Yesterday was Memorial Day, the holiday that officially marks the beginning of the summer season and gives us license to take our white pants out of winter storage. Although it was somewhat chilly and damp here on the East coast, I did wear white over the weekend and felt like summer was officially beginning even though the weather did not seem to want to comply. One of the most well-known summer classic drinks is the Tom Collins. Its origins are as murky as those of many of the other classic drinks, but most cocktail historians seem to agree on one version. There was a very pleasant and well-liked bartender named John Collins who worked at London’s Limmer Hotel in the early 1800s. He became famous for his gin punches, which were a mix of English gin, lemon juice, and sugar, topped with iced soda water. Patrons could not get enough of Collins’ punches, and began calling them by his name, even though it turns out that he was not the one who actually invented them. That credit really should have gone to Stephen Price, an American who was the head bartender at the Garrick Club, also in London. Price was as nasty as Collins was pleasant, so he fades into history while Collins ends up being immortalized by the cocktail’s name. This is why a bartender’s personality is so very important. As time went on, American drinkers began to prefer John Collins cocktails that were made with Old Tom gin, and at some point the name changed over to Tom Collins. That’s how it appears for the first time in print in Jerry Thomas’ The Bartender’s Guide in 1876.
I love a Tom Collins for the same reasons why I love many of the classic cocktails: it gives us an opportunity to take things in our own direction fairly easily. The original Collins recipe is 2 ounces of gin, 1 ounce of fresh lime juice, ¾ of an ounce of simple syrup, topped off with club soda and served in a tall Collins glass. For today’s cocktail, I’ve added in some basil, Suze, a honeydew jalpeño shrub from Element [Shrub], and kept the lime, simple syrup, and club soda. It’s a simple variation of this classic, but the flavors work well together and there’s a bit of herbal spiciness from the Suze and the shrub that I really like. If you look at the original recipe, you can certainly see the many different places you can take it, especially as summer begins to offer up its bumper crop of fresh fruits and vegetables!
Time for White Pants
Muddle 2 basil leaves and 1 lime wheel with the simple syrup in the bottom half of a shaker tin. Add the remaining ingredients (except for the club soda) and shake with ice until very cold. Double strain into a Collings glass with ice. Top with the club soda and garnish with a basil sprig and a lime wheel. Enjoy!