The Tom Collins is a classic example of a purist cocktail that fell from grace after grocery stores began stocking their shelves several decades ago with the mass produced, heartburn-inducing sour mix. It’s been written about since 1876—Jerry Thomas, widely considered the father of mixology wrote The Bar-Tender’s Guide in 1862. The original recipe was made with gin, lemon juice, sugar and soda water. Remember to mix the gin, lemon juice and sugar (or simple syrup) first, before adding soda water.
2 Ounces Dry Gin
Juice of 1 lemon
1 to 2 teaspoons superfine sugar, or simple syrup*
*An authentic Tom Collins should not be too sweet, but if you really need to watch your sugar intake try making it with Truvia – an all-natural, zero calorie sweetener (made from stevia) that is used in brands such as Vitaminwater Zero, Odwalla and Hanson’s Natural Low-Cal Juice.
Pour the gin, sugar and lemon juice into an empty Collins glass and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add ice and finish with an ample amount of soda water—approximately half a glass. Garnish with an orange or lemon slice. Remember to add plenty of soda water. Too little soda water will result in an acidic, sweet, gin-laden drink, which may make you angry and result in heartburn and a hangover the next morning.
A slightly different version of the drink, using Old Tom Gin gained popularity around the turn of the century and the recipe still lives on today among those in the know. Our resident cocktail expert, AJ Rathbun weighs in on another style of the age old classic.
Tom Collins #1:
A combination that’s rolled pretty steady in the last century and a quarter (plus another 10 or 15 years), except for one monumental change: for a long while, we were lacking at our drinking-holding fingertips Old Tom gin, a sweetened gin which was the pre-eminent ingredient here, and which lead to the name, Tom Collins. Luckily, in the recent past, a few traditional Old Tom style gins have been released (such as the delicious Hayman’s Old Tom gin). So, today, you have two options (and will see two options when out, depending on the reach of your local). First, you can make it in classic style with an Old Tom gin. Second, you can use a little sweetner (sugar or simple syrup) to make up the difference when using a regular dry gin. Once there were many Collins’ drinks available (including the John Collins, exactly the same as the TC but made using the drier Holland Gin—this might be equated today with a gin such as Bols Genever or any gin saying it’s Jenever), and currently others don’t make the muster roll at most establishments. The formula is a fine one though, so try it at least with other liquors as well as gin: whiskey and brandy add their own nice touches.
With a drink that’s lasted as long as the Tom Collins, it’s bound to have shaded into various societies, too. Originally much heavier and more sugary (as were many drinks at the time), it played well in the top hot spots allowing ladies and gentlemen both, and had a hip cache amongst those in the booze know. Before long, as other potent potions came around, and as tastes and styles changed, the Tom Collins shifted its popularity to a more conservative constituency, as it began to be poured more in the middle part of last century by and for those who favored tightly trimmed hair and neatly pressed trousers. Today, it’s had a renaissance of sorts with the young professional type looking to unwind and recharge after a long day at the cubicle.
Whoever is drinking it, two things have to be remembered. First, our palate has changed, shifting to a love of drier drinks (and with the lack of Old Tom gins). With that firmly in mind, be careful when sliding in the simple syrup. There’s no need to cause tooth decay while drinking a classic. Secondly, the bubbles here need to be of the energetic variety. Never make a Tom Collins with old club soda, or you’ll fall as flat in the eyes of those consuming the drink as the soda itself. If available, use a soda siphon–if not, buy the club soda as close to constructing the drink as possible, and chill it beforehand. As Jerry Thomas said in 1862 about the Collins, “imbibe while it is lively.”
Tom Collins #1
2-1/2 ounces Old Tom gin
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
Chilled club soda
Lemon slice for garnish
1. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway full with ice cubes. Add the gin and lemon juice. Shake well.
2. Fill a Collins glass three-quarters full with ice cubes. Strain the mix over the ice. Top off with chilled club soda. Garnish with a lemon slice.
A.J. Rathbun is the author of Good Spirits: Recipes, Revelations, Refreshments, and Romance, Shaken and Served with a Twist (Harvard Common Press, 2007) and other books. All of his books, including the soon-to-be-released Champagne Cocktails and In Their Cups are available at www.amazon.com/ajrathbun