As the days lengthen and you begin craving the delicate cocktails of warmer weather, perch yourself on a patio—Tom Collins in hand—and consider the following tale: It’s 1874, and a notorious slanderer has been running unbridled through the public houses of New York City. A friend informs you that you’ve been the latest victim of Tom Collins’ wicked tongue. You make haste to the local bar to confront the scoundrel, but, when you arrive and ask for Collins, you’re handed a tall, sour gin beverage instead.
So goes the story of “The Great Tom Collins Hoax of 1874,” which caught hold of New York and is said to be the origins of the cocktail. But there’s a duelling creation story, in which several decades earlier, John Collins, of the Limmer’s Hotel in London, England, concocted a gin punch of the same recipe.
Perhaps the true story of this drink’s origin lies in print. “New York saloon-owner Jerry Thomas was the first to put this cocktail down in writing,” says Bradley Evans, head bartender at Harding’s in Manhattan. Thomas’ original cocktail of gin, fresh lemon, gum (simple) syrup and soda is in 1876’s Bon-Vivant’s Companion—with the brand of gin used in the drink likely evolving from Jenever to Old Tom to today’s favoured London Dry.
While the Collins is often overlooked because of its simplicity, that’s the beauty of this well-balanced tipple. “The Tom Collins cocktail reminds me of sitting on a porch in the summer and drinking lemonade,” says Evans. “It’s a NYC staple.”
3 Tom Collins Cocktails to Try
The Connaught, London
Star of Bombay gin, Sarsaparilla soda water, fresh yuzu juice and homemade eucalyptus-infused sugar syrup whisk you off to paradise.
21 Club, New York City
Sample this refreshing blend of Tanqueray, muddled mint, lemon and soda at Bar ‘21’ at this Midtown Manhattan institution and former speakeasy.
Pride and Prejudice
Famous Last Words, Toronto
Marlene Thorne of Famous Last Words in Toronto adds elderflower syrup and a fresh thyme garnish to her classic Collins made with London Dry gin.
Recipe: The Classic Tom Collins
- 2 oz. gin
- 1 oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 1/5 oz. simple syrup
- Splash of seltzer water
Shake with ice. Strain into a tall tumbler with fresh ice. Add a splash of seltzer and garnish with lemon and cherry.
—Recipe courtesy of Bradley Evans, Harding’s NYC