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What is a Tom Collins?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 14 November 2016
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A Tom Collins is a mixed alcoholic drink or cocktail. Like many of the older cocktails, it has many different stories of how it was invented and who invented it. Two main stories concerning origin place the date of the drink’s creation somewhere between the 1870s-1890s.

One origin story suggests that a bartender, working in the garment district in New York City invented the drink when he was in his early 20s for the Whitehouse Bar. The man’s name was Tom Collins, and he wanted a cocktail that would be thirst quenching but not particularly heavy in alcohol. Another story says that Tom Collins was an Irish immigrant who bartended in New Jersey. Like the other “Tom” he wanted a drink that would quench the thirst. Either way, the name Tom Collins is fairly common, and the drink could have been simultaneously “invented” by several people.

The name may also refer to a type of gin called “Old Tom Gin.” It was sweet rather than dry. This would have added to the relatively sweet flavor of the cocktail.

The earliest recipes for the Tom Collins include the following:

  • Juice of half a lemon and half a lime
  • One ounce (about .02 liters) of gin
  • Powdered sugar
  • Oil of orange
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The drink is mixed together, topped off with soda water, and served in a tall glass, usually with a couple of cubes of ice. Garnishes can include orange slices, cherries, or pineapples. The advent of a Collins mixer often means people shortcut juicing limes and lemons and instead simply combine gin and Collins mixer together. However, those who enjoy the drink tend to prefer the more naturally derived and original form.

From the original drink comes an extraordinary number of Tom Collins variants. Most of these merely shift the base alcohol, so that you get things like the vodka collins, and gin collins. Other drinks get more colorful with names. A Jose Collins, for instance is made with tequila, and a Pedro Collins with rum. A Michael Collins uses Irish whiskey and is a drink made in tribute to the Irish revolutionary leader and director of intelligence for the Irish Republican Army, who was killed in 1922 during the Irish Civil war. There are also Joan Collins and Phil Collins drinks too, which reference the actress and the rock star respectively.

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