Tom Collins

from The Five Bottle Bar

A long cocktail for the hot summer days, the Collins is in fact a complete category of cocktail. It’s a little bit sour, a little bit sweet, topped with soda, and served in a Collins glass. That’s right, they have their own category of glass. The Collins glass is tall and narrow (taller and narrower than a highball glass) and typically fits 12 to 16 ounces of liquid.

The Tom Collins bears resemblance to the gin punches made in London’s gentlemen’s clubs of yore, and like many classic cocktails there is some debate over its true origin. Many sources cite Jerry Thomas as having the first written recipe of the Tom Collins as early as 1876. My favourite version appears in 1988’s New and Improved Illustrated Bartender’s Manual by Harry Johnson, which includes the important instruction, “This drink must be drunk as soon as mixed in order not to let it get stale.” 

My favourite theory is that it was named after the Tom Collins Hoax of 1874, a practical joke that took New York by storm (and/or perhaps the strangest-ever grassroots marketing campaign for a cocktail ever undertaken). The story goes that a person would tell their friend that a man named Tom Collins was saying insulting things about them and that he could found in a bar nearby (I don’t know why this was supposed to be funny, let’s just agree that this was a very different time). Rumour has it that in response a bartender created a drink named Tom Collins so that those in search of the dastardly gentleman would be supplied with (and charged for) the beverage. There are songs written about this hoax stored in the US Library of Congress.

Despite its complicated origins, the Tom Collins is refreshingly easy to make.


2 oz gin

1 oz fresh lemon juice

1 oz simple syrup

Soda water

Garnish with lemon wheel


Fill a Collins glass with ice. Add the gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup, and top with soda. Stir and garnish with the lemon wheel.

Nada’s Tips & Tricks: This book is chock full of historical and anecdotal information for each drink. You get to learn things while sipping on a lovely refreshing summer drink!

Contents and images used with permission by TouchWood Editions.