Do You Know Tom Collins?
The Tom Collins, traditionally a sparkling lemonade drink, is our pick as the ideal summer patio drink. In the 1950s and ’60s, it was the official drink of summer, and various gin ads described the cocktail as the “king of cooling drinks.”
The gin cocktail is typically made with lemon juice, soda water and sugar and is served over ice. Popular garnishes have included a maraschino cherry and a lemon or orange slice.
In a memorable scene of the AMC series “Mad Men” (Season two, episode two), leading man Don Draper teaches his 6-year-old daughter Sally to make a Tom Collins. She then mixes the cocktail for her parents and the guests who have arrived to play bridge. He instructs: “You don’t smash the cherry on that. Just plop it in at the end. Try to keep it in the top of the glass.”
The cocktail’s history goes back several more decades. A recipe for a John Collins, apparently named after the head waiter in a popular London bar, was published in the 1869 edition of The Steward and Barkeepers Manual. After a name change, a recipe for a Tom Collins was first detailed in writing in 1876 by legendry mixologist Jerry Thomas, and it was described as the most popular drink of the time in the 1878 edition of The Modern Bartenders’ Guide by O. H. Byron.
The drink’s namesake first made newspaper headlines during what is known as the Tom Collins Hoax of 1874. The popular prank was based on a fictitious bar patron by the name of Tom Collins and would begin when a person would approach an acquaintance on the street and ask if he knew Tom Collins. That person would respond that he did not. The first person would explain to his friend that Collins was in a nearby bar spreading horrible rumors about the friend, who would then rush off to the bar to find the gossip-spreading mystery man. Once there, others who where in on the joke would say that Collins had just left for another bar. And so the chase would ensue.
As the prank spread across the nation, newspapers were even reporting sightings of the elusive rumormonger and songs were written about him. Legend has it that an enterprising bartender (or two), finally fed up with exasperated patrons rushing into his establishment demanding to find Tom Collins, concocted a drink of the same name. So, when a customer came in asking if the bartender had seen Tom Collins, that person was handed a drink.
Today, the cocktail is usually served in a tall, narrow glass commonly referred to as a Collins glass. You can enjoy the summer cocktail with this simple recipe or try Abigail Gullo’s variation on it, the Cumberbatch Collins.
Abigail Gullo, head bar chef at SoBou, describes her version as an “easy twist on a Tom Collins that is ideal for sipping on a breezy front porch in the summertime. The Benedictine, a 500-year-old herbal liqueur made by monks in France, and cucumber additions give it a green herbal kick. In addition to single servings, this drink lends itself to larger batches, and the cucumber makes for a beautiful garnish floating in a pitcher.”