Tom Collins

Difford's Guide
Discerning Drinkers (102 ratings)

Serve in a

Collins glass

Garnish:

Skewered orange slice wheel & Luxardo Maraschino cherry (sail)

How to make:

SHAKE first 3 ingredients with ice and strain into ice-filled glass. TOP with soda and briefly stir.

2 fl oz Hayman's Old Tom Gin
5/6 fl oz Lemon juice (freshly squeezed)
1/2 fl oz Sugar syrup 'rich' (2 sugar to 1 water, 65.0°Brix)
1 2/3 fl oz Thomas Henry Soda Water
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Review:

A medium-dry Gin Collins based on old tom gin. There is much confusion between Tom Collins and John Collins; arguably, the two names are interchangeable [see history below]. However, I follow the convention that a Tom Collins is based on old tom gin while a John Collins is made with London dry gin (although a John Collins was originally made with genever. Today, that's a Dutch or Genever Collins).

Variant:

In his 1948 The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks David A. Embury says, "Originally there were two brothers only in the Collins family - Tom and John. During recent years, however, numerous cousins have appeared on the scene - Pedro, Pierre, Sandy, Mike, Jack, the Colonel and several others whose first names have not yet been officially recorded in the baptismal registry."
Captain Collins - with Canadian whisky
Colonel Collins - with bourbon whiskey
Dutch Collins or Genever Collins (aka Phil Collins) - with genever/jenever/Hollands
Jack Collins - with calvados
Jock Collins or Sandy Collins - with Scotch whisky
Joe Collins or Vodka Collins - with vodka
John Collins - with London dry gin
Jose Collins or Pepito Collins - with tequila
Mike Collins or Ronan Collins - with Irish whiskey
Pedro Collins - with light white rum
Pierre Collins - with cognac/brandy
Pisco Collins - with pisco
Rum Collins - with aged rum
Tom Collins - with old tom gin
Whiskey Collins - with bourbon/rye whiskey

History:

In his 1948 The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, David A. Embury says "The original Collinses were always made with gin but, strangely enough, never with London dry gin - the very liquor that is practically always used in making a Collins today. The Tom Collins was made with Old Tom gin and the John Collins with Holland gin [jenever]." He goes on to explain the confusion/difference between a Tom and John Collins:

The adoption of London dry gin as a Collins base gave rise to two schools of nomenclature. With one school, it was simply substituted for Old Tom gin in the Tom Collins. The other school, however, preferred to retain the Tom Collins name for the original drink made with Old Tom gin and, since Holland gin was practically never used any more in a Collins, they transferred the John Collins name to the Collins made with London dry gin. This accounts for the confusion that exists in present-day books of recipes. In some, the Tom recipe calls for Old Tom gin and the John recipe for dry gin; in others, the Tom recipe calls for dry gin and the John recipe for Holland gin. Actually, of course, Old Tom gin is merely a sweetened London gin. Consequently, we can make our Tom Collins with either Old Tom or London dry gin, but, if Old Tom gin is used, the quantity of sugar may need to be reduced by about half.

David A. Embury, The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, 1948

The creation of the Collins is credited to John Collins, who worked at Limmer's Hotel, Conduit Street, London. The 'coffee house' of Limmer's Hotel was a true dive bar, popular with sporting types during the 19th century and famous, according to the 1860s memoirs of Captain Gronow (a Victorian writer of four observational tomes) for its Gin Punch as early as 1814.

It would appear that the Collins morphed from the Gin Punch, a popular drink of the day. Whether or not John (or possibly Jim) Collins, head waiter of Limmer's was responsible for first creating/naming the Tom Collins will never be known, but he is immortalised in a limerick written by Frank and Charles Sheridan about John Collins:

My name is John Collins, headwaiter at Limmer's,
Corner of Conduit Street, Hanover Square,
My chief occupation is filling brimmers
For all the young gentlemen frequenters there.
Mr. Frank always drinks my gin punch when he smokes.

Charles and Frank Sheridan, 1892

It could be that the special gin-punch for which John Collins of Limmer's was famous went on to become known as the Tom Collins when it was made using Old Tom gin.

An alternative story attributes the drink's creation to a Mr Collins, who started work at a New York tavern called the Whitehouse in 1873 and made thirst-quenching gin drinks. Another story identifies a different Tom Collins, who worked as a bartender in New Jersey and New York City. There are also versions attributing its creation to San Francisco and Australia, and it is not impossible that the drink evolved in two or more places independently.

Others say that the Tom Collins originated in New York and takes its name from the Great Tom Collins Hoax, which took the city by storm in 1874. This practical joke involved telling a friend that a man named Tom Collins had been insulting them and that he could be found in a bar some distance away. It has been said and written on the likes of Wikipedia that "A recipe for it [John Collins] appears in the Steward and Barkeeper's Manual of 1869," so proving the 'Hoax' to be exactly that. However, having searched the said 1689 manual, I can't find any mention of a Collins. Perhaps this claim is also a hoax?

Although there is little hard evidence, it appears that the Collins was an adaptation of the long-popular Gin Punch, and John Collins could have well created this at Limmer's. The original Collins was probably based on genever, then old tom gin and finally London dry gin as fashion changed the style of gin available in London and New York. Each juniper spirit produces a differently styled Collins - all good, although I prefer an oude genever.

In his 1882 Bartenders' Manual, Harry Johnson includes recipes for a John Collins based on Holland Gin (genever) and a Tom Collins with old tom gin.

JOHN COLLINS.
(Use an extra large bar glass)
1 table-spoonful of sugar;
5 to 6 dashes of lemon juice;
1 wine glass full of Holland gin;
4 or 5 small lumps of ice;
Open a bottle of plain soda water, pour this into the ingredients, mix up well, remove the ice, and serve.
Careful attention must be paid when mixing the soda water with the above, not to let the foam of it spread over the glass.

TOM COLLINS
(Use an extra large bar glass)
Three-quarters table-spoon of sugar;
3 or 4 dashes of lime or lemon juice;
3 or 4 pieces of broken ice;
1 wine glass of Old Tom gin;
1 bottle of plain soda water;
mix up well with a spoon, remove the ice, and serve.
Attention must be paid not to let the foam of the soda water spread over the glass.

Harry Johnson, Bartenders' Manual, 1882

Thos. Stuart's 1904 Stuart's Fancy Drinks and How to Mix Them includes a Tom Collins with old tom gin and a John Collins with "gin" – assumed to be London dry gin.

Tom Collins.
(Use an extra large bar glass)
¾ table-spoonful of sugar.
3 or 4 dashes of lime juice.
3 or 4 pieces of broken ice.
1 wine-glass of Old Tom gin.
1 bottle of plain soda.
Mix well with a spoon, strain and serve.
Attention must be paid not to let the foam of the soda spread over the glass; this drink must be drank as soon as mixed.

John Collins' Gin.
(Extra large bar glass)
1 table-spoon sugar.
About 5 dashes lemon juice.
1 wine-glass gin.
5 or 6 small bits of ice.
1 bottle plain soda.
Mix well, remove the ice, and serve.

Thos. Stuart, Stuart's Fancy Drinks and How to Mix Them, 1904

Alcohol content:

  • 1.4 standard drinks
  • 13.35% alc./vol. (26.7° proof)
  • 20 grams of pure alcohol
Difford's Guide remains free-to-use thanks to the support of the brands in green above. Values stated for alcohol and calorie content, and number of drinks an ingredient makes should be considered approximate.

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Buy direct from
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Makes a minimum of ... cocktails
Just £ -.-- per cocktail*

* This list may not include all required ingredients.
Price per cocktail is an estimate based on the cost of making one cocktail with the available ingredients shown above and does not include any postage charges.
Buy direct from Difford’s Guide
Difford's Easy Jigger
£8.72 £8.72 exc VAT
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