Simultaneously sweet and tart, the Tom Collins cocktail is a delightful drink that tastes like spiked lemonade. It’s also super simple to craft at home with just a few ingredients.
After recently crafting and drinking our first Tom Collins cocktails, we had to wonder why the classic cocktail isn’t more popular.
We started smiling after just one sip. It didn’t take much longer for the summer sipper to earn a year-round spot in our cocktail rotation.
Discover more summer cocktails.
What Is the Tom Collins Cocktail?
Crafted with four key ingredients (gin, lemon juice, simple syrup and club soda), the Tom Collins fits into multiple cocktail categories.
It’s both a classic cocktail and a pre-prohibition cocktail that dates back to the 19th century. However, despite its advance age, the Tom Collins is neither stodgy nor old fashioned.
Discover more pre-prohibition cocktails.
The Tom Collins qualifies as a sour cocktail based on its ingredients. It also qualifies as a collins cocktail. And, while all collins cocktails are sour cocktails, not all sour cocktails are collins cocktails.
Collins Cocktails vs. Sour Cocktails
Both collins cocktails and sour cocktails include three specific elements – a liquor, citrus juice and a sweetener. Collins cocktails take the concept one step further with the addition of soda water. Plus, collins cocktails are typically served in either highball glasses or collins glasses.
Discover more sour cocktails.
History of the Tom Collins Cocktail
While Tom Collins may be a common name, it’s unlikely that a person named Tom Collins invented the Tom Collins recipe. Some cocktail historians link the drink to a British bartender named John Collins but that’s just one hypothesis.
Regardless of its inventor, the drink gained fame when Jerry Thomas included a Tom Collins recipe in the 1876 edition of his iconic bartender’s guide. That recipe specifically called for Old Tom gin. Dry gin, more common today, is used in crafting the modern Tom Collins recipe.
Sure, you could buy bottled Tom Collins mix to quickly craft Tom Collins cocktails at home. We say don’t do it. The better option is to quickly craft the sour gin cocktail with the following ingredients:
You probably already have these ingredients in your kitchen and liquor cabinet. If not, you should be able to find them all at your local market and/or liquor store.
While bartenders used Old Tom gin to craft Tom Collins cocktails back in the day, you should use your favorite dry gin for this recipe. Bonus points to you if your favorite gin is Old Tom gin.
We like to use Citadelle dry gin from France to craft this and other gin cocktails. Produced in Cognac, the premium gin features 19 botanicals and has an ABV of 44%.
Discover more gin cocktails.
How to Craft a Tom Collins Cocktail
Once you gather the necessary ingredients and tools, the first step is to fill a highball class (or better yet a Tom Collins glass) with ice cubes.
Measure the gin, freshly squeezed lemon juice and simple syrup. We use a Japanese jigger to minimize spillage and ensure accuracy.
Buy a Japanese jigger from Amazon if you need a jigger or want an inexpensive upgrade.
Immediately pour the three liquids into the highball or Tom Collins glass.
Top off the glass with club soda or seltzer.
Gently stir with a bar spoon or another long utensil.
Garnish with a lemon wheel.
While some recipes add a maraschino cherry garnish, we choose to skip that element since we’re going for more of an ‘adult lemonade’ vibe. Whether you add a sweet red orb to your Tom Collins is up to you.
Similar to non-alcoholic lemonade, the Tom Collins can be modified in a myriad of ways. Here are a few ideas to get your mixology juices going:
Discover 10 essential bar tools for the home mixologist.
Frequently Asked Questions
A Tom Collins cocktail is a classic sour cocktail crafted with gin, lemon juice, simple syrup and club soda.
The Tom Collins cocktail was probably invented in London.
Gin, Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice, Simple Syrup, Club Soda or Seltzer, Ice Cubes, Lemon Wheel (garnish) and optional maraschino cherry (garnish)
Although the original Tom Collins recipe specifically called for Old Tom Gin, you can and should use your favorite gin to craft Tom Collins cocktails.
The Tom Collins cocktail is stirred.
The liquor in a Tom Collins cocktail is gin while the liquor in a John Collins cocktail is whiskey.
Both the Tom Collins and Gin + Tonic are crafted with gin. The Tom Collins recipe has lemon juice, simple syrup and soda water while the G+T recipe simply adds tonic.
Did you craft this cocktail? If so, please rate the recipe below.
Tom Collins Recipe
- 2 ounces gin
- 1 ounce lemon juice (freshly squeezed)
- ½ ounce simple syrup
- club soda or seltzer
- ice cubes
- lemon wheel (garnish)
- Fill a highball glass with ice.
- Pour gin, lemon juice and simple syrup into the highball glass.
- Top with club soda or seltzer.
- Gently stir.
- Garnish with a lemon wheel.
- Your favorite gin is the best gin for this Tom Collins recipe.
- Feel free to additionally garnish with a maraschino cherry.
About The Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website. Since launching the site in 2012, they’ve traveled to over 40 countries in their quest to bring readers their unique taste of the world.
Original Publication Date: September 7, 2023