Tom Collins Recipe: The Sour Classic Cocktail

There’s nothing quite like a mixed drink that goes down easy even as it puckers your lips! And a go-to for this kind of experience is the venerable Tom Collins recipe. This incredibly simple cocktail is one of the greatest people-pleasers you can find at any random bar or restaurant.

And yet, it has come to be one of the most coveted, too. Enjoying the same kind of easy-to-love tang as many citrus-based soft drinks makes this one a favorite of folks who don’t necessarily get too deep into hard liquors.

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The Gin Met Its Match

Made with gin, which is one of those “acquired taste” kinds of spirits, the Tom Collins drink is a great cocktail to introduce new imbibers to as well as a treasured favorite that could make anybody happy. And it’s so easy to make that you can easily whip up a batch for a gathering in no time (more on that in the Tom Collins cocktail recipe later).

Probably among the most popular of all of the gin cocktails out there, you might be very surprised at how this mixed drink got its name! There may be a lot of silly stories associated with the Tom Collins cocktail, but there’s no denying just how satisfying this concoction is. Read on for its backstory, easy steps to make it, and a little cinematic tribute to this beloved beverage.

History of the Tom Collins Cocktail

You may have heard that old saying that when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. That’s a way of saying when things go wrong, try and make the best of it. In the case of the Tom Collins cocktail, the simple citrusy quality of it all made it a natural from the get-go.

It seems that way back in the early 1800s, a London bartender working out of Limmer’s Hotel may have been the first to create a gin punch using lemonade resembling what we know today as the Tom Collins. And guess what his name was? Not quite what you may think — it was actually John Collins.

And to be fair, the gin punch in question was probably around for a long time before him. But that legend was so strong; there was even a poem about the legendary Mr. Collins that stuck around. Later in the 1800s, the “original” dry gin was swapped out in a recipe for “Old Tom” gin which was sweeter; hence it became “Tom Collins.” But is this story true?

The [Lemon] Joke’s on Us

Well, there is a whole other theory about how this probably-around-for-years gin punch we call Tom Collins got its name. And get ready to have a little bit of a laugh about it.

It turns out that back in 1874, there was a super popular joke that people were playing on everybody. By today’s standards, it’s a pretty lame joke, but oh well, that was the 19th century for you! It went something like this:

You would go into a bar and find your favorite drinking buddy there, who maybe was already a little loose after having a couple. And then you’d say something like, “Hey! Have you heard about that guy Tom Collins? He was outside before totally talking smack about you!”

And then your drunk friend would be like, “What? Tom Collins was talking smack about me? Where is he?” All angry and full of booze, you tell your friend to go look for this smack-talking Collins. Your inebriated pal bolts out the door looking for him, but guess what? There is no Tom Collins. You just pranked your friend, who is now pointlessly looking for an imaginary enemy!

OK, we told you it’s not that funny! But it was in 1874, and it went viral (or whatever word they had for “viral” back then), spreading so far that it became known as the Great Tom Collins Hoax of 1874. They wrote songs about it. It made the news for weeks. Really.

Anyway, some say that the Tom Collins drink got its name from that great hoax as if what the pranksters were telling their friends to really look for was this delicious cocktail. We don’t know for sure, but what we can say is that by 1876, the Tom Collins cocktail was officially named in a bartender’s guide.

tom collins recipe to make at home cocktail

Tom Collins Recipe

If you still aren’t swallowing these Tom Collins origin stories, don’t worry! You’ll find the drink itself goes down a lot smoother. Here’s how to mix one for yourself!

  • Prep Time 3 Minutes
  • Cook Time 3 Minutes
  • Total Time 6 Minutes
  • Serves 1 People
  • Calories 101 kcal

Ingredients

  • 2 oz. gin (you can go for the sweeter Old Tom gin if you want to go OG)
  • 1 oz. simple syrup (or 1 tsp superfine sugar if you don’t have the syrup)
  • 1 oz. lemon juice (you can use lime juice too!)
  • Club soda top off
  • Lemon wedge or cocktail cherry for garnish

Instructions

  1. Mix the gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, and some ice in a shaker.
  2. Shake vigorously for 20-30 seconds so that the sugar blends evenly.
  3. Strain into an ice-filled highball glass - or Collins glass, if you have it.
  4. Top it off with a couple of splashes of club soda.
  5. Stir and garnish with a lemon — its juice will tang it up as the ice melts.

Tom Collins in the Movies

It’s not only real human beings who love their Tom Collins cocktails. You’ll find the sublime sipper popping up in movies where fictional characters enjoy its charms. For example, Faye Dunaway’s character in 1974’s Chinatown orders one with lime instead of lemon.

And then you can find none other than Robert De Niro expressing love for a Tom Collins himself. In the comedy Meet the Parents, his character prefers that particular cocktail. Hey, if Bobby D. is a fan, you will be too!

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Brooklyn native, accent-having, travel lover, wordsmith and bud enthusiast. Versed from the streets of NYC, mixed with some world influence, writer/editor and medical user extraordinaire, JJ is here to tell you like it is and guide you to the finest. Brooklyn's favorite feminine stoner, your neighborhood contributor, wrapping leaves like a bandage and bringing you along for the ride.

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