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The Curious History of the Tom Collins Cocktail

Picture this – it is 1874 in New York City. You’re a bartender working a late shift and it’s approaching the end of the night when a person comes bursting into the bar asking if you’ve seen Tom Collins.

What do you do? Do you tell them you’ve never heard of that man before?

Nope, you whip them up a refreshing drink in a tall, frosty glass. It’s the essential gin cocktail, perfect for sipping on a warm summer night and it becomes the joke of the town.

The history behind the Tom Collins cocktail is a fascinating one, its name sticking from a fairly lame gag back in the 1800s.

To learn more about the tantalising history and how to make this classic drink, read on!

The History Behind the Tom Collins Cocktail

The original creation of the cocktail is credited to John Collins, a bartender that worked at Limmer’s Hotel in London. Collins possessed charisma and a friendly personality that made him well known in the London bar scene. He’s known as an innovator when it comes to mixing drinks.

The ‘Gin Punch’ he was most well known for was comprised of London dry gin, a bit of sweetener, lemon juice and soda water, though it was not entirely invented by Collins as he does share the credit with another guy called Stephen Price.

The drink was first recorded in the second edition of Jerry Thomas’s recipe book, “The Bartender’s Guide.” It was published in 1876 and featured a new Collins class of drink.

The Great Tom Collins Hoax of 1874

Another titillating version of the story goes all the way back to 1874 in New York City – the Great Tom Collins Hoax. The story or myth behind the hoax sounds like a tale that would go viral in today’s time.

There once was a man that was a boisterous and loud fellow who would sit in taverns and speak harshly about anyone he encountered, or even people he didn’t. Anyone that fell into the crosshairs of this man named Tom Collins was encouraged to confront him. Sadly, whenever they went to the bar where Collins was said to be, he wouldn’t be there.

Spoiler alert – Tom Collins didn’t actually exist!

That didn’t deter the target of the rascal’s supposed wrath. They would continue looking for him, bursting into bars asking, “have you seen Tom Collins?” Imagine their surprise when they’re handed a gin-based cocktail instead of receiving their vengeance.

Newspapers didn’t help the rumour mill. They printed news of real-life Tom Collins sightings, urging people to find the dastardly man. He was the most interesting and elusive man “alive” for a time, and he is credited as the inspiration behind one of the most delicious gin-based cocktails.

Whether the drink was actually named after the fictional man or not is the mystery. We know nowadays how jokes and memes can take off and spread ferociously, so what we’re witnessing is the 19th-century version of a prank, a delicious one at that.

Tom Collins Recipe

If you don’t feel like heading out to a crowded bar, making a Tom Collins is easy and requires only a handful of quality ingredients – gin, lemon juice, simple syrup and club soda. You’ll be sipping on this refreshing drink in no time at all.

To whip up a Tom Collins at home, look no further than our Tom Collins Cocktail Kit with all the ingredients you need to mix three drinks.

  • 100ml MeMo Gin
  • 180ml Strange Love Bitter Lemon
  • 180ml Strange Love Soda
  • 50ml Vok Triple Sec Liqueur
  • Three lemon garnishes

Grab a highball glass, bar spoon, jigger and ice, then follow a few simple steps.

To start, chill your glass in the freezer for 5 minutes. Then, measure the gin and triple sec, pouring into a glass filled with ice. Stir with your bar spoon. Then, add in the bitter lemon mixer, top with more ice, and a splash of soda. Club soda is perfect for that extra fizzy splash you need at the end.

Garnish your drink with a slice of lemon and/or a maraschino cherry if you’re feeling fancy.

It’s an Australian twist on a classic cocktail that transports you back in time.

Garnishes and Other Accessories to Mix the Classic

Tom Collins is one of the easiest drinks to make because it doesn’t require any special tools. If you don’t have a jigger, feel free to use a shot glass to properly measure your ingredients.

For garnishes, a maraschino cherry or lemon wedge is traditional for a Tom Collins. Stock up on some lemon garnishes for those times you don’t have fresh lemons on hand. They’re the perfect substitute for a fresh slice of lemon and add additional aroma, flavour and visual appeal to your drink.

muddler bar spoon made from stainless steel is perfect for muddling some lemon first and stirring your cocktails at the end. The perfect glass for a Tom Colllins is a highball, which is a tall tumbler, so the extra-long handle ensures you won’t dip your fingers in the glass while stirring. You can also use it for other cocktails you make that require muddling ingredients.

For an elegant cocktail, look into a set of crystal highball tumblers. They’re perfect for a Tom Collins. The unique patterns on these Italian crystal tumblers will give your cocktail maximum pizazz.

Stir Up a Tom Collins Tonight

What better way is there to entertain than with the tale of the nefarious Tom Collins while mixing up some cocktails for your guests. Maybe the drink was named after the fictional man or maybe it wasn’t, we’ll never know, but it’s a fun story to tell.

Tom Collins is a wonderfully refreshing drink on a summer night. Pour it into your favourite glass, chilled of course, and sip away as you relax and enjoy the evening.

If you’re looking for more cocktails to make, check out some of our other cocktail kits. All our kits are made with premium Australian spirits.

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