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Matthew Krimmel

Tom Collins Recipe: 6 Facets & Facts About the Recipe

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You don't always need sophisticated fruit infusions and an orange bitters recipe to create a tasty cocktail. The Tom Collins is the perfect example of how easily sourced ingredients can be combined to produce a classic and popular cocktail.

The Tom Collins has appeared in the best cocktail recipe books and remains popular through the present day. It combines gin (see: what is gin made from) with a few sweet ingredients to produce one of the most refreshing summer cocktails and gin cocktails, too. It’s a member of the Collins family of drinks whose primary differences are the base liquor. 

It's perfect for hot afternoons by the pool or warm evenings in the garden. But making an outstanding Tom Collins can also provide customer satisfaction and boost bar profitability if you're running a bar. It can also boost your sales on National Cocktail Day.

It’s useful to learn as much about the drink before whipping one up so you don’t have to rely on your bartender cheat sheet. Read on to learn how to make a Tom Collins and to discover the cocktail's history and evolution.

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What Is a Tom Collins?

The Tom Collins consists of gin, lemon juice, sugar, and carbonated water. A bartender serves it in a Collins glass over ice. Many supermarkets and grocery stores sell Tom Collins mixes so you can enjoy it on its own or accompanied by gin. If you're a teetotaler, it gives you an option for drinking a tasty beverage with your friends at home.

There's some debate as to the cocktail's origin. Jerry Thomas, the father of American mixology, first wrote about the drink in 1876. It was the first mention of the Tom Collins in any cocktail books up until then.

A recipe appeared in print in Harry Johnson's New and Improved Bartender's Manual or How to Mix Drinks of the Present Style in 1882. It included a Tom Collins recipe calling for Old Tom Gin.

However, several mentions of this version of the drink had already occurred. According to cocktail expert David Wondrich, the recipe resembled gin punches served at several London clubs in the early 19th century. 

Some cocktail experts claim that the drink came into existence in the form of a John Collins cocktail. But the mixed drink distinguished itself in 1874 when residents in the northeastern United States used the name Tom Collins as part of a hoax.

The Great Tom Collins Hoax of 1874

In 1874, residents of New York, Pennsylvania, and several other states would begin a conversation by asking someone: "Have you seen Tom Collins?" After the listener stated that they didn't know him, the speaker would mention that Tom Collins had been spreading gossip about the listener.

The speaker would add that Tom Collins was in a local bar or another nearby location. Residents would perpetrate this hoax to cause the listener to become irritated and rush off in search of Tom Collins.

Newspapers began going along with the joke by printing false sightings of Tom Collins. Eventually, the hoax died down, but the name has lived on in connection with the timeless cocktail. It has been one of the key drinks for boosting bar profitability since then.

Tom Collins Recipe

A Tom Collins is a warm weather cocktail that's also perfect for any day of the year. It tastes like spiked lemonade and provides everything you need to cool down on a hot summer afternoon. 

All you need is a bottle of Old Tom Gin, one of your favorite soda water brands, sugar syrup, and lemon juice. You’ll also want to use one of the best Maraschino cherries you can buy or try out your homemade Maraschino cherry recipe. Here's how to make a Tom Collins:

Tom Collins Ingredients

  • 1.5 oz. (3 parts) Old Tom Gin
  • 2 oz. (4 parts) soda water
  • 1 oz. (2 parts) freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 0.5 oz. (1 part) sugar syrup

Tom Collins Directions

  • Mix the gin, lemon juice, and sugar syrup into a tall glass (preferably a Collins glass) with ice.
  • Top up with soda water.
  • Garnish with a lemon slice and a Maraschino cherry and serve.

John Collins Drink

A cocktail known as a John Collins has existed since at least the 1860s. Many believe it originated with a member of the wait staff at Limmer's Old House in London named John Collins.

Limmer’s Old House was a popular London hotel bar and restaurant from 1790 until 1817. Cocktail experts are unsure whether John Collins invented it, but he had the presence of mind to name it after himself.

A John Collins Gin recipe appeared in O.H. Byron's 1884 book The Modern Bartender's Guide. Byron's recipe called for gin without specifying which type of gin. It also included lemon juice, sugar, and soda.

The book also has a recipe for a Tom Collins Brandy that requires brandy, lemon juice, gum syrup, and Maraschino liqueur. It's built over the ice in the glass and topped off with soda water.

Moreover, the book contains a recipe for a Tom Collins Gin and Whiskey. The instructions read: "Concocted in the same manner as a Brandy receipt, substituting their respective liquors." It’s unique in that it recommends combining gin and whiskey for a Tom Collins.

Frequently Asked Questions About Tom Collins

What Glass Do You Use for Tom Collins?

A Collins glass is a glass tumbler that typically holds 10 to 14 oz. It’s ideal for serving mixed drinks, including a Tom Collins or John Collins. It’s cylindrical in shape and narrower and taller than a highball glass. 

What Is the Difference Between a Tom Collins and a John Collins?

The modern definition of a John Collins is a Tom Collins made with whiskey instead of gin. The Tom Collins uses Old Tom Gin, a gin brand with a sweeter flavor. The John Collins is the predecessor of the Tom Collins, as both drinks are similar in ingredients but use different types of alcohol.

Is a Gin Fizz a Tom Collins?

People sometimes confuse the Gin Fizz and Tom Collins cocktails because their ingredients are the same. However, there are a few subtle differences that make each drink unique. A Gin Fizz is well-shaken to make it foamy, while a Tom Collins gets a stir to provide minimal bubbles.

Who Is Tom Collins, and Why Is the Cocktail Named After Him?

The Tom Collins cocktail is not named after a real person named Tom Collins. Instead, it is believed to have originated from a hoax in the 19th century where people would tell others about a fictional man named Tom Collins spreading false rumors. The popularity of the prank inspired the naming of the cocktail.

Is a Tom Collins a Shaken or Stirred Cocktail?

The Tom Collins is typically a shaken cocktail. The gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup are shaken with ice to chill the mixture. Then, it is strained into a glass filled with ice before topping it with carbonated water.

Can I Make a Tom Collins With Other Spirits Besides Gin?

The traditional Tom Collins is made with gin, but variations exist using other spirits like vodka (Vodka Collins) or bourbon. Each version will have a slightly different flavor profile.

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Spend an Evening with Tom Collins

You don't need a bartending license or a mixology certification to serve a delicious Tom Collins. Stock your bar with the essentials and master the techniques on how to make a Tom Collins. 

Whether you’re opening a bar, have an interest in mixology, or are a professional bartender, serving the perfect drink is important for an optimal cocktail experience. A relaxing evening with Tom Collins could be the perfect plan for the weekend.

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