Like a lot of old cocktails, the origin story of the Tom Collins exists somewhere between history and myth. Drinks historian David Wondrich says the recipe likely dates back to the 1850s as an outgrowth of British gin punches. But the name Tom Collins gained notoriety in 1874 in what was either the 19th century’s version of a viral hoax or simply a joke with no punchline. Evidently it was fashionable at the time to tell your friend that there was a man named Tom Collins at the bar next door who was saying terrible things about him. To properly execute the joke you would escalate the slanders Tom Collins was shouting about your friend (maybe that damnable Collins suggested he was a Horace Greely man!) until he got sufficiently angry. We’ll give you a moment to stop laughing as you think about how this went down.
But you’re not here for the jokes, you’re here for the drinks. Tom Collins, the cocktail, is essentially fizzy lemonade for adults. It is made from gin, lemon juice, sugar and carbonated water. The version that first appeared in Jerry Thomas’ 1876 Bartenders Guide called for sweeter Old Tom gin and oleo-saccharum syrup, the citrusy base used in many old punches. The modern Collins, though, is typically made with London Dry gin and simple syrup. If you’re a fan of sweet sippers, but typically lean towards vodka, rum or bourbon drinks, mix up a Tom Collins and let gin in on some of the fun too.