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Tom Collins: Recipe, 4 Ingredients & 5 Variations

The Tom Collins is the essence of spring in a cocktail: zesty lemon, herbaceous gin, sugar, and sparkling water. It’s simple, refreshing – yet invigorating. Read on to discover why this classic cocktail remains so popular almost 150 years after its invention.

The secret to the enduring, timeless appeal of Tom Collins lies in its simplicity and harmony. The flavors meld beautifully together, with no single ingredient overpowering the mix.

This cocktail has a long, rich history, with its roots stretching back as far as the 1970s. As we delve into the history and break down how to make the perfect Tom Collins, you’ll begin to understand why this simple drink is still a favorite in the world of mixology.

Introduction to Tom Collins

Introduction to Tom Collins

The Tom Collins is one of the classics of the cocktail world – a long, refreshing, and zesty drink, which manages to blend simplicity with elegance.

It combines the delectable floral notes of a high-quality gin with tart lemon juice, sugar, and sparkling water, served in a tall glass for the ultimate thirst quencher.

What makes it such an instant classic is the triumvirate of tartness, sweetness, and fizziness. When served over ice, it’s cold, refreshing, and invigorating – the perfect drink for a spring or summer afternoon.

The Tom Collins is not just famous for its taste; it has a rich and varied history, with perhaps the most famous detail being the ‘great Tom Collins Hoax of 1874’.

As the tale goes, men would tell their friends a man named Tom Collins was disparaging them at a local bar. When the slandered man would burst into the bar, demanding to see Tom Collins, the bartender would present them with a sparkling, lemony cocktail – quickly diffusing the man’s temper.

What Tom Collins Is

What Tom Collins Is

While the Tom Collins has evolved over the years since its inception in the late 19th century, its popularity has remained unchanged.

A variant of the Gin Fizz, the Tom Collins holds its own thanks to its unique, simple sophistication – something about the drink just exudes elegance. With a vibrant history and a delicate balance of simple ingredients, there’s a reason this drink is such a timeless classic.

Brief History / Origin

Brief History / Origin

The Tom Collins cocktail is believed to have originated in the 1800s and was initially called the John Collins, after the head waiter at a bar called Limmer’s in London.

When Old Tom Gin became the favored gin for the beverage, the name evolved to Tom Collins and it was always known as such in the United States. The origins of the drink are likely from gin punches that were commonly enjoyed in London clubs in the early 19th century.

The name of the cocktail was cemented in peoples’ minds during the ‘Great Tom Collins Hoax of 1874”, which was popular in New York and Pennsylvania in particular.

The hoax was so popular that many newspapers even printed satirical articles including false sightings of Tom Collins. The event was also memorialized in a number of songs.

The Tom Collins had a resurgence in popularity during the Prohibition era in America. During this time, bootleg gin was popular, and gin-based cocktails grew in popularity.

It was also easier to produce than cocktails that included champagne, as the Tom Collins’ other ingredients were easy to source during Prohibition.

Although the Tom Collins is no longer made exclusively with Old Tom gin, the name remains. These days, you’re more likely to have a Tom Collins made with London dry gin. However, the slightly sweeter Old Tom gin is having a resurgence in popularity among craft cocktail enthusiasts.

Ingredients

Ingredients

The key to mixology is ensuring that every ingredient plays its part and contributes to a harmonious, balanced beverage. In the Tom Collins, this is particularly apparent. Nothing is superfluous, and each flavor plays a vital role in creating a uniquely refreshing flavor profile:

Gin

Gin

Gin provides the foundation of the Tom Collins. Its herbaceous, slightly floral botanical flavors add complexity to what is otherwise a very simple drink.

Depending on the brand of gin, its addition can include piney, spicy, and citrusy flavors. These add layers of flavor and create much-needed depth in this light, refreshing cocktail.

Lemon Juice

Lemon Juice

The bright, zesty tartness of lemon juice adds a counterpoint to the grassy, fruity flavors of the gin. Freshly squeezed lemon juice is a must; it’s the only way to get that zingy, vibrant flavor.

The tart acidity of the lemon cuts through the cocktail’s sweetness, adding balance and lifting the flavors.

Simple Syrup

Simple Syrup

Simple syrup may not seem like it brings much to the table, but its power lies in its simplicity. The uncomplicated sweetness softens the tang of lemon and the strong flavors of the gin. It brings everything together, creating a deliciously drinkable cocktail.

Carbonated Water/ Club Soda

Carbonated Water/ Club Soda

Carbonated water is what brings the Tom Collins alive. It goes from a simple gin punch to something special; sparkling, effervescent, and wonderfully refreshing.

The bubbles are neutral in flavor but help to evenly distribute the flavors of the other ingredients, so every sip is mixed perfectly.

Best Gin Brands for Tom Collins

Best Gin Brands for Tom Collins

The gin you choose for your Tom Collins can have a huge effect on the flavor profile of the drink. As the defining flavor in the cocktail, the choice of gin can make or break the drink.

London Dry Gin varietals are the most popular, as the clean, crisp flavor profile pairs well with the other ingredients. When choosing, make sure you consider your personal preferences.

For example, if you’re a lover of a strong botanical flavor in your cocktails, make sure you choose a gin that reflects that.

Tanqueray

Tanqueray

Tanqueray is a dry gin that strong hints of juniper and lemon. It also has a hint of spice, with notes of juniper, coriander, angelica, and licorice.

It’s robust enough to hold its own in a Tom Collins, providing assertive flavors without overpowering the other ingredients. This is the ideal choice for a traditional Tom Collins – you can’t go wrong with Tanqueray.

Bombay Sapphire

Bombay Sapphire

Bombay Sapphire is another type of London Dry Gin and is famous for its striking sapphire blue bottle and its citrusy, piney flavors.

The juniper flavor is less pronounced, while the citrus notes lead, pairing perfectly with the lemon juice in the Tom Collins. It creates a cocktail that is both harmonious and complex, with a fragrant, almost floral bouquet.

Hendrick’s

Hendrick’s

Hendrick’s gin is infused with cucumber and rose petals. This gives it a unique floral flavor that pairs perfectly with the sweet, lemony taste of a Tom Collins.

Incredibly refreshing and just a little quirky, it’s the ideal way to add a twist to your Tom Collins without straying too far from the original recipe.

Beefeater

Beefeater

Beefeater gin is known for its strong juniper flavor profile, as well as its hints of citrus and pine. The flavor is bold and clean, with a smooth mouthfeel that makes your Tom Collins feel all too easy to drink.

The clean, classic flavors go perfectly with the lemon juice and sweetness of the syrup, creating a delicious, gin-centric beverage.

Plymouth

Plymouth

For something a little more complex, we highly recommend making your Tom Collins with Plymouth gin. Plymouth gin is chock full of notes of juniper, lemon, and herb, with unique earthy tones that set it apart from other gins.

The palate is at once peppery, spicy, and floral, adding interest to the simple and refreshing cocktail.

Recipe – How to Make a Tom Collins

Recipe – How to Make a Tom Collins

You may envision yourself sipping a Tom Collins at an elegant cocktail bar. However, it’s also one of the simplest cocktails to make at home. Follow our step-by-step instructions to create a perfectly refreshing Tom Collins yourself.

First, assemble your ingredients. You will need:

  • Two ounces of your gin of choice
  • One ounce of lemon juice
  • Half an ounce of sugar syrup
  • Carbonated water
  • Ice cubes
  • Optional garnish of lemon slice and maraschino cherry.

Assemble your tools. You’ll need:

  • A Collins glass or highball glass
  • Measuring cup
  • Cocktail shaker
  • Strainer
  • Stirrer.

And here’s how you do it:

  1. Add the gin, lemon juice, and sugar syrup to your cocktail shaker. Fill with ice and shake vigorously for 20 seconds to ensure the mixture is thoroughly chilled
  2. Fill your chosen glass with ice cubes and strain the shaken mixture over the ice
  3. Top the glass up with carbonated water, stirring to ensure it’s properly combined
  4. If desired, garnish with a slice of lemon and a maraschino cherry
  5. Serve immediately while still ice-cold.

Time & Occasions for Drinking a Tom Collins

Time & Occasions for Drinking a Tom Collins

The tall, refreshing nature of a Tom Collins makes it perfect for spring and summer. It’s ideal for outdoor events, including barbecues, pool parties, and garden parties.

Thanks to its relatively low alcoholic content, it’s perfect for drinking in the afternoon as well as in the evening. Because of its citrusy, bubbly nature, the Tom Collins is also a great brunch drink.

If you’re looking for an alternative to a mimosa, the Tom Collins is the perfect choice to pair with your eggs and bacon.

We also love a Tom Collins as an aperitif, thanks to its crispy, tangy taste. It’s the perfect combination of zesty and bubbly to stimulate the appetite and pair with pre-dinner snacks. It’s even light enough to pair with dinner, as its flavor profile is not too overwhelming.

The Tom Collins is an incredibly adaptable cocktail, and its timeless appeal combined with its low-key sophistication means it’s appropriate for almost any occasion.

Perfect Pairings

Perfect Pairings

The Tom Collins is a versatile cocktail and pairs well with a range of flavors. Thanks to its mild, refreshing flavor and subtle sweetness, it pairs well with many different contrasting tastes. From seafood to spicy food, you’ll find something delicious to go with your Tom Collins:

  • Seafood: A good rule of thumb is that anything that pairs well with lemony flavors will go well with a Tom Collins. Seafood is the classic choice; we especially love to pair a Tom Collins with grilled shrimp, oysters, and even sushi
  • Grilled chicken: Lemon and chicken are also a match made in heaven. Try pairing your Tom Collins with grilled chicken skewers or crispy chicken wings
  • Mild cheeses: Although the flavor profile of a Tom Collins is too delicate to pair with strong cheeses, like blue cheese or aged cheddar, it pairs well with mild, soft cheeses. Create a platter that includes goat cheese, brie, or camembert as well as some plain crackers and cut fruit.

    Mild cheeses

  • Spicy food: Food that has a spicy kick also goes well with a tall, refreshing Tom Collins. We like to pair this cocktail with spicy shrimp or jalapeno poppers; it perfectly balances out the heat
  • Breakfast foods: We love a Tom Collins in place of a Mimosa at a long, leisurely brunch. The Tom Collins pairs perfectly with breakfast foods – particularly eggs benedict. The zesty, effervescent drink cuts through the creamy hollandaise, creating the ideal counterpoint to the rich flavors
  • Fruity desserts: Although not traditionally seen as an after-dinner drink, a Tom Collins pairs surprisingly well with fruity desserts such as berry parfait or lemon posset. The sweet, citrusy flavors pair perfectly with the fruity desserts – the ideal way to finish your meal.

Best Glass to Serve a Tom Collins

Best Glass to Serve a Tom Collins

The most traditional glass to serve a Tom Collins in is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Collins glass. Created specifically for this popular cocktail, the beauty of the Collins glass is its narrow diameter. This enables the drink to maintain its effervescence for as long as possible.

If you don’t own a Collins glass, you can try using a standard highball glass. They’re shorter and wider than a Collins glass, but it still does the trick.

That being said, if you can get your hands on a traditional Collins glass, we think it’s worth it – it allows for a longer drink and is perfect for retaining those all-important bubbles.

Variations of Tom Collins

Variations of Tom Collins

Thanks to its classic simplicity, the Tom Collins has inspired a wealth of variations. Whether these cocktails change the base spirit or add different fruits to the mix, they all add their unique twist to this perennial favorite. Once you’ve mastered a classic Tom Collins, give one of these a try:

  1. Vodka Collins: The Vodka Collins is a lighter, more neutral drink. It’s ideal for those who like clean, uncomplicated flavors in their cocktails – replacing gin with vodka lets the citrus profile shine
  2. John Collins: The John Collins uses bourbon instead of gin, adding a richer, more complex profile and a stunning amber hue to the cocktail. The caramel notes of the bourbon pair well with the zing of the lemon, while still maintaining the bubbly, refreshing nature of the drink
  3. Rum Collins: White rum is used in this variation to bring a slightly sweet, slightly fruity flavor to the drink. It makes for a milder, almost tropical taste profile, with a summery, relaxed vibe

    Rum Collins

  4. Tequila Collins: Tequila adds a smoky, earthy element to the simplicity of the standard Tom Collins. The lemon juice enhances the natural flavors of the tequila, creating a tall, refreshing drink with a Mexican twist
  5. Strawberry Collins: Strawberries and gin are a match made in heaven; they’re both British summertime classics and pair perfectly together. The original Tom Collins recipe is muddled with fresh strawberries, creating a fruity, sweet drink that is perfect for summer.

Similar Cocktails You Will Enjoy

Similar Cocktails You Will Enjoy

If you enjoy the Tom Collins, we think you’ll also enjoy these other classic cocktails. They all either share a common ingredient with the Tom Collins or at least share similar flavor profiles.

From the classic Gin Fizz to the iconic Gin and Tonic, any of these cocktails are worth trying for a Tom Collins lover:

  1. Gin Fizz: A gin fizz has all the same ingredients as a Tom Collins; the point of difference is the addition of egg whites. This creates a frothy, distinctive texture. Traditionally a Gin Fizz is also served without ice, which also sets it apart from the ice-heavy Tom Collins
  2. Bee’s Knees: The Bees Knees is a fun twist on the Tom Collins – as the name suggests, it uses honey as a sweetener instead of sugar syrup. This creates a more floral bouquet and flavor profile and pairs perfectly with the zesty lemon

    Bee’s Knees

  3. Southside: The Southside brings an additional herbaceous kick to the lemon, gin, and sugar flavors of the Tom Collins. Mint leads are muddled with the drink, creating the perfect refreshing summer beverage
  4. French 75: For a stronger cocktail, the French 75 includes champagne instead of carbonated water. This not only brings a higher alcohol content, it changes the flavor profile, creating a more complex and well-rounded beverage. The gin and champagne bring out the best in each other.
  5. Gin Tonic: This classic has a similar flavor profile as a Tom Collins, with one important addition – the bitter flavor from the tonic water. This comes from the addition of quinine in the mix, creating the perfect counterpoint the the zesty, sweet flavors of the other ingredients.
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