John Collins vs. Tom Collins And The History Of All The Different Collins
While probably not invented by Harry Johnson, his 1882 Bartenders Manual is the oldest printed book I could find to mention the Collins cocktail. There are many sources that say it was invented in 1814 at Limmer’s Old House in London but who really knows. There is no documentation of this and all the sources that state this seem to circularly reference each other. The oldest concrete evidence of this cocktail I can find 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 really 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 3 different recipes for the 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 at all and call the one made with genever a Tom Collins too.
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 basically 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. There are also Harry and Fred, all members of the same family.” They then go on to say they prefer the Fred Collins name, Thus lends 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 The 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 specific recipe. Similar to the Rickey, Daisy, or Fizz, the collins is used to describe a structure of 2 parts base spirit, 1 part citrus, 1 part sweetener, and 4 or 5 parts carbonated beverage. Harry Johnson influence has been permanent and the collins is ultimately both. It is both a specific cocktail like Harry Johnson pushed and a cocktail archetype like others believed. looking at its influence as an archetype there are many popular cocktails which are structurally a collins that you would not think of as a Collins. The Adios Motherfucker, Mojito, French 75, Paloma, etc, are all just fun variation on the Collins form.
The Brief But Memorable History Of The Tom Collins
The Tom Collins is enjoying a bit of a renaissance since Old Tom Gin is starting to become more regularly found in liquor stores again. Even though it was only around for a few decades and some major cocktail books back in the day left it out. Harry Craddock, Jerry Thomas (posthumously), George Kappeler, and a few others write about it, but major works like the Old Waldorf Astoria and Savoy make no mention of any Tom or John Collins. The oldest literary reference I could find to it was the 1882 Bartenders Manual which is the earliest reference to either the Tom or John Collins. I’ve read many articles saying the John Collins came first and the Tom was a variation of it but I can’t find one without the other. Wikipedia says the oldest reference to a collins cocktail is in the 1869 Steward and Barkeeper’s Manual by Jesse Haney & company, but I looked over that whole book and never found the recipe they reference. Granted I don’t have all the vintage cocktail books ever written but I probably have a couple hundred more than any reasonable person and the furthest back I can find the collins is by Harry Johnson.
Sadly this Old Tom cocktail was only on peoples radars for maybe 30 years or so. Haymans stopped manufacturing Old Tom in the 1930s I think, and by the 1910s most works refer to any collins cocktail as a Tom Collins and say you can use any base spirit with the drink. This harkening back to the Jerry Thomas book that called a collins made with whiskey a Tom Collins whiskey, or one made with brandy, a Tom Collins Brandy. This shows that the Tom/John Collins really lived on as a cocktail structure more a specific recipe. The name Tom Collins was being used even though no one was saying it needed to be mixed with Old Tom Gin.
Since Haymans started manufacturing Old Tom again in 2007, the classic spirit is proving to be very popular now. The Tom Collins has become all the rage (It is a very good drink so its understandable), but back in the day, outside of Harry Johnson and a couple others, It was kinda just a name to refer to a type of cocktail. In the late 1800s a guy would maybe walk into a bar and ask for a Tom Collins, and the bartender would ask what spirit he wanted, and the guy could say whiskey, and the bartender would know what he meant. As a disclaimer I was not of drinking age or even alive during the late 19th century to verify this last statement. It is simply my interpolation based on how publications and literature used the name and the recipes they provided at different points in time.