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Drink Of The Week: The Collins

Before you turn away from the Collins, you must understand that this cocktail may be nothing like the one you are used to. It's true that the past 40 years or so have allowed it to earn a reputation for being sweet and syrupy, but in this new golden age of mixology that characterization no longer applies. We can make the Collins like it was originally intended—a balanced and refreshing drink that's perfect for the long spring we are having.

I considered trying to find something organic, green or nature-focused given that it's earth day, but I thought I would do my part to help recycle and revive this honorable classic, even if that meant challenging a few of you to give this cocktail a fresh try. That's what it's all about, after all—fresh ingredients. In this case, it's the lemon juice. During the 60s and 70s we experienced what some cocktail historians consider a "fear of flavor". During that period, we lost the taste for fine whiskey, and fresh ingredients were replaced with bottled compromise. In the case of the Collins, this created a cocktail based on sour mix which became one of the least appetizing drinks you could order. With those days behind us, I encourage you to make this as follows:

Tom Collins
1.5 oz gin
.75 oz lemon juice, freshly squeezed
.75 oz simple syrup (1:1 ratio)
top with sparkling water

Pour the gin, lemon juice and simple syrup into a mixer and add ice. Shake until thoroughly chilled and strain over fresh ice in a tall, slender glass. Top with sparkling water and give it a gentle stir to mix the bubbles with the cocktail. Garnish with an orange slice and a cherry.

There are other Collins drinks too, including variations using vodka, whiskey, brandy and rum. It originiated in the late 1800's and was once called the John Collins, after a waiter of that name. However, in 1874, a popular practical joke was going around. Someone would ask, "Have you seen Tom Collins?" to which their friend would reply, "No. I don't know anybody by that name." The hoaxer would proceed with an elaborate tale about how this Tom Collins was asking about them. The friend would begin to feel agitated and uneasy, sometimes even doing things or going places to find answers about the mystery person. It's likely that this cocktail, popular at the time, took on the name of the hoax and that's how we know it today.

If your only experience with the Tom Collins is the sour mix variety, you really must give this a try. The addition of sparkling water to what is essentially a gin sour helps elevate the flavors creating a refresher that's light and delicious. As with all sours, this drink relies on a balance of acid and sweetener. The Tom Collins is really a sparkling gin lemonade, and when you think of it like that, what could be better on a spring day? As the sun gets higher and the days grow longer, you'll want to keep this one in mind for the hot summer ahead of us. The traditional garnish is the orange slice and a cherry, but I really like the look of a thinly sliced lemon wheel tucked into the glass.

4 comments to Drink Of The Week: The Collins

  • Rob Marais

    Bravo for giving props to such a simple yet utterly refreshing drink. You are so right in that freshness and balance make this a classic. I've done this with whiskey and gold rum (with lime instead of lemon in the latter) but the original Tom Collins is by far the best.

  • Thanks, Rob. When it's good, it's good. You can't really deny it, despite how unkind history has been to this drink. Thanks for the comment proving my point about how good this is. Everyone else? Give this a try!

  • Steve

    Randy - you are so right. I've shied away from this drink just because of the negative things I've heard about it. But made right, with fresh lemons, and it's a real winner. My only complaint, the weather should be warmer to really appreciate this drink.

    Recipe tip: squeeze the lemon first, then you have your proportions for the simple syrup and gin.

  • I like the lemon first suggestion. Some bartenders make everything that way and pour the most "volatile" ingredient first, then bring it into balance with the simple. You are basically done "mixing" at that point and all you have to do is add your spirit. It's a great technique because it ensures balance, and by adding the spirit last you won't accidentally ruin good booze with too much of something.

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