Tom Collins – Classic Cocktail Recipes

It’s Friday night and you’re behind the bar…

Tom Collins Recipe
Tom Collins Recipe

When you get that request. A regular says ‘make them something new’. When you ask them what kind of drink they want it always the same answer. ‘Surprise me.’

You have drinks on the printer. There are three servers staring you down waiting for their orders. Some bro-dude is waving his cash around trying to flag you down.

Knowing how to make a Collins will make you a better bartender. It is one of the Seven Classic Cocktail Recipes you can effortlessly adapt to almost any situation. Follow the formula. Make a couple of substitutions. Surprise.

Is Tom Collins Here?

Imagine it’s 1874 and you’re a bartender. Every day it’s the same stupid joke. A guy walks into a bar and asks if you know Tom Collins. You say you don’t. The guy then tells you that Tom Collins is outside talking shit about you. He is hoping you’ll jump over the bar and storm out looking for this Tom Collins guy.

Except, this is approximately the 780th time somebody has tried to prank you this way. At this point the joke is so old the guy telling it seems bored and non-committal. You? You’re done with it. So, this guy asks if you know Tom Collins. You don’t reply. Instead you mix up a gin sour. Pour it over cracked ice. Top it with some soda. You hand it to the guy and say sure – “Here is your Tom Collins”.

I don’t know how it went down, but If I had been a bartender during the Great Tom Collins Hoax of 1874 that’s exactly what I’d have done. At any rate, the recipe for a Tom Collins shows up two years later in Jerry Thomas’s 1876 edition of the Bartender’s Companion.

The Collins Cocktail Formula

A Collins is a sour lengthened with soda. It is a fizzy gin and lemonade concoction. Delicious. Refreshing. Summer in a glass.

The Spirit

A Tom Collins is the classic. It is a gin based cocktail. As with any other sour, you can use almost any spirit and it will work.

The Sweet

Sugar or simple syrup are the basic choices for a a collins. Changing up the syrup is a quick and easy way to dramatically change the drink. Elderflower cordial, ginger, and vanilla syrups all work.

The Sour

The classic Tom Collins Recipe calls for lemon. After all, the drink is a boozy, sparkling lemonade. You could substitute lime, as in a Mojito. You could do a lemon lime thing. Remember the acidity of lemons and limes is considerably higher than most other juices. If you use something else you will have to add acid or reduce sugar somewhere.


In this case, soda refers to any carbonated soft drink. I prefer to use soda water in most cases, but you can use any sweetened carbonated soft drink. You will have to adjust the amount of sugar depending on the whether you use carbonated water or soda pop. Soda water has a slightly acidic pH. (Co2 is acidic and brings down the pH of water.) Of course, soda pop is already very sweet. As always, taste as you go and adjust the sugar accordingly.

The Glass

The drink is served in the glass that bears its name. The Collins glass is the elegant, tall thin glass you typically see a Tom Collins or a Mojito served in.

The Ice

The Tom Collins recipe calls for crushed ice. This is a long, cold, refreshing drink. Crushed ice keeps this drink icy cold. It’s all about surface area. If you don’t want to bother crushing ice pebble ice is a good alternative. Failing that, small cubes will work.

Tom Collins Recipe


  • 2 oz spirit Gin for a Tom Collins
  • 1 oz simple syrup
  • 3/4 oz lemon juice
  • 2 oz soda
  • Lemon wheel for garnish.


  1. Pour everything into a cocktail shaker filled with ice.
  2. Shake quickly to chill.
  3. Strain and pour into a collins glass filled with ice.
  4. Garnish and serve.


Fred Collins Fiz

The Fred Collins Fiz is a variation on the classic Tom Collins recipe. It is included in Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails. The base spirit is bourbon or rye and it is modified with orange curacao. There is no explanation for the spelling of fizz.


Mojito is universally understood to mean cold refreshment. The Cuban classic is one of the best uses for white rum and mint.


This drink sits between a Gin Fizz and Mojito. It has a gin base. The sugar comes from a vanilla and elderflower syrup. The acid is lime juice. The green herbal element is fresh basil.

Wildrose Collins

Rum collins

Try This

Change the Base

Changing the base spirit is the easiest way to change up the Tom Collins recipe. The Vodka collins is an obvious variation. As is rum or whisky. But what about Akvavit, Scotch or Brandy?

Add a Modifier

The Fred Collins Fiz uses orange curacao. You could try some creme de cassis or Strega. There is a whole world of flavor in the liqueur section. Take advantage of it.

Change the Syrup

Honey, agave, birch and maple syrups are all interesting sweeteners. Match the syrup to your spirit. Try making flavored syrups. Raspberry, cucumber, and gooseberry cordials add an interesting twist to a class drink.

Herbs & Spices

A humble mint sprig makes all the difference in a Mojito. Try basil, shiso, thyme or nettles. There is a whole world of herbs and spices that could be just the thing to make your drink more amazing.

Rims & Garnishes

Rims and garnishes can be a bit of an afterthought. They shouldn’t be. Give it some thought. The stuff sitting at the top of your drink adds aroma and flavor.

This is one of the drinks in our Guide to Gin Cocktails. Check it our for more great classic gin cocktail recipes. 

For more like this check out our Guide to Classic Cocktails.

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