Two Worlds of Gin: Comparing the Distinctive Styles of Japanese and Old Tom Gin

Aside from your classic London Dry Gin, there are other varieties of gin. Of these gin types both the Japanese and Old Tom Gin have recently gained popularity.

However, are these gins similar, or are they radically different? How similar and different are Japanese and Old Tom Gin from each other?

Japanese and Old Tom Gin share some similarities. Both have few technical limitations and a light, less juniper-heavy taste. But, they differ in botanical and sweetener use and popularity. Old Tom Gin also has a darker history compared to Japanese Gin.

This article explores the similarities and differences between Old Tom Gin and Japanese Gin. It will also look into some of its characteristics, as well as its flavor.

Just want quick examples to pick up and try?
Check out Nikka Coffey Japanese Gin and Tom Bullock’s Old Tom Gin.

What Is Japanese Gin?

Japanese Gin refers to any gin distilled and made in Japan. There is no legal limitation on how to make it, but distillers still tend to use a pot and local botanicals. Japanese Gin is mellower, has a more complex flavor, and is popular with mixologists. Popular examples include Roku and Nikka Coffey Gin.

Japanese Gin refers to any gin that is distilled and made in Japan. The only criterion is the gin must be distilled and made in Japan.

This makes it different from, say, London Dry Gin. There are basic criteria that distillers must meet if they want to call their gin London Dry Gin. This may include limitations on sweeteners and ingredients to use.

Japanese Gin’s lack of limitation and regulation does come with an upside. It allows Japanese distillers to experiment with production methods.

For example, Japanese Gin uses the local spirit, Shochu, as base alcohol. This is unlike other gin, which may use common grain alcohol.

Japanese distillers also tend to use a pot still to distill gin. It is less efficient but is believed to make better-tasting gin. Japanese Gin makers also like to add local Japanese botanicals.

Some local botanicals include Sakura flowers, green tea, Yuzu peel, or Sanshu peppers. Japanese Gin distillers also prefer to use fewer juniper berries. As a result, Japanese Gin may have its own unique taste.

Japanese Gin is lighter than the juniper flavor. This allows you to taste other flavors in Japanese Gin. Japanese Gin is also popular with mixologists, who find its softer flavor easier to mix.

Popular Japanese Gin brands include Roku, Nikka Coffey Gin, and Ki No Bi.

What Is Old Tom Gin?

Old Tom Gin is a style of English gin. It has a sweet taste, which is the opposite of the London Dry Gin. Old Tom Gin has a rather dark history and has only enjoyed a resurgence within the last decade. Popular examples include Tom Bullock’s, Aviation, and Herno.

In general, Old Tom Gin can be described as the total opposite of London Dry Gin in many aspects.

London Dry or other dry gins uses little to no sweeteners when making their gin. With Old Tom Gin, however, sweeteners are liberally used. Old Tom Gin also has a less juniper-heavy flavor.

Old Tom Gin is also free from regulation, unlike London Dry Gin. This means distillers can experiment in many ways with the making process. If London Dry Gin was born as a result of regulation, Old Tom Gin could be said as the reason gin became regulated.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, gin was the alcohol of choice for the English working class. As a result, distilleries sprung up everywhere.

Since gin production was not regulated, gin distillers distill gin as they see fit. Some added sugar generously to make their gin taste sweeter than the others, hoping to sell more.

This practice gave birth to the Old Tom Gin.

How Are Japanese Gin and Old Tom Gin Similar?

Japanese Gin and Old Tom Gin are similar in that they have a lighter, less juniper-forward taste. Both also do not have many technical regulations and restrictions. They are also up-and-coming gin types and are popular with mixologists.

Japanese and Old Tom Gin may come from opposite ends of the Old World. But look deeper, and you may discover that they surprisingly share many similarities.

Light On Juniper

Take a Japanese or Old Tom Gin sip, and then a London Dry. You will be surprised how light Japanese and Old Tom Gin are on the juniper flavor. London Dry gin just ‘bombs’ you with juniper instead.

Being lighter on juniper means open spaces for additional flavors to appear. This allows Japanese and Old Tom Gin makers to explore what flavors to add.

As a result, these two gins may have more flavor varieties, which makes them fun gin types to explore.

Little To No Technical Restrictions

Japanese and Old Tom Gin do not have much regulation on how they should be made.

There are conventions, however. For example, people commonly expect Japanese gin to use local botanicals or Old Tom Gin to be sweet. But these are not set in stone.

This lack of restrictions comes with an upside. It allows Japanese and Old Tom Gin makers to experiment with their gin.

For example, Japanese Gin makers use Shochu as base alcohol instead of regular grain alcohol. Old Tom Gin makers may experiment with the number of sweeteners. Some even experimented with aging their gin in casks.

These experiments produce a wide range of tastes, flavors, and Japanese and Old Tom Gin styles. As a result, they become exciting gin varieties to sip on and try.

Up And Coming Gin Varieties

Both Japanese and Old Tom Gin also are up-and-coming gin types. They only became increasingly popular within the past decades.

Japanese gin has been in production since the 19th century. By the 20th century, commercially successful gin was mass-produced. But these gins largely remained in Japan.

In the 2000s, Japanese whisky started winning awards. As a result, people turned their attention to Japanese spirits. Japanese Gin began catching attention during this time. Eventually, brands such as Roku or Nikka Coffey Gin became crowd favorites.

Old Tom Gin was also popular until it was eventually supplanted by the London Dry Gin. People turned to the regulated London Dry Gin since they are considered safer and more classy to drink.

Old Tom Gin was practically dead in the water for a long time. People almost forgot about it until several craft distilleries started making them again in the 2000s. Its popularity grew as people sought new tastes beyond the classic dry gin.

Popular With Mixologists

Both Old Tom and Japanese Gin are wildly popular with mixologists. Two reasons made them so.

First, they are light in taste, unlike London Dry Gin, which has a strong juniper flavor. Their lighter taste allows mixologists to mix them with other lighter flavors.

As a result, you may see Japanese and Old Tom Gin used to make light, refreshing summer drinks. Some also enjoy drinking this gin, chilled or on the rocks.

Second is that they vary a lot in taste and flavor. Since Japanese and Old Tom Gin are not as regulated as London Dry Gin, they come in various flavors and colors.

Mixologists enjoy these varieties and use these gins liberally. No longer was gin the boring drink used to make Martinis and Gin and Tonics. Instead, they are now being used to create excellent cocktails that take gin to another level.

How Are Japanese And Old Tom Gin Different?

Japanese and Old Tom Gin can be different in several aspects:

  • Origin
  • History
  • Production Methods
  • Botanicals Used
  • Sweeteners
  • Taste and Flavor
  • Popular Brands

As a result, they may have their own fans and be enjoyed differently.

AspectsJapanese GinOld Tom Gin
HistoryMost add sugarHas a more dark history, sold as illicit, underground gin to bypass restrictions in the 18th century
Production MethodsTend to use a pot still Tend to use Shochu as the base alcoholNo set rules
Botanicals UsedMay use local Japanese botanicalsUses less Juniper
SweetenersNo set rulesMost adds sugar
Taste And FlavorLight, less juniper heavy More floral with a slight sweetnessSweet and smooth Less juniper heavy
Popular BrandsRoku
Nikka Coffey Gin
Ki No Bi
Tom Bullocks
Wessex Distillery


Both gins could not have originated further from each other.

You will notice this in the Old World (Europe, Asia, Africa) map. Japanese Gin comes from the far eastern end of the Old World, while the Old Tom Gin comes from the far western end.

The extreme distance may have explained some of the differences these gins have. Yet, they remained as gin and, in many cases, may be interchangeable.


Japanese Gin may be born as a result of self-sufficiency with a hint of desperation. With Old Tom Gin, it may have a darker past, associated with lawlessness and drunkenness.

The Japanese first tasted gin sometime during the Edo Period (1603 – 1867). Similar to the English, the Dutch introduced them to it.

However, the Napoleonic Wars interrupted the trade, and Japan could not get its gin. This made the locals experiment with what they had in hand, and they made their gin.

This could have explained why Japanese gin uses so many local ingredients. For example, the base alcohol is usually Shochu, and the botanicals are also local.

The Old Tom Gin may have its origin in the Gin Craze. It was a period when the English working class was practically drunk on gin. The gin producers also mass produce gins with reckless abandon during this period.

Some gin distillers added sugar to make their gin sweet and created sweet gin. It was the popular gin style until the British government regulated gin with the Gin Act of 1736 and 1751.

This regulation makes small gin shops and bars illegal. This did not kill them. However, it only pushed them underground instead.

They indirectly advertise that they have gin for sale by building a black cat statue. The English casually call black cats ‘Old Tom’ at the time.

People looking for a taste of gin will go to the statue and drop some money through the mouth. The shop owner will then pour a serving of gin and place it on the cat statue’s paw.

This practice allows the continual sales of illegal gin. However, Old Tom Gin eventually lost popularity to London Dry Gin.

Production Methods

Both Japanese and Old Tom Gin were made with different production methods. There are no set rules on how they should be made, but they may follow conventions that separate them.

For example, Japanese gin distillers tend to use pot stills, while Old Tom Gin makers are more liberal. Old Tom Gins could be distilled using column, reflux, or pot stills.

Japanese gin makers also tend to use local Shochu as the base alcohol. Old Tom Gin makers do not follow any convention here, so they use many types of grain instead.

Botanicals Used

Japanese Gins are known to use their local botanicals. These botanicals include, but are not limited to:

  • Sakura flowers
  • Yuzu peels
  • green tea
  • Gyokuro tea
  • Sanshu pepper.

Old Tom Gin makers may use more traditional botanicals than Japanese Gin. Depending on the location of the Old Tom Gin maker, they may use local botanicals too.


Generally, Old Tom Gin may use more sweeteners than Japanese Gin. This is because Old Tom Gin is a form of sweet gin.

This means sweeteners such as sugars are added to it during production. Depending on the distiller, sugars may be added during the dilution or other processes.

Japanese Gin does not have any conventions on the use of sweeteners. However, Japanese gin generally is less sweet than Old Tom Gin.

You could assume Japanese gin is dryer than Old Tom Gin, but they would not be as dry as London Dry Gin usually.

Taste and Flavor

Japanese Gin and Old Tom Gin may have different tastes and flavors. This is because they are made in different fashions.

Japanese Gin uses less juniper, local botanicals, and less sweetener. This resulted in a light-tasting gin with medium dryness. The local botanicals also introduce flavors not found in other types of gin.

Old Tom Gin uses more sweeteners, less juniper, and more traditional botanicals. This resulted in a more traditional but lighter-tasting gin. Old Tom Gin is also sweeter.

What Are The Popular Japanese and Old Tom Gins?

Popular brands of Japanese Gin include Roku, Nikka Coffey Gin, and Ki No Bi. If you are looking for Old Tom Gins, check out Tom Bullock’s, Aviation and Purity.

Suntory Roku Gin: This is probably the most iconic Japanese Gin. Roku translates to “six” in Japanese and refers to the six local botanicals used to make it. Roku has a floral, mellow tone and a green tea-derived tannic flavor.

Nikka Coffey Gin: Unlike Roku, the Nikka Coffey Gin has a refreshing citrus and apple flavor. It also has a light Sanshu pepper hint, helping to make the gin drier on the finish.

Tom Bullock’s Old Tom Gin: You may think about Bourbon and fried chicken when it comes to Kentucky, USA. However, pop open a Tom Bullock’s Old Tom Gin, and you will be surprised by how nice it is. Sweet and smooth, it has a hint of lime and floral flavor.

Aviation Old Tom Gin: If you are keen to sample some casked and aged gin, check out Aviation. Aviation Old Tom Gin is rested in barrels used to age single malt whiskies, which means it has a light golden color.

Final Thoughts

Old Tom Gin and Japanese Gin may share a few similarities, but they also have their differences. While they both have a light, less juniper-heavy taste and offer few technical limitations, they are different in their botanical and sweetener use and popularity.

Japanese Gin is known for its unique flavors, which incorporate traditional Japanese botanicals, while Old Tom Gin has a darker history and is often associated with the gin craze of the 18th century.

Both types of gin offer their own unique characteristics and flavor profiles, making them worth exploring for any gin enthusiast.

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