By Ron Fisher


The great Tom Collins Hoax of 1874 started as a practical joke and then went viral in several cities in the U.S. As the story goes, one man would tell another that a fellow named Tom Collins was running around the local watering holes saying awful things about him. With matters of slander considered to be a serious offense in those days, the insulted fellow would set out to find this guy Collins and give him <what for>. As the joke spread, so many people ran into the bars in search of Tom Collins that it didn’t take long for an enterprising bartender to concoct a drink by that name to give to the poor soul looking for a “Tom Collins”.


Creating the Tom Collins cocktail that we know — gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, and soda water – did not take much imagination, as it was just an adaptation of an existing drink called the John Collins, which used bourbon instead of gin, but was otherwise the same. Variations along a theme happen all the time in the cocktail world, especially with drinks in the Sour category, to which both Collinses belong, as well as Daiquiris, Margaritas, Cosmos, and a host of others.


Sours should be part of every cocktail mixer’s repertoire – they are easy to make, very versatile and always a crowd pleaser. A Sour is simply a combination of citrus juice (lemon or lime), sugar or another sweetener, and a base liquor. Frequently, the other sweetener is a fruit-flavored liqueur. As we will see, an orange liqueur —Curaçao, Cointreau, or Triple Sec – figures in to quite a few popular cocktails, and I would recommend having a bottle on hand. I prefer the first two liqueurs, as I think they have a richer flavor, but any of them will do.


Recipes for Sours are quite straightforward, but a couple of guideposts will help out. Lime juice tends to go with ‘white’ liquors – rum, gin, and vodka – while lemon juice fares better with ‘brown’ goods – whiskeys and brandy. Proportions depend upon the taste of the individual drinker, but the base liquor should always predominate, supported by the other flavors. So, go easy on the juices and other flavorings. Also, as I have said many times, err on the side of too dry rather than too sweet. You can always sweeten a cocktail if it is too tart, but it’s tough to fix a drink that is too sweet.


How versatile are Sours? A Gimlet is gin (or vodka), lime juice, and simple syrup. Replace the gin with rum and you have a Daiquiri. A Gimlet with lemon juice instead of lime is a Lemon Drop. Use bourbon with lemon juice and simple syrup, and it’s a Whiskey Sour. Coming full circle, add soda water to the Lemon Drop, and you’ve found Tom Collins.


Now, let’s replace the simple syrup with our orange liqueur. Vodka, the orange liqueur, and lime juice is a Kamikaze. Add cranberry to that mixture and you’ve got a Cosmo. Gin, orange liqueur, and lime juice (with a shot of bitters) is a Pegu Club, which we discussed in the last ROTR. Tequila, the liqueur, and lime juice is a Margarita, and rounding things out, brandy, our liqueur, and lemon juice is a Sidecar. 


Lastly, there’s one I can’t resist: the Sloe Gin Fizz. A Sloe Gin Fizz is a Tom Collins with Sloe Gin replacing the regular gin. Sloe Gin, from Great Britain, is a mixture of gin and the sloe berry, reportedly an unpleasant-tasting fruit, until it is soaked in booze. I have never had a Sloe Gin Fizz, nor do I think I ever will, for one of those odd, circumstances-in-life reasons. Once upon a time, some friends and I were trying to be served at a bar before we were legally able to do so, and we all had the sense to keep it very simple and order a beer. Except for one guy, who asked for a Sloe Gin Fizz, and we were thereupon thrown out. Standing on the street outside, someone looked at him and said, “Only an idiot would order a Sloe Gin Fizz!”



<<A Whiskey Sour>>


2 oz. bourbon

¾ oz. lemon juice

¾ oz. simple syrup


This is the basic recipe for any Sour, substituting as we have above. A Sour is designed to be shaken and served straight up in a cocktail (martini) glass, although it can also be had on the rocks.


<<The Tom Collins>>


2 oz. gin

¾ oz. lemon juice

¾ oz. simple syrup

2-4 oz. soda water


It would be inappropriate not to include the Tom Collins recipe. The drink is served on the rocks in, what else, a Collins glass (tall and thin).