Springtime is finally here, which means it is full-on Collins and fizz season, aka cocktails with soda water. The patriarch of this category is the Tom Collins, a cocktail so ubiquitous they named a glass after it. This indispensable classic epitomizes why simplicity equals cocktail greatness. It is merely a gin sour with lemon juice, served in a tall glass over ice and topped with soda water.
While it is an easy drink to make, knocking the ball out of the park takes a little forethought. Fortunately, I've thought about it plenty. After making dozens of versions over the years, I feel confident that the following recipe and methodology provide a sure path to the perfect Tom Collins.
Many recipes for this drink and others like it call for combining all the ingredients, including the soda water, in the glass and stirring or rolling – which means pouring back and forth from one container to another – to mix. I have two problems with this. First, it does not get the drink cold enough. Second, it kills the carbonation. I like to briefly shake the gin, lemon and simple syrup together before adding the soda. This chills and combines them without creating much dilution. I also pour the soda water into the glass first, rather than at the end. This way when you strain in the drink everything is instantly mixed without any stirring, maintaining maximum carbonation.
The Perfect Tom Collins
- 2 ounces gin
- ¾ ounce lemon juice
- ¾ ounce simple syrup
- Chilled soda water
- Combine the gin, lemon juice and simple syrup in a shaker.
- Fill a chilled Collins/highball glass with ice.
- Fill shaker with ice, shake for 3-4 seconds.
- Pour in 2-3 ounces of soda water in a Collins glass.
- Strain cocktail into glass.
- Top with more soda, if needed/desired.
- Garnish with an orange half wheel, if desired.
The Colder the Better
If you can, put the glasses and the gin in the freezer ahead of time. I generally don’t advocate freezing spirits, because it does not allow for enough dilution, but since we’re adding soda water dilution isn’t an issue here. And of course the soda water should be as close to freezing without crystallizing as possible.
Use Extra Bubbly Soda Water
Use soda water with the highest level of carbonation you can find. Stay away from lightly carbonated sparkling water like Perrier or Pellegrino. While wonderful on their own, they don’t hold their own in cocktails. Schweppes and Canada Dry are my go-to brands. Boylan’s is also excellent. For best results, use freshly opened bottles; they are never quite as bubbly after that. The smaller 10-ounce bottles are ideal. You'll go through them quicker, so there’s less chance they will go flat.
Like most classics, the Collins is ripe for revision, whether you’re simply swapping in a new spirit or adding in some muddled fresh ingredients. To name a few examples, if you use Genever – gin’s malty Dutch ancestor – as the base, you have a John Collins. With bourbon, it’s a Colonel Collins. Muddling some mint into a Tom Collins makes it a Southside Fizz and adding some cucumber slices to that begets an East Side Fizz. But don’t stop there. Plenty of other fruits, herbs, spirits and liqueurs can be used in a Collins with fantastic results. Use your imagination and explore!
John Wm. Macy’s pairing: A classic drink needs a classic snack. With a Tom Collins, you can’t go wrong with Original Cheddar CheeseSticks.
About the author
Tom Macy is on a personal mission to help us all make and drink better cocktails. His recently launched website, socialhourcocktails.com, is full of in-depth advice on cocktail recipes, techniques, tools and a whole lot more. He also teaches cocktail classes at the Brooklyn Kitchen and has dozens of cocktail videos on YouTube. He looks forward to connecting with CheeseSticks fans and offering his advice on constructing the perfect cocktail to go with "the perfect crunch!" Tom lives in Brooklyn with his wife Ellen and their two daughters, Willow and Violet.