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The Tom Collins has endured over a century as one of the best gin-based cocktails.

History of the Tom Collins

When and where the Tom Collins was invented are varied and, frankly, really confusing. Perhaps the most amusing origin attributes the cocktail to a stupid prank that went viral in 1874 New York. Evidently, some clever trickster would ask a friend “Have you seen Tom Collins?” then proceed to say “Tom” was in a nearby bar talking trash, perhaps calling the friend a cockalorum or ninnyhammer or whatever the hell people used as insults back then. Now irate, the friend would rush to the bar asking for Tom Collins who, of course, didn’t exist. Consequently, bartenders created a drink called the Tom Collins to serve when other similarly duped ninnyhammers barged in demanding “Tom Collins.”

Tom Collins Tasting Notes

The Tom Collins is crisp refreshing, and slightly sweet with fragrant botanicals and bright citrus acidity.

Tom Collins Ingredients
Ingredients
  • 1½ ounce gin: Typically a London dry gin is standard, like Bombay Sapphire or Beefeater. If you’re working on your cocktail nerd merit badge, use Old Tom style gin.  Old Tom style gin was the original gin used for the popular Tom Collins. It is a sweeter, less-botanical version of most gins found on the market today.
  • ¾ ounce simple syrup:  Mix equal parts sugar and water, making a sweet syrup. In short, simple syrup. Get it?
  • ¾ ounce lemon juice: Fresh citrus is our jam! Pro tip: when choosing lemons or limes, heavier fruits with thinner skins that give a little when squeezed will yield more juice.
  • Club soda
  • Lemon wheel: As a garnish.
Steps
  1. Fill a mixing glass with ice.
  2. Pour 1½ ounce gin.
  3. Pour ¾ ounce simple syrup.
  4. Pour ¾ ounce lemon juice.
  5. Shake for 10 to 15 seconds.
  6. Strain into a Collins or highball glass filled with ice.
  7. Garnish with the lemon wheel.

Variations

The Tom Collins is actually one of many cocktails in the Collins family, defined as cocktails containing lemon juice, sweetener, soda water, and (usually) gin. That’s right—cocktails have families too.

  • The term John Collins is used for two cocktails
    • Using bourbon instead of gin (also known as a Whiskey Collins)
    • Using London dry gin instead of Old Tom gin. With the ever-increasing popularity of craft cocktails, this historical distinction is growing more relevant.
  • A Whiskey Collins is a Tom Collins. Some sources also refer to this as a John Collins, though this name is also given when using London dry gin. Confusing, right?
  • A Vodka Collins is made with vodka instead of gin.
  • Replace gin with tequila and simple syrup with agave nectar for a Juan Collins.
  • Using flavored syrups, for example, syrups infused with lavender or mint, can add fun flavor twists.

Substitutions

  • Some insist the traditional Tom Collins must use Old Tom style gin (see above). However, for the most part London dry gin can be used without kicking up too much fuss.
  • Alternative sweeteners such as agave nectar may be used instead of simple syrup
  • If squeezing lemons is impractical for your purposes, consider using high-quality mixes from Cocktail Artist.

When to Serve

The versatile Tom Collins is appropriate for pretty much any occasion.

  • Hosting parties: The Tom Collins is appropriate for both casual and formal parties. Large batches (minus the soda) may be prepared ahead of time so you’re not stuck behind the bar all night.
  • Warm weather/outdoor activities: Whether golfing, boating, grilling, or just sitting on the porch.

What to Serve with a Tom Collins

  • Medium bodied seafoods like shrimp, calamari, and grilled or fried fish
  • Salty snacks, like charcuterie, antipasti, and cheese
  • Fruits, especially acidic fruit like citrus, though this dry cocktail can help bring out the flavor of sweeter fruits as well.

Don’t be a ninnyhammer. Always drink responsibly!

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