Who is Tom Collins, and how did he get a cocktail named after him? More importantly, how do we make this delicious cocktail? Let’s get into it.
Oddly enough, the history of this drink goes back to a man named John Collins: not Tom. John was head waiter at a place called Limmer’s Old House back in the 1860s, and he’s credited for inventing the basis for this drink using Old Tom gin (hence the name change from “John” to “Tom”).
However, that’s not the end of the story.
Collins is a pretty common name, and back in the 1870s, much of the USA was involved in a little practical joke they thought was simply hilarious. People were running around telling others that someone named Tom (you guessed it) Collins was talking smack about them behind their backs.
Journalists in particular actually had a minor competition going to see who could wind up their friends the for the longest, convincing them to believe in this mysterious new personal enemy: Collins.
The cocktail came to prominence at the same time as the practical joke, so it’s hard to believe they weren’t related. Most likely, the practical joke highlighted the name and gave the drink a special prominence in people’s thinking.
How to Make It
- 2 oz gin
- 1 oz lemon juice
- .5oz simple syrup
- Top with club soda
- Lemon and cherry garnish
- Shake the gin and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker, then pour over ice into a glass.
- Top with soda water and garnish.
A Note on Old Tom Gin
You should know that the original Old Tom isn’t available anymore. Old Tom fell in the middle of the gin flavors: not as botanical as most modern gins, but not as malty as the Jenever. Unfortunately for Collins fans, Prohibition killed off America’s taste for this gin, and it was replaced by London Dry.
Today, you can find variations of it from a number of distilleries. Perhaps the most popular are those from Hayman Distillers and Ransom.
Ransom’s is a bit maltier, but less sweet and with fewer botanicals. Hayman’s is clear, sweeter, and has a very juniper nose.
The traditional Collins isn’t as sweet as the one we drink today, and that’s because of another twist in the story from 1882.
The John Collins
In that year, another bartender named Harry Johnson made two Collins drinks. They were essentially the same, using either Old Tom gin or a new and popular Dutch gin called Jenever.
If you used Jenever, it was a John Collins. If you used Old Tom, it was a Tom. However, if you ordered a John Collins, you were likely to get some sugar syrup to sweeten it, which made it a lot more like what we drink today.
Some takes on the John Collins today actually use bourbon instead of gin, making an entirely different drink.
Other Collins Cocktails
Because the Tom Collins is such a simple cocktail – gin, lemon juice. club soda – it’s easy to change it up.
You could try a Vodka Collins, which replaces the gin for vodka.
The Ron Collins uses a spiced rum instead of gin, and also includes Angostura bitters and demerara syrup.
The Michael Collins opts for Irish whiskey instead of gin.
What is a Tom Collins made of?
The classic Tom Collins cocktail is made of gin, lemon juice, and club soda. You can also add simple syrup to sweeten it if you want.
What is the difference between a Tom Collins and a gin and tonic?
Both the Tom Collins and the gin and tonic are gin-based cocktails, but the Tom Collins is made with lemon juice and club soda, where the gin and tonic uses tonic water and often features a squeeze of lime, not lemon.
A gin and tonic is most often served with a lime wedge, but you can also enjoy a gin and tonic with lemon.