One of the most classic and celebrated of gin cocktails, the Tom Collins may be a thing of beautiful simplicity…but its history is far from straightforward.
For lovers of simple, iconic gin cocktails, the Tom Collins is one of the first to master. For starters, this is a drink with history: ‘Professor’ Jerry Thomas, one of the most influential bartenders of all time, first included it as a recipe in his book, The Bar-Tender’s Guide, published in 1876. And while the Tom Collins is perfect for those after a long and refreshing tipple, it has one clear distinction from its kindred serve, the Gin Rickey: this classic cocktail is a wee bit sweet.
There are two competing schools of thought when it comes to the origins of the Tom Collins – one on each side of the Atlantic. For us Brits, the story goes that the Tom Collins originated in London’s Limmer’s Hotel in the mid-19th century. Supposedly, the hotel’s head waiter at the time, John Collins, was behind the creation (it’s thought that the addition of “Tom” to the cocktail’s name is a nod to the Old Tom-style gin that was used in this early rendition of the serve). As Dave Broom writes in Gin: The Manual: “Like most of these proto-cocktails, [the Tom Collins] would have started life as an eye-opener and a hangover cure.”
For lovers of simple, iconic gin cocktails, the Tom Collins is one of the first to master.
But then there’s the decidedly more colourful American narrative, which hails from New York – to the Great Tom Collins Hoax of 1874, more precisely. The hoax, which was breathlessly reported in newspapers before the joke was revealed, centred on the character of one Tom Collins. A victim would be told that this Tom Collins had just slandered his name in a bar around the corner; by the time the victim arrived and asked for Tom Collins, he would have just left and moved onto the next bar. And so the victim would be sent from bar to bar, seeking a Tom Collins who never managed to materialise. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t take very long for a cocktail called the Tom Collins to be created.
These days, the Great Tom Collins Hoax is but a distant (if amusing) memory, and the Tom Collins itself has long been enshrined in the pantheon of classic cocktails. This warm-weather serve was made for garden parties, so now’s the time of year to begin practicing your technique. And feel free to experiment: some tipplers swap the lemon juice for lime; some add a dash of maraschino, and still others swap their spirit base for rum, tequila, or whiskey. For our part, we would, of course, advise sticking with the gin.
The Tom Collins was first included in The Bar-Tender’s Guide, published in 1876
The Tom Collins
Adapted from Punch
20ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
20ml simple syrup
To a cocktail shaker, add the first three ingredients, followed by lots ice. Shake until chilled. Strain into a Collins glass filled with very cold ice and top up with fizzy water. Garnish with a flag – that is, a slice of lemon wrapped around a Luxardo cherry.