The Tom Collins is a refreshing and simple cocktail made with gin, lemon juice, simple syrup and seltzer. It's a great drink to know -- not only is it easy to order in a bar, but it's also perfect to make and enjoy at home.
This drink has a long history, with its first recorded recipe being published back in 1876 by Jerry Thomas (via Wikipedia). With just a few ingredients, it only takes a few minutes to make, and you don't have to worry about getting a bunch of different bottles of alcohol. Just grab your favorite gin!
Since there are only a few simple ingredients in this drink, it's best to look for the top quality you can get your hands on.
- Gin - I used The Botanist gin here, which is a delicious dry gin with some citrus notes. Traditionally, a type of gin called Old Tom is used, which is not as juniper-y as a London Dry gin. Many modern gins that are not as juniper-heavy will work really well in this cocktail.
- Lemon juice - try to use fresh squeezed for sure!
- Simple syrup
- Seltzer water - It seems like there is not much to seltzer water, but try to find a good one that has a lot of carbonation. There is only a little bit of it in this drink, so you want it to pack a punch. I used a fresh can of Whole Foods brand seltzer.
- Fresh lemon slice - for garnish.
- Maraschino cherry - for garnish.
Being a classic, this drink is pretty specific in its ingredients, and any substitutions you make will likely end up changing the drink to something else. However, you can substitute the following:
- Simple syrup - instead of using this, you can use maple syrup, or make a quick simple syrup in your mixing glass by using a tablespoon of superfine sugar and a tablespoon of water. You can also use a sugar free simple syrup to cut back on the sugar and calories in this drink.
- Lemon juice - if you don't have access to fresh lemon juice, I recommend using a couple of packets of True Lemon crystallized lemon dissolved in an ounce of water for every ounce of lemon juice. For me, it tastes much fresher and better than a shelf-stable bottled lemon juice.
Since this recipe uses such a simple formula for a cocktail, changing out the gin in this recipe will give you a whole different cocktail! Here are just some of the many ways you can make a Collins:
- John Collins - this is made with bourbon instead of gin. Usually, it's garnished with an orange slice instead of a lemon slice.
- Rum Collins - you guessed it, use rum instead of the gin.
- Vodka Collins - are you sensing a theme here? Take out the gin, and replace it with vodka for this version.
- Blackberry Collins - just to mix it up! Muddle two blackberries in your cocktail shaker along with the gin, lemon juice and syrup. Switch out the cherry for a blackberry in your garnish.
You know a drink is an old classic when the glass is named after it! A Collins glass is a tall, skinny, straight-sided glass. It's similar to a Highball glass, and many people use them interchangeably, but technically it's is a little bit taller and holds more liquid than a Highball glass.
Here's what you'll need to put this drink together:
- Citrus juicer
- Cocktail shaker and strainer
- Jigger, or a small measuring cup
- Collins cocktail glass
- Cocktail pick or toothpick to hold the traditional lemon and cherry garnish together.
You can get started on making this delicious drink by prepping a slice of lemon for your garnish. Set it aside while you make the cocktail.
Next, juice your lemon using your citrus juicer. Measure and pour the juice into the cocktail shaker.
Next, measure out your simple syrup and add it to the shaker along with the lemon juice.
Then, add the gin into the shaker. Fill it up with ice, seal the shaker and give it about 15-20 seconds worth of a good shake.
Fill your serving glass with fresh ice and strain the drink into the glass. Top the drink with seltzer, give it a quick stir with your bar spoon and then finish off with your garnish.
To make the traditional garnish for this classic, take the lemon slice that you cut earlier and put the cocktail pick through one side of it. Thread the pick through a Maraschino cherry, and then back through the other side of the lemon slice.
You should end up with a garnish that looks kind of like a cherry taco with a lemon shell! Place it on top of the glass and serve.
Hint: The bigger the glass you use, the more seltzer water it will take to fill it to the top. If you find that your drinks are ending up too watery, you can either not fill it quite so much, use more ice, or find a smaller serving glass.
Frequently Asked Questions
There is some debate about whether a Tom Collins should be shaken first, or mixed directly in the glass and just given a quick stir before serving. Most recipes, including this one, go with shaking. The ingredients will be fully mixed that way, and the ice that's in the glass won't melt as quickly since you'll be pouring on colder ingredients. In general, I usually shake any drink that has citrus juice.
Traditionally, Old Tom gin was used for a Tom Collins. Old Tom is a style of gin that's a little sweeter and less juniper-heavy than London Dry gin. It's a little hard to find, but nowadays, there are many modern gins that are milder in juniper and would go well in a Tom Collins. Look for a gin with citrusy tasting notes if you really want to highlight the lemon flavors.
No, a classic Gin and Tonic is what it says it is: just gin and tonic water over ice. The Tom Collins uses lemon, sugar and seltzer along with the gin for more of a lemonade flavor.
Since this drink is served over ice, try to get a bag of grocery store ice instead of using ice from your own freezer's icemaker. Grocery store ice is clear, without that cloudiness that you'll see in most homemade ice, so it'll look really beautiful in the serving glass. Of course, you can make your own clear ice, but buying a big bag of clear ice is a lot easier for parties!
Tom Collins Cocktail
- Knife and cutting board
- Fine mesh strainer optional
- Prepare your lemon slice and set aside.1 lemon slice
- Juice your lemon, measure the juice and add it to a cocktail shaker.1 ounce lemon juice
- Add the simple syrup to the cocktail shaker.½ ounce simple syrup
- Add the gin to the cocktail shaker.2 ounce gin
- Fill the shaker with ice, and also add ice to your serving glass.
- Give the cocktail shaker about 15-20 good shakes, and then strain the drink into your prepared cocktail glass.
- Top the drink off with seltzer.2 ounce seltzer
- Using a cocktail pick, thread it through one side of your lemon slice, then through the Maraschino cherry, and then back through the lemon slice to create your garnish.1 maraschino cherry
- Add the garnish to the drink and serve.