The History Of The Collins Cocktail.
While probably not invented by Harry Johnson, his 1882 Bartenders Manual is the oldest printed book I could find to mention the Collins cocktail. The oldest concrete evidence of this cocktail is the Harry Johnson one. It seems both the John Collins and Tom Collins are invented around the same time, and the Bartenders Manual gives a pretty definitive recipe for both the John and Tom Collins. His John Collins recipe calls for genever (dry gin doesn’t start to get mixed into cocktails till the end of the 1800s/early 1900s), and his recipe for the Tom Collins calls for Old Tom gin. Harry Johnson’s collins recipes and names are clearly defined, but unlike Harry Johnson, Jerry Thomas’s 1887 Bartenders Guide does not follow his recipes. The Bartender’s Guide doesn’t even mention the John Collins but instead uses the name Tom Collins for every variation of the collins. It has three different recipes for Tom Collins. A Tom Collins whiskey, a Tom Collins brandy, and a Tom Collins genever. It doesn’t mention the Tom Collins with Old Tom gin and calls the one made with genever a Tom Collins.
To further complicate this, in 1885, a British cocktail book called “The New guide for the hotel, bar, restaurant, butler, and chef” by Bacchus and Cordon Bleu has a recipe for what they call a Fred Collins. Their Fred Collins Recipe is a Whiskey Collins with orange liqueur instead of simple syrup. Their Collins section states, “I should be glad if our caterers would agree what it is to be perpetually named. One Barkeeper calls it a John Collins – another Tom Collins. Harry and Fred are all members of the same family.” They then say they prefer the Fred Collins name, thus credence to Jerry Thomas’s version of the Collins in that the name is more a style than a specific drink. Hell, there was a Harry Collins we have never seen. The Savoy Cocktail Book does the same thing and has both a Dry Gin and Whiskey Tom Collins. Although The Savoy does say that a Tom Collins made with genever is instead called a John Collins.
While Harry Johnson uses the names as specific cocktails, the Bartenders guide and others seemed to use the collins as a cocktail structure more than a particular recipe. Like the Rickey, Daisy, or Fizz, the collins describe a structure of 2 parts base spirit, 1 part citrus, 1 part sweetener, and 4 or 5 parts carbonated beverage. Harry Johnson’s influence has been permanent, and the collins is ultimately both. It is a specific cocktail that Harry Johnson pushed and a cocktail archetype like others believed. Looking at its influence as an archetype, many popular cocktails are structurally collins that you would not think of as a Collins. The Adios Motherfucker, Mojito, French 75, Paloma, etc., are just fun variations on the Collins form.
The Dry Gin Variation Of The John Collins.
Once genever fell out of fashion, and dry gin became a popular spirit to mix with, it was only a matter of time before the John Collins became a dry gin cocktail. This is the most refreshing of all the collins cocktails as the dry gin and lemon give it a very clean and crisp flavor. It tastes very much like lemonade.