The Best Tom Collins Cocktail Recipe
Tom Collins Beginnings
It is said that the Tom Collins cocktail started as a practical joke in the 1800s. The joke would start off with someone being asked if they had seen Tom Collins. Of course, they hadn't. This person would then go on to tell them all the bad things this Tom Collins character was saying about them, and how they had just seen him at a bar close by.
The idea was to get the individual so pissed off that they would start busting into every bar they were tipped off to asking for Tom Collins. Eventually, the person got a cocktail named Tom Collins instead of a real person.
There are many Tom Collins cocktail recipes today, however, the original recipe was first published by American bartending legend Jerry Thomas in his 1877 guide, "Bon Vivant's Companion." It is described as follows:
(Combine in a shaker)
- 5–6 dashes gomme (gum) syrup
- Juice of 1 small lemon
- 1 wine glass of gin
- 2–3 lumps (presumably larger than our modern-day ice cubes)
Shake and strain into a large glass, topping off with soda water.
The recipe does not call for the drink to be strained into a glass with ice, unlike the modern Tom Collins. Interestingly, Jerry Thomas also gives the instructions to "drink while it is lively." From this one can imagine that the Tom Collins made in the late 1800s was drunk rather quickly.
Modern Tom Collins
Today's Tom Collins recipes vary slightly from the original. Some call for sweet and sour mix in addition to, or instead of fresh lemon, and the gum syrup has been replaced by sugar or simple syrup.
The best Tom Collins recipe is built with top-notch dry gin and simple, fresh ingredients.
- 2 ounces dry gin (London dry gin to be historically accurate)
- 1 tspn. fine sugar (caster sugar works well)
- 1/2 ounce lemon juice (1/2 a large lemon or 1 small lemon. Use more or less to taste.)
- Club soda
To make the modern version, add the gin, sugar and lemon juice to a shaker filled 2/3 full of cubed, not crushed ice. Crushed will break up quickly and dilute the drink too much. Shake until the outside of the metal is cold and beginning to fog up. Strain into a collins glass filled with ice and top off with club soda. Some bartenders are even known to substitute lime for lemon, but this is a different cocktail.
To prevent the drink from getting too diluted, you can build this drink in the glass. Simply pour the gin, lemon juice, and sugar into a collins glass filled with ice. Stir until the sugar is dissolved, (or use a 1/2 ounce of simple syrup,) and top off with club soda. Done.
Garnish is traditionally a lemon twist, but these days you are likely to find lime and/or a cherry floating in your Tom Collins. An easy detail to customize as you like.
One step you do not want to forego is the fresh lemon juice. With a handheld manual juicer, this is a quick process and the invigorating taste it adds to the drink is worth the effort. If you will be making a lot of Tom Collins cocktails for a party, you can juice lemons ahead of time and store them in a pourable container, but skip the store-bought sweet and sour mix.
Gin and Sparkling Water
Since the gin is the foundation of this cocktail and the club soda is the finish, it is important to choose tasty, high-quality products. Regular club soda will work fine, but for a subtler sparkle with a hint of minerals, try using Perrier or San Pellegrino sparkling mineral waters. Either choice will add a bit of sophistication to an otherwise simple drink.
The original Tom Collins might have used Hollan Gin, Jenever, but London dry gin was soon the spirit of choice; specifically Old Tom gin. So long as the spirit you use in your cocktails is high quality, the drink, and the drinker, will benefit from it. Nonetheless, different gins have different flavor profiles, so spend some time sampling a variety of top-shelf gins to determine your personal taste.
Here is a list of highly recommended choices:
- Hendricks 88 proof gin: A unique bottle and light juniper, orange and coriander scents that refresh as you imbibe. A thicker mouthfeel than most gins.
- Bombay Sapphire: A premium London dry gin that is famously aromatic and smooth.
- Bombay, the regular version: A more reasonably priced but excellent gin.
- Tanqueray: A good substitute when you don't have Tanqueray Ten
- Tanqueray Ten: Top shelf Tanqueray that is a taste experience you must have.
- Tanqueray Rangpur: A fine gin with a hint of lime flavor to add another flavor profile to the juniper berries. Ideal for a mixed drink like the Tom Collins.
Bombay and Tanqueray are well-known brands, and Hendricks slightly less so. There are also many independent distilleries worth trying, however. Here is a short list:
- Distillery No. 209 Artisan Gin: Rated 90 points by the Wine Enthusiast, this excellent spirit is a complex and thoughtfully made gin which will transform your cocktail, if you dare to mix it with something.
- Ransom Old Tom Gin: A rare amber-hued spirit made in a pot still and aged for 3–6 months. In this gin, the juniper and citrus are played down, while anise, caraway, coriander, and earthy notes dominate.
- Leopold's American Small Batch Gin: This is an 80 proof spirit whose makers distill each botanical element separately. The nose exudes heady juniper, floral orris root, and orange. This is an elegant gin with a hint of spice at midpalate.
Remember, the best cocktails are made with the best ingredients, so choose wisely and sample often! Your guests and your palate will thank you.
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© 2013 Chris Montgomery