Tom Collins Recipe: A Classic, Refreshing Gin Drink

Tom Collins Cocktail
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  • 3 mins
  • Prep: 3 mins,
  • Cook: 0 mins
  • Yield: 1 serving
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One sip and you will discover why the Tom Collins has been a favorite cocktail for over a century. It's a tall, refreshing gin sour and a really nice option for a hot summer day. The recipe is incredibly easy to follow, too, making it a drink that anyone can mix up.

The Tom Collins belongs to the "collins" family of mixed drinks and the primary difference between each is the base liquor used. It's a rather transparent drink, so your choice of gin will have the greatest impact on its flavor. While you don't need to use the best gin, your Tom Collins will be better with something that's at least mid-shelf.

Beyond the gin, you will need lemon juice, simple syrup, and club soda. They're all very common drink ingredients and it's likely to be in your bar or kitchen right now. This simplicity is one reason why the Tom Collins has long been a staple for drinkers worldwide.

What You'll Need

How to Make It

  1. Pour the gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup in a collins glass with ice cubes.
  2. Stir thoroughly.
  3. Top with club soda.
  4. Garnish with the cherry and an orange or lemon slice. You can pin the cherry to the citrus fruit using a cocktail pick and create a garnish known as a "flag" as well.

If you prefer, shake the gin, juice, and syrup then strain it into a glass with fresh ice. Yet another option is to place a shaker tin over the glass after adding those ingredients and giving it a good, but short, shake before topping it with soda.

Old-Fashioned or Modern Gin?

We can date the Tom Collins back to the 1800s because it made an appearance in the first bartending book printed. As with many recipes in "Professor" Jerry Thomas' "Bon Vivant's Companion," it's very likely that the drink was a hit years before the 1877 edition in which it made its debut. 

Back in Thomas' time, "gin" often referred to Old Tom Gin, Plymouth Gin, or Holland gin (known better as genever, today). If you want a taste of the Tom Collins made in the truly classic style, try it with one of those.

Today, we have many more choices in gin. This recipe, along with other classic gin cocktails, are ideal formulas to explore all of these options. Each gin will change the profile of the drink, giving you a new and fascinating taste every time.

Among your options are the classic London dry gins. Brands like Beefeater, Tanqueray, and Bombay Sapphire all make an excellent Tom Collins. To give the drink a modern spin, pour one of the new gins like Hendrick's, Aviation, or even G'Vine

Sugar, Syrup, or Sour?

You have even more choices when it comes to the drink sweetener in the Tom Collins. Traditionally, straight white sugar was used. If you opt for this, consider a superfine sugar rather than the regular cane sugar you might stock in the kitchen. The smaller crystals dissolve better and won't leave unsightly clumps in the bottom of your glass.

To bypass any problems with dissolving, opt for the recipe's suggestion of simple syrup. It's an essential sweetener for the modern bar and making a batch at home will require just a few minutes of your time.

If you have sugar, water, and a pan for the stove, you can make simple syrup.

The last option is to create a sour mix. This combines the lemon juice and syrup into one easy-to-use drink mixer. It's very convenient and is used in cocktails from margaritas to "iced teas." You can also use it as a substitute for any recipe that calls for citrus juice and simple syrup individually. Yet, it doesn't quite give you the flexibility of adapting the sweet and sour to each drink.

No matter which sweetener you choose for the Tom Collins, it's best to tweak it and the citrus to your individual taste. The volumes used in this recipe are a good starting point, but you will find that it needs some adjustment depending on the gin you pour.

About the Soda

The Tom Collins falls into the category of gin and soda drinks, joined with other favorites like the gin Rickey, gin buck, and gin fizz. While some of these call for a specific soda (think gin and tonic), others leave it up to the drinker and bartender.

Today, it is very common to turn to club soda for the Tom Collins. You can, instead, turn to any clear carbonated water you have in stock at the moment. Seltzer straight out of the soda siphon is the most traditional option. Club soda, with its nearly indistinguishable flavor, is the second best choice.

Though it doesn't make a bad Tom Collins, the sweeter clear sodas like ginger ale or a lemon-lime soda can be a little too sweet. If they are your only options, hold back on the drink's sweetener to maintain a good balance.

Also, if you want to get technical about it, pouring ginger ale creates more of a gin buck than a Tom Collins.

More Collins Recipes

The Tom Collins and the entire collins family of drinks are very popular and should be on every bartender's list of drinks to know. The John and Tom Collins are the most popular of the bunch. 

If you have a hard time remembering which gets whiskey and which gets gin, there's a simple trick you can use. Imagine that "Big Bad John" from the old Jimmy Dean song would be a whiskey drinker, so he would get the John Collins. Then, simply associate the Tom Collins with Old Tom Gin.

Beyond those two, you can also change the liquor out to create a whole variety of collins drinks. Some are obvious and others are not. For instance, the vodka collins gets vodka, the brandy collins requires a shot of brandy, and the rum collins uses white rum. The Juan Collins gets tequila while the Charlie Collins specifically calls for a Jamaican rum.

From there, you can also use the collins formula to create some fascinating cocktails. These modern recipes may include any extra flavors you like. The American Collins, for example, adds bing cherries and blueberries to the gin recipe while the lavender Sapphire Collins uses a lavender-flavored syrup for a floral touch. When you want something very unique, try the rhubarb collins with homemade rhubarb syrup.

Don't stop there, either. As you learn to love the Tom Collins and all of its cocktail cousins, you'll begin to daydream about all the other possibilities this great drink can inspire. Follow those dreams and enjoy your new creations.