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How to make the finest Tom Collins cocktail, according to experts

Take notes so you can add these cocktail recipes to your home bar repertoire

Fresh home made Tom Collins cocktails with lemon
3523studio / Shutterstock

For a drink that has its own glass, you’d think the Tom Collins cocktail would be even more popular. It’s a classic, without a shadow of a doubt, but many imbibers don’t exactly know how to whip one up, let alone perfect it.

The Tom Collins is a relatively simple drink. That said, you still need to do it right. All the little things become that much more important, from effervescence and temperature to the freshness of the citrus. Assemble it poorly, and the drink is just a grown-up lemonade. Prepare it professionally, and you have one of the most refreshing cocktails ever devised in your hand.

Generally, it’s an invigorating mix of gin, citrus, seltzer, and simple syrup served in its namesake slender glass. Its origins date back to the mid-19th century when a barkeep named John Collins devised it. Because he preferred Old Tom Gin in the recipe, the name Tom was given to the drink. Although it hasn’t fully taken pop culture by storm (although we love this little clip from Wes Anderson’s brilliant Bottle Rocket), it has since become the subject of many tasty riffs and remains a must-know mixed beverage.

In the canon of iconic cocktails, Tom Collins plays a pretty big role. In short, you ought to know how to properly make one so that you can properly enjoy one. So, we reached out to some bartenders and industry types for suggestions on making the most ideal Tom Collins imaginable.

H. Joseph Ehrmann is a mixologist and owner of Elixir in San Francisco. Per his recipes below, he keeps his Collins straightforward and even likes a cucumber version that only adds to the refreshing nature of the drink.

“The Tom Collins is a simple drink, and the key to simple drinks is great ingredients,” he said. “Though its namesake gin is a sweeter style known as Old Tom, I prefer a classic London Dry Gin like Tanqueray or Beefeater. The choice of gin is up to your palate, but the key to a great Tom Collins is the right sweet-sour balance.”

He achieves that balance via some of his creations for Fresh Victor, an outfit known for its citrus blends (and one he’s a mixologist for). You want a real punch from your citrus with this drink, so quality juice blends or fresh-squeezed stuff becomes vital.

Several Tom Collins lined up
ivanmateev / Adobe Stock

Another component to keep in mind is texture. As cocktail guru Alex Day and his Death & Co. crew advise in Cocktail Codex, it’s all about not diluting the drink too much. “We like our Collinses as fizzy as possible, so rather than shaking them to full dilution, as for sours, we short shake them — just long enough to chill the ingredients without adding too much dilution, about five seconds,” Day explained.

Instead of topping with seltzer, Day prefers adding a measured portion of seltzer to the empty glass to begin with, prior to adding the rest of the drink that’s been mixed up in your shaker. He stresses very cold seltzer to hold on to the effervescence, as the room temperature stuff tends to go flat fast.

LyAnna Sanabria is a spirits specialist and works at Round Turn Distilling in Maine. She’s all about nailing each ngredient in the drink. “Arguably, the most important is the base spirit you choose,” Sanabria said. “The Collins takes to every type of gin, but my favorite is Bimini, a modern American gin. It’s a juniper bomb but in a citrusy way that can be the backbone but also play in harmony with the light and floral notes of fresh lemon.”

Emphasis on fresh, by the way. “Lemon juice pressed and strained to order will always be the brightest,” she added. “Next in our balancing act is sugar. I prefer a rich simple syrup, as in two parts white sugar to one part water. I don’t prefer this because I want my drink sweeter; I prefer this because I want to use less of it so I can leave more room for bubbles. As long as the soda or mineral water is super bubbly and unsweetened, it will work as the perfect topper.”

What does she suggest for bubbly water? Topo Chico or Polar Club soda. Now, ready your ingredients and get mixing.

Refreshing Gin Tom Collins Cocktail with Lemon
Brent Hofacker / Shutterstock

The perfect Tom Collins

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces gin
  • 2 ounces Fresh Victor Lemon Sour
  • Club soda
  • Lemon wheel and cocktail cherry for garnish

Method

  1. In a 10- to 12-ounce tall glass, add the ice and remaining ingredients.
  2. Stir gently and garnish.
Cucumber Collins cocktail
Fresh Victor

The Cucumber Collins

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces gin
  • 2 ounces Fresh Victor Cucumber & Lime
  • Club soda
  • Cucumber wheel and lemon wheel for garnish

Method

  1. In a 10- to 12-ounce tall glass, add the ice and remaining ingredients.
  2. Stir gently and garnish.
Phil Collins cocktail
Vinepair

The Phil Collins

Whether you’re a Phil Collins fan or not, you may love the drink with his name. This “Collins” is a bonus recipe, and it’s a twist on the classic Tom Collins, balancing vodka, cucumber, citrus, and sweetness. This recipe is courtesy of Vinepair.

Ingredients

  • 2 cucumber slices
  • 2 ounces vodka
  • 1/4 ounce green chartreuse
  • 1/2 ounce simple syrup
  • 1/4 ounce cranberry juice
  • 3/4 ounce lime juice
  • Seltzer water
  • Cucumber slice, for garnish

Method

  1. Muddle the cucumber in a cocktail shaker.
  2. Add the ice, vodka, green chartreuse, simple syrup, cranberry juice, and lime juice.
  3. Shake it briefly and then chill it.
  4. Fine-strain it into a Collins glass over fresh ice and then top it with the seltzer.
  5. Insert the cucumber slice vertically into the glass (as seen in the picture above).

Editors' Recommendations

Mark Stock
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon. He fell into wine during the Recession and has been fixated on the stuff since…
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