There is a story behind every classic cocktail, from the Old Fashioned being a reaction to more complex and elaborate drinks, to the Manhattan being specially made by Winston Churchill’s mother to celebrate a presidential candidate.
A cocktail is a fascinating storyteller, but there is one cocktail with an especially fascinating and muddled history that is linked to an infamous hoax, a British man with a different name and one of the most famous mixologists of his era.
The drink likely originated as a gin punch, made from gin or bourbon on the rocks with lemon juice, sugar and carbonated water, gently stirred with bitters and served with a slice of lemon and a cherry.
This drink was originally known as the John Collins, allegedly named for the head waiter of Limmer’s Old House in Mayfair, and this version of the recipe (asking for Old Tom Gin), was first mentioned in the Steward and Barkeeper’s Manual of 1869.
It was renamed the Tom Collins by famed mixologist Jerry Thomas for two significant reasons.
The first was the use of Old Tom Gin rather than Hollands, which subsequently led to the John Collins name referring to the whiskey version of the old drink, and the other was a rather noteworthy event in 1874.
In several major American cities, people began to strike up conversations with people by asking if they had seen Tom Collins, and when the person responded with predictable confusion, they would say that he was talking about them and was nearby or in a local bar or just around the corner.
Because it had become the 1874 version of viral, many people capitalised on the attention, with newspapers publishing fictional Tom Collins sightings and bartenders at the bar the rumourmonger had led a person to preparing a special cocktail for these new and frustrated patrons.
The Tom Collins story has even more than most cocktail origin tales been mixed up with songs and other folk tales to the point that by the Prohibition 1920s many historians gave up on figuring out the true origins.
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