Cocktail Club

Cocktail Club: Here’s how to make an orange-infused gin Collins at home

"Today we understand this drink named Tom Collins as a bedrock formula of gin, lemon, sugar, and sparkling water."

Join Cocktail Club for sustainable gin cocktails with GrandTen bar manager Nino Geraci on April 21 at 7 p.m.

Sometime in 1874, a hoax of exposure spread through New York, Pennsylvania, and other parts of the United States with the opening line, “Have you seen Tom Collins”?

When the respondent said they didn’t know Tom Collins, they were further informed that, in fact, he knows you and is talking trash about you at the local bar. The goal was to incite an agitated response, which later after the target had rushed off to find the fictional character, would prove embarrassing. This viral, Gilded-Age prank proved so successful in part because of the familiar sound of that name: Tom Collins.

Today we understand this drink named Tom Collins as a bedrock formula of gin, lemon, sugar, and sparkling water. This founding cocktail rests on a simplification of early 19th century punches and was perfected in the hands of legendary London barman John Collin. For 50 years he presided at Limmer’s, a coffee shop, bar and club of ill repute frequented by an astonishing mix of high and low brow characters, and always many members from the British Army’s officer class. 

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John was known for his mixes, and poems were written celebrating the brimming ale cups he dispensed there. He was beloved and although direct evidence of the recipes he perfected at Limmer’s are lost, his reign was commemorated in newspaper accounts from from Canada and Australia in 1865, attributing a simple gin punch with ice and soda with the name John Collins. 

It seems that his name was easily misprinted even before his death, but there’s something easier, off the tongue about the sound Collins than Collin — this feeling of belonging in the ‘s’ sound that we emotionally read as plural or possessive.   

By 1865, the drink was in New York and being treated to the energy of Golden Age bar programming. The Tom Collins, emerges with Old Tom gin, leaving the John Collins to use the Dutch genever or American replicas of that style. The John Collins fades out as the taste for its main ingredient declines, leaving the Tom Collins, which eventually gets the drier London Dry-style gin introduced to it. There’s a kind of perfection in this recipe that can make one argue that this drink should never be made differently than the evolved version of the 20th century. However, it also contains a refreshing energy so exciting as to support endless variations. 

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A matrix of other given names was used: Juan Collins (uses tequila or rum), Ivan (uses vodka), John (uses whiskey), etc. This was silly at best, ignorant, and confusing as well, so the practice in the bar became more to specify by spirit. vodka Collins, rum Collins, and so on. In fact, the Collins format supports things you might not think of in the context. One of my favorites is a sherry Collins, and an Aperol Collins is also a delight. We can expect with the rise in Mexican spirits to see many more tequila Collins in the coming years. 

It’s also tremendous fun to add small touches to the mix that start to bring the drink full circle towards the early punches it was based on. By adding herbs, citrus and other fruits one can supply a plethora of options to the thirsty palates of the 21st century. 

Gin Collins (orange infused)

Ingredients

  • 1½ oz. gin
  • ¾ oz. lemon juice
  • ¾ oz. simple syrup
  • Slices of orange

Instructions

  • Shake over ice, serve in a Collins glass, top with soda
  • Garnish: slice of orange

Join our next virtual cocktail class

Join Cocktail Club host Jackson Cannon and special guest Nino Geraci, bar manager at GrandTen, on Thursday, April 21 at 7 p.m. They’ll be making sustainable gin cocktails, catching up about the restaurant and bar scene, and share tips the pros use to make great drinks at home. They’ll be sharing a citrus-infused Tom Collins and shaking a few variations on the classic Hemingway daiquiri. Everything you need is in the shopping list here.