The Tom Collins we know today is a refreshing, zesty concoction made of gin, sugar syrup, soda and fresh lemon juice. It’s a widely popular gin cocktail and, due to its subtle and mellow flavours, a favourite for any occasion. The origin story of the Collins, however, is far from mellow and subtle.
During a warm New York spring of 1874, The Great Tom Collins Hoax was born, and spread like wildfire throughout all the watering holes of the city. The prank consisted of a group of friends telling their intended victim that a certain Mr Tom Collins was sitting at a tavern at such and such address, spreading all matter of wild rumours, marring this individual’s reputation.
The outraged pal who’s the intended butt of the joke then inevitably races to the aforementioned bar and asks the bartender if they’ve got a Tom Collins. The barkeep answers in the affirmative, and serves the individual this sour drink, which he then has to pay for.
The prank, perhaps not as funny by today’s standards, has quickly made its rounds through all the inns and bars of New York, with the newspapers retaining the hype by contending that Mr Tom Collins is indeed a real individual, and ‘has been spotted on numerous occasions, just narrowly missing his pursuers’.
The hoax died down by the autumn of that year, but the joke has kept the name lodged in the minds of New Yorkers and retained the cocktail’s popularity until, a few years later, the Tom Collins has successfully made its way into all the prominent mixology books for posterity.
So, the Collins of today is a great boozy by-product of a mass practical joke which rocked the city of New York for a season.
To prepare the refreshing drink yourself, mix two shots of gin with a shot of fresh lemon or lime juice, add half a shot of sugar syrup (dissolve 1/1 ratio of sugar in water), and mix well with some ice cubes; then strain into a tall glass and fill up with soda.
Or, to get a fine Collins prepared for you, walk on over to The Meadowpark, where – who knows – you also might just catch the elusive man himself.