Thursday, April 16, 2015

Tom Collins

I don't make a Tom Collins nearly often enough. It's such a simple cocktail, and so much milder in flavor than a Gin and Tonic or Gimlet. But writing this post resurrected my love for this fizzy, refreshing gin concoction. I think part of what did it was following the instruction to garnish the drink with a cherry and an orange slice. If there's one thing I've learned from making all these cocktails by-the-book, it's not to underestimate the importance of a garnish. Just the aroma of herbs or citrus can really do something for a cocktail.

If you've never had a Tom Collins, or haven't made one in a while, now's the time. It's a perfect drink for spring and summer.

History: A drink called the John Collins with a recipe identical to that of the Tom Collins first appears in 1869 in Haney's Steward and Barkeeper's Manual. It may have been named after the head waiter of a popular London coffee house, Limmer's Old House. This possibility comes from a very obscure text from 1830 called Lyrical Musings by Frank and Charles Sheridan, in which a poem mentions Collins and his gin punch. To be honest, I can't really find much evidence that this book exists outside of some blog entries about the Tom Collins. If anyone knows more, I'd love to hear it.

The 1869 recipe specifically calls for Old Tom gin (see here for more on Old Tom), which may have been the catalyst for the name change. But there's another possibility. In 1874, a practical joke spread throughout the United States with a speed and tenacity today reserved for YouTube videos of cats riding Roombas. The joke was to ask someone "Have you seen Tom Collins?" When the person, bewildered, replied that they had not, the joker would insist that Tom, a boisterous drinker and gossip, was sitting in a nearby bar, spreading rumors about them. From the Gettysburg Compiler in 1874:

"He is talking about you in a very rough manner - calling you hard names, and altogether saying things about you that are rather calculated to induce people to believe there is nothing you wouldn't steal short of a red-hot stove."

The object was to coerce the person being questioned to storm into the bar and demand to see Tom Collins, while the questioner presumably had a good laugh in the background. (This is, no doubt, a "you had to be there" joke, "there" being 1874.) But enterprising bartenders decided to serve the victims of the joke a fizzy gin cocktail - the "Tom Collins" the patron was looking for.

Tom Collins

1 1/2 oz. gin
3/4 oz. lemon juice
3/4 oz. simple syrup
Club soda

Combine gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled and strain into an ice-filled Collins glass. Top with soda. And don't forget the garnish!

Recipe adapted (per GarnishGirl's First Rule of Mixology) from Vintage Cocktails.

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