Tom Collins: Enduring Spring Cocktail Popularized By a Hoax

photo by Thomas Le Ngo
photo by Thomas Le Ngo

Forget Southern Comfort Drones or making your Facebook friends think you’re permanently moving to Australia, ages before the Internet even existed, April Fool’s Day pranks had the ability to go viral. One of the most famous is the event known as the “Great Tom Collins Hoax of 1874,” which spread across various American cities, particularly New York and Philadelphia, and was perpetuated in several east coast newspapers, even months after the date.

The best jokes are often the most simple ones, and this one is the art of simplicity at its finest: A bunch of bar regulars hang out at their local as per usual. Someone says, “Did you hear the things Tom Collins was saying about you at ___ [the neighboring bar, probably a rival one]?” So the slandered victim storms into that bar asking after Tom Collins, only to discover he isn’t there, much to their chagrin. Instead, the barkeep presents this refreshing, lemony cocktail, (which is credited to Jerry Thomas in 1876.) The friends then spill in seeing their disgraced comrade sipping his drink at the bar... and it’s a scene that could play out in any modern day sitcom.

In some cases, depending on how sadistic said group of friends was, the target was sent all over town searching for Tom Collins, just narrowly missing his presence at several bars, with plants in each location fueling the rumors until the poor chump gives up or figures out that Tom Collins doesn’t actually exist. Months later, papers such as the Decatur, Illinois Daily Republican even printed such headlines as  “Mr. Collins Still Among Us,” reporting his whereabouts in the city and his uncanny ability to elude his marks.

Some things never change, right? It might be tough to get an 1874-style wild goose chase going in the same manner, but the Tom Collins cocktail is still one of the best harbingers of spring imbibing.

This coming weekend is a spring high holiday extravaganza with both Passover and Easter only a day apart. In years past we’ve suggested separate cocktails and beer and wine pairings to celebrate these religious holidays (Red Sea Sour, anyone?), but it occurred to me that in the tradition of celebrating that which is simple and good, why not make Tom Collins the official spring holiday drink of 2015?

Of course, any cocktail served for Passover must be made in accordance with Kosher for Passover regulations. Luckily, a Tom Collins can easily be adapted to those guidelines.

Herewith, three variations on this luscious citrus cocktail:

The Classic Tom Collins, adapted from Jerry Thomas’ Bartenders Guide

  • 2 oz/60 ml Dry Gin (we suggest Catoctin Creek Watershed or 86 Company Ford’s, but most dry gins work well in this classic drink)
  • .5 oz/15 ml Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice
  • .5 oz/15 ml Simple Syrup (1 part water to 1 part sugar)
  • Club Soda or Seltzer
  • Garnish: Lemon Wheel

Shake all ingredients except soda with ice until well chilled. Strain into Collins glass filled with fresh ice. Top with soda. Garnish.

The Tom Cohen, for you, a cocktail made with Kosher for Passover ingredients

  • 1.5 oz/ 44 ml Kosher for Passover Gin, such as Distillery No. 209
  • (You can also substitute KFP vodka, such as L’Chaim or even KFP  tequila blanco, such as Casa Vieja)
  • .5 oz/15 ml Lemon Juice
  • .5 oz/15 ml Simple Syrup
  • Spoon of Chopped Fresh Parsley or Mint, to represent the bitter herbs
  • Barspoon KFP Orange Liqueur, such as Sabra (optional, but it makes a niiice drink)
  • Bitter Lemon Soda

Shake all ingredients except soda with ice until well chilled. Strain into Collins glass with new ice. Top with soda. Now go check on the soup.

Raspberry Collins, finally some fresh fruit after that long winter!

  • 3 Raspberries
  • .25 oz/7.4 ml Simple Syrup
  • 2 oz Your Choice gin, vodka, tequila blanco or white rum
  • .75 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
  • Club Soda or Seltzer
  • Garnish: 3 Raspberries on a pick (must always be an odd number or it’s bad luck!) or lemon wheel

Muddle the raspberries and syrup in the bottom of a mixing tin. Add all other ingredients except soda and shake until well chilled. Strain into Collins glass with fresh ice. Top with soda. Garnish as you please.

Cheers to spring no matter how you celebrate!