The Legend Behind The Tom Collins Cocktail

The Tom Collins is a cocktail that most people are at least aware of, even if they've never tried it. This classic drink is made with simple ingredients. Tom Collins combines gin, lemon juice, sugar or simple syrup, and soda water, served on ice and usually a garnish like a lemon twist and sometimes a cherry, per Liquor. Like many cocktails, when it comes to making and enjoying a Tom Collins, it's typically served in a particular kind of glass.

The drink is served in a tumbler, sometimes called a Collins Glass, which is 12 ounces, as noted by Common Cocktails. According to The Online Wine Course, a version of a Collins drink has been around since the 19th century. Back then, as the article outlines, there was a drink known as John Collins made with genever rather than gin. The Manual explains that genever is a distilled malted spirit made popular in the Netherlands and Belgium that was blended with grain and infused with herbs and spices.

How a hoax turned into a drink

So how did a drink with a similar name and a different spirit evolve into the Tom Collins? It all started with a prank. According to Spirits Beacon, the Tom Collins was named after an 1874 hoax that started in New York before making the rounds to other parts of the country. As the article went on to explain, the hoax claimed, "Tom Collins was a loud and boisterous man who was known to sit in taverns and talk harshly of nearly everyone he'd met ... The victim was then encouraged to find Collins and confront him."

As reported by Paste, after a while, the bar prank between friends that claimed a man named Tom Collins was spreading negative talk about them evolved from a story to a beverage. The article further reports that eventually, bartenders were wise to the prank and started serving the cocktail when patrons would ask where they could find Tom Collins. Within a few years, the drink recipe found its way into bartenders' manuals, as noted in Difford's Guide. While the prank eventually fell out of popularity, the cocktail has stood the test of time.