The Tom Collins is a classic cocktail that never goes out of style. This gin drink is always a great choice, thanks to its simple ingredients and balanced sweetness.
This post contains affiliate links. If you click on one and buy something, Feast + West receives a small commission at no additional cost to you. All opinions are our own. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Tom Collins recipe
Cocktails don’t have to have a lot of fancy ingredients. Some of the best drinks are an uncomplicated combination of simple ingredients.
The Tom Collins is exactly this drink. Whether you’re a gin lover or simply seeking a refreshing cocktail, the Tom Collins is here to answer the call.
With its bubbly effervescence and citrusy flavors, the Tom Collins is the epitome of refreshment, making it perfect for warm summer days or any time you crave a cool drink.
Whip one up for happy hour at home or make a big batch for a party. Either way, this drink is one every gin lover should know and love.
Why you’ll love this recipe
- The Tom Collins is a sophisticated cocktail that exudes elegance without requiring complex techniques or hard-to-find ingredients. It’s a classic choice that never fails to impress.
- The combination of fresh lemon juice and simple syrup provides a balanced sweetness that enhances the botanical notes of the gin, resulting in a harmonious and well-rounded cocktail.
- It’s a simple yet delicious cocktail for any time, but especially a hot summer day. Try it for happy hour or enjoy it at a summer party.
Whether you’re hosting a backyard BBQ, picnic or poolside party, the Tom Collins is a fantastic choice. It’s also great for happy hour at home to start your evening off on the right foot.
Or enjoy it whenever you want a light and refreshing drink to enjoy during lazy hot summer afternoons or relaxed weekend gatherings.
What is a Tom Collins cocktail?
The Collins cocktail is a sour cocktail made with a base spirit (typically gin), lemon juice, simple syrup and soda water.
Like many cocktails, the history of the Tom Collins is debated. According to Difford’s Guide, the most likely version suggests the Collins morphed from the 19th century gin punch, a popular drink of the time. A bartender named John Collins at Limmer’s bar in London was famous for his gin punch, and it could be that the drink was called a Tom Collins when made with Old Tom gin.
Another story suggests a Mr. Collins created the drink at the Whitehouse tavern in New York in 1873. A similar version attributes it to a bartender named Tom Collins who worked in New York City and New Jersey.
One more story goes that the drink got its name from the Great Tom Collins Hoax of New York in 1874. It was a joke that involved telling a friend a man named Tom Collins had insulted them and he could be found in a bar nearby.
Regardless of its origin, there were originally two drinks in the Collins family: the Tom Collins and the John Collins. Tom was always made with Old Tom gin, while John was made with Holland gin, AKA genever.
Today, the drink has evolved even more. Modern Tom Collinses are almost always made with London Dry Gin, though Old Tom gin is still preferable. The John Collins now also refers to a drink made with whiskey.
Tools & glassware
To truly embrace the Tom Collins experience, the right glassware is essential. The drink is almost always served in Collins glasses, tall, slender, round glasses usually holding 12 to 16 ounces of liquid.
The glass showcases the cocktail’s inviting appearance and helps maintain its effervescence. The tall shape allows for plenty of ice.
However, you may prefer a Collins ice cube. This long, skinny ice cube is made just for the Collins glass and highball glass. You can buy Collins ice trays just for making this unique shape of ice. Regular ice cubes work too!
$20.27 ($3.38 / Count)
$60.00 ($15.00 / Count)
The Tom Collins has just four simple ingredients, plus a couple of garnishes to finish it off. Here’s what you need:
Traditionally, the Tom Collins is made with a type of gin called Old Tom gin. However, London Dry gin is very common.
Old Tom is sweeter and more full-bodied, whereas London Dry is lighter. The latter is what most people know as gin.
One of my favorites is Hendrick’s Gin, with notes of rose and cucumber that perfectly complement the sweet lemon flavor.
For a pretty purple Tom Collins, use a purple gin made with butterfly pea powder, such as Empress Gin.
Head to Gin 101 to learn more about gin and the best brands of gin to use.
Fresh lemon juice gives off the best, sweetest flavor in a cocktail if you have it on hand. Feel free to use a good quality lemon concentrate if you need a shortcut. Lime juice will also work if you are out of lemons.
I use a citrus squeezer to get the most juice out of my citrus fruits.
Tip: Room temperature citrus is easier to juice than cold, refrigerated fruit. Set your citrus fruits out on the counter for a couple hours to warm up before juicing them.
Sugar is difficult to mix into a cocktail, so simple syrup (also called sugar syrup), a mixture of sugar and water, works even better.
A flavored simple syrup can add more depth of flavor and help you create some fun combinations.
Carbonated water has many names: soda water, club soda, fizzy water and sparkling water.
They’re pretty much the same — just water with bubbles. If you have a favorite brand, start there.
For your Tom Collins, you can use plain sparkling water or flavored fizzy water to create your own flavor combinations.
Using champagne instead gives you a French 75. This Elderflower French 75 has an additional splash of St. Germain, giving off a sweet, floral flavor.
The traditional garnish for a Tom Collins is a flag of an orange slice and a cocktail cherry. A lemon slice or lemon wedge can be used as well.
Some bars will use maraschino cherries, but brandied cherries take this cocktail up a serious notch.
Add them to a cute cocktail pick to give this drink even more elegance.
Variations and substitutions
The Collins family of cocktail has lots of variations:
- Joe Collins: AKA the Vodka Collins, this one’s made with your favorite vodka instead of gin.
- John Collins: The original John Collins used London Dry gin or genever instead of Old Tom gin. But today it’s often given the John Collins name when made with whiskey. This one is sometimes called a Colonel Collins (bourbon); Captain Collins (Canadian whisky); Jock Collins or Sandy Collins (with Scotch whisky); Michael Collins or Mike Collins (with Irish whiskey).
- Pedro Collins: Use light white rum instead of gin.
- Pierre Collins: Brandy or cognac take the place of gin in the Brandy Collins.
- Pepito Collins or Juan Collins: In this variation, tequila takes the place of gin. Additionally, if you use grapefruit juice instead of lemon, you’ll wind up with a paloma.
- French 75: If you use bubbly instead of club soda, you’ll end up with this classic champagne cocktail.
- Non-alcoholic Tom Collins: You could also easily make a virgin Tom Collins by using a zero-proof spirit such as Ritual gin alternative.
How to make a Tom Collins
Putting together the classic Tom Collins is super simple. Here’s what to do:
In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine gin, lemon juice and simple syrup.
Shake well and strain into a Collins glass filled with ice.
Then top up the drink with club soda.
Finally, garnish it with an orange slice and a cocktail cherry.
Tips & tricks
Save money and make your own simple syrup with sugar and water.
Use fresh lemon juice for the best flavor. The concentrate can be more tart than regular lemon juice.
Try it with different kinds of gin or other spirits to experience all the versions of this cocktail.
Make a big batch and serve it in a large pitcher for a party.
What to serve with a Tom Collins
The Tom Collins is a classic refresher cocktail that pairs with so many foods.
The lemon flavor goes especially well with seafood, such as popcorn shrimp, fried fish or a Caesar salad.
The Tom Collins is made with gin, simple syrup, lemon juice and carbonated water. The traditional Tom Collins uses Old Tom gin but the more commonly used London Dry gin is welcome too. A Collins can also be made with other spirits such as vodka, whiskey, tequila, rum and brandy.
Made with gin, lemon juice, simple syrup and club soda, the Tom Collins tastes similar to an herbal lemonade. It has a depth of herbaceous gin flavor along with bright and zesty lemon. It’s sweet and effervescent, the perfect refreshing cocktail.
Traditionally, the Tom Collins was made with Old Tom gin and the John Collins was made with Holland gin, AKA genever. Today, the drink has evolved and the Tom Collins can be made with either Old Tom gin or London Dry gin and the John Collins is made with whiskey.
While both are gin cocktails, several key differences exist between a Gin & Tonic and a Tom Collins. The Gin & Tonic is made with gin, tonic water and a splash of lime juice. No sweetener is added to a Gin & Tonic. On the other hand, a Tom Collins is made with gin, simple syrup, lemon juice and carbonated water — not tonic water, which has a distinct flavor.
More classic cocktails
- 2 ounces Old Tom gin or London dry gin
- 1 ounce fresh lemon juice
- ½ ounce simple syrup
- 4 ounces club soda
- 1 orange slice for garnish
- 1 cocktail cherry for garnish
- In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine gin, lemon juice and simple syrup. Shake well.
- Strain into a Collins glass filled with ice.
- Top with club soda.
- Garnish with an orange slice and a cocktail cherry.
- vodka (Vodka Collins or Joe Collins)
- whiskey (John Collins)
- tequila (Juan Collins)
- brandy (Pierre Collins)
- rum (Pedro Collins).
As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.