How To Make A Tom Collins Cocktail

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While it doesn’t have the notoriety of a gin & tonic, old fashioned, or margarita, the Tom Collins is just as classic as some of the more well-known cocktails. Like many other well-known mixed drinks, this simple, refreshing cocktail of gin, lemon juice, sugar, and sparkling water can trace its genesis to the 1800s.

In fact, even though you won’t find it on every menu in America like some of the others listed above, many believe the first reference to the drink was by renowned bartender Jerry Thomas way back in 1876. The drink also made an appearance in 1882 in cocktail writer Harry Johnson’s book “New and Improved Bartender’s Manual: Or How to Mix Drinks of the Present Style.”

Most often served in a Collins glass (or a pint glass if you don’t have specialized glassware on your home bar), this drink is much more than simply Greg Focker’s father-in-law’s favorite cocktail in the hit comedy ‘Meet the Parents’.

The fact that this iconic, historic drinking isn’t more popular than it is the absolutely confounding thing about it. The rise of cocktail culture in the last decade has led to over-the-top, ingredient-filled mixed drinks featuring tinctures, tonics, shrubs, and all manner of infused ingredients and botanicals. Simply put, many of your favorite drinks you order at your local speakeasy or cocktail dive bar are highly unlikely to be mimicked at home. The Tom Collins is a different story altogether.

One of the easiest, most refreshing, zesty cocktails that are perfect for literally any season, the Tom Collins is simple to make and doesn’t even require the use of shakers or any other elaborate bar tools. All you need is gin, lemon juice (fresh is best, but nobody will fault you for grabbing pre-packed juice), sugar or simple syrup, and soda water, club soda, or your favorite carbonated water. If you’ve never tried it, this drink is most easily described as a boozy, effervescent lemonade. What could be better?

The Standard Tom Collins Recipe

We’ve already explained how simple the classic Tom Collins recipe is. But now is the time to actually see just how easy it is. This four-ingredient cocktail consists of two ounces of your favorite gin (typically London dry gin), one ounce of lemon juice (freshly squeezed is the best option if you want the freshest flavor), a half ounce of simple syrup, and top it all off with club soda (or seltzer, sparkling water, or whatever carbonated water you enjoy). You can add more flavor by including a lemon wedge or wheel garnish. Simple, elegant, sweet, tart, perfect.

Tom Collins Recipe:

  • 2 Ounces Gin
  • 1 Ounce Lemon Juice
  • 1/2 Ounce Simple Syrup
  • Top with Soda Water
Best Gins For A Tom Collins

Pick the Right Gin

If you’re not a gin drinker, you might assume that all gin tastes the same. These folks only see the use of juniper and assume every gin tastes like this piney, floral berry and nothing else. It’s assumed that this dominating flavor is the only flavor and that’s just wrong. Depending on the gin you choose, your Tom Collins will be slightly different.

London Dry Gin with its juniper-forward, dry flavor profile is the go-to, but you can use other gins as well. If you want to amp up the flavor, you can pick a cucumber and rose-filled gin like Hendrick’s. You can really change the flavor profile by using a flavored gin like Tanqueray Sevilla Orange.  

Lemons For A Tom Collins

Fresh Ingredients Are Key

While we mentioned that pre-made lemon juice or even those little bottles of lemon-shaped juice can work in a pinch, the overall flavor will be impacted. Like with any cocktail featuring citrus or other fruit, the freshest ingredients will give you the best overall flavor experience. Grab some lemons and squeeze them yourself. Use that juice for your Tom Collins. You’ll be really happy you did. In fact, make one with fresh squeezed and pre-packaged side by side. We guarantee you’ll taste a difference. On top of that, use one of the lemons as a wedge or wheel garnish.

John Collins Cocktail

What is a John Collins?

You might not realize it, but Tom Collins isn’t the only mixed drink featuring that surname. In the 1800s, the John Collins was a wildly popular mixed drink that was named for a waiter at Limmer’s Old House in Mayfair, London. Ostensibly, this drink was exactly the same as the Tom Collins, but with genever (a malt-based, neutral grain, botanical-infused spirit similar to gin) as the base instead of gin.

Jerry Thomas' Bartenders Guide: How To Mix Drinks 1862

A Muddled History

Like with pretty much all classic cocktails, the Tom Collins has a (literally) muddled history. As we mentioned, the first known mention of the drink was in Jerry Thomas’ book “The Bartender’s Guide” in 1876. Originally made with gun syrup, the sugary simple syrup we use today replaced it in 1891. There are other references to the drink in different books with slightly different ingredients (including some that predate 1876) and it’s not known who actually invented the drink, it’s popular opinion that Thomas was the first to officially put the Tom Collins into print.

Who Was Tom Collins?

While there’s no historical evidence that there was an actual person named Tom Collins that had this drink named after them, some believe the name came from a very unfunny (at least by today’s standards) joke from the late 1800s. The gist is that someone would go up to someone else and ask if they know a man named Tom Collins. When they said no, the first person intimated that this non-existent Tom Collins was saying rude things about them. They storm off and hilarity (supposedly) ensues. Eventually, a bartender or bar owner decided to name a cocktail Tom Collins so that if anyone ran into the bar looking for the aforementioned Tom Collins, they’d be given a stiff drink instead. Whether or not any of this is true isn’t really known. It’s a fun story though, right?

A Drink For All Seasons

There’s no denying the appeal of gin-based cocktails during the summer months. It’s tough to beat a well-made, effervescent, tart gin & tonic or citrus-driven, lemonade-like Tom Collins on a steamy summer day. But to say that drinks like the Tom Collins are only appropriate during the summer months is absolutely false. In fact, we’d even go so far as to say that the fall (and into the winter) might actually be the best time for this drink. What better way to take your mind away from the damp, cold, dreary days of fall than a crisp, refreshing, tart Tom Collins? That sounds pretty good to us. 

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