Tom Collins

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The Tom Collins is a widely popular gin-based beverage. It is best enjoyed as a sipping drink -- to be savored, not guzzled for the sole purpose of getting drunk. Its popularity has generated both the glass in which it is served and a vast family of Collins-style drinks.

How To Make A Tom Collins

Part of the popularity of the Tom Collins comes from its reputation as a drink impossible to mix improperly. Throw some gin and Collins mix at some ice and presto! And, truth be told, there are precious few with taste buds sufficiently schooled to object to the more casual Collins concoction. This is why practically no two recipes for the Tom Collins are exactly the same. But, for those lingual elite, the most universally agreeable guidelines for the Tom Collins are as follows.


  • 2 oz. gin (dry is preferred)
  • 1 oz. lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 3 oz. club soda

Mix gin, lemon juice and sugar with ice in shaker. Shake well. Strain into Collins glass nearly filled with ice. Add club soda. Garnish with lime slice or wedge1.

Caveat: unless you are royalty, your Tom Collins will never be made like this. Nobody makes Collins mix from scratch. Collins mix -- which is basically club soda, lemon juice, and sugar -- is generally sprayed from the fountain hose behind the bar. Home mixologists can purchase it by the 2-liter plastic bottle in any decent-sized market.

Also, few bars have actual Collins glasses. Most serve the Tom Collins in a highball glass. The traditional Collins glass, generally speaking, is larger than the highball glass (12, 14, or even 16 oz. compared to 8 or 10 oz.), often with a frosted texture. In bars, however, you will find a true Collins glass about as frequently as you will find a beautiful barmaid who digs drunk loudmouths.

The Murky History Of The Tom Collins

Tales of the naming of the Tom Collins vary as widely as the recipes, though there are two basic varieties:

  • It was named after the alcohol used in its mixing, Old Tom Gin, a sweet gin popular at the turn of the 20th century (which still leaves the "Collins" part of the name open to question).
  • It was named after the deucedly clever bartender who invented it.

Whichever, if either, is true, there is no consensus on exactly where or when the invention of the Tom Collins2 occurred. A couple of stories reference bartenders in the New York/New Jersey area. San Francisco also believes itself the city of origin. The most common British story involves the head waiter from a hotel bar called Limmer's. Australia, apparently, also lays claim to the drink's invention. Perhaps Al Gore invented it shortly before he invented the internet3.

The mysteries surrounding the spawning of the Tom Collins suggest one conclusion: a Tom Collins is for drinking, not studying.

Some Variations On The Classic Tom Collins

There are a ridiculous number of variations on the basic Tom Collins theme. Most differ primarily in the main alcoholic ingredient. Here are a few of the most common Collinses, along with their base alcohols.

Brandy CollinsBrandy
Jack CollinsApplejack
John CollinsBourbon
Mike CollinsIrish whiskey
Pedro Collins4Rum
Sandy Collins5Scotch
Vodka CollinsVodka

When And Where And How To Enjoy A Tom Collins

When: Anytime, preferably a warm summer afternoon or evening.

Where: Anywhere, preferably in pleasant company, although they can also offer great comfort when losing at dice or blackjack in a casino6.

How: Casually.

Which means, don't get uptight about the particulars of the drink. Don't send it back if it's sweet gin in a highball glass with a lemon. The Tom Collins is a social drink, and demands amiability. Enjoy with an air of sophisticated nonchalance.

1Garnishes vary coast to coast. West Coast bartenders prefer lime, East Coast bartenders prefer orange. Often cherries find their way into the drink as well. Outside America, you're on your own.2This researcher would like to note that he was invented August 8, 1970, by his parents Thomas and Beth Collins, in Holy Cross Hospital, Mission Hills, CA, USA.3British readers may substitute "Douglas Adams" for "Al Gore".4Aka Rum Collins.5Aka Jock Collins.6Because they are free and strong and served by women wearing togas.

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