 15, 2010 | Unregistered Commentererik_ellestad

I went back over this post like 3 times for fear that you would read it and find it too basic! Thanks for the extra info

June 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDavid D

David, what was the final recipe you decided upon? And in the interim have you learned what Heaven's Dog's recipe for the Vesper No. 2 is?

February 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSteve W.

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