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Did The Tom Collins Cocktail Come From A 19th Century Joke?

The Tom Collins is a gin-based cocktail that requires few ingredients and is relatively simple to make at home.

Written by

Brianna LeCompte

I still remember attending my first Trivia night back in 2013. A group of my coworkers were discussing some options for happy hour venues and when we saw that a spot down the street was hosting a Trivia Night, we decided to go for it. I was instantly hooked. When the opportunity arose to join the Last Call team, I was ecstatic. Working with a talented and creative team to spread my love of trivia across the country-what could be better! I currently manage sales and outreach in our west coast areas. Outside of work, I love to travel and am also an avid equestrian and Disney movie lover.All Posts
Competing Origins

Competing Origins


The Tom Collins is a classic cocktail made with gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, and club soda. As is the case with many drinks, there is some debate about its exact origin. It’s particularly difficult to trace the exact creation of the beverage because it became popular in the 19th century, a time in which gin punches were commonly served in London bars.


While its inception is hard to trace, the first print record of the recipe comes from Harry Johnson’s 1882 book, New and Improved Bartender’s Manual: Or How to Mix Drinks of the Present Style. Johnson’s book included recipes for a number of cocktails that are still popular today, including the Mint Julep, Whiskey Sour, and Eggnogg. It also included more obscure drinks, such as Gin & Milk, Beef Tea, and Sherry & Egg.

One origin story holds that the drink was originally called the John Collins, after a bartender that may have invented it. This story claims that the name eventually evolved because the concoction was typically made with Old Tom gin, so drinkers eventually began calling the drink Tom Collins rather than John Collins. However, another story ties the name of this drink to a more unlikely source – a joke from 1874.

Have You Seen Tom Collins

Have You Seen Tom Collins?


To participate in the viral 1874 joke, men would ask their friends, “Have you seen Tom Collins?” After the friend replied no, they don’t know anyone by that name, the jokester would follow up by saying that their friend should find him, because he’s been speaking about their friend in an unflattering manner. The person was then meant to stomp off looking for this person, with the joke being that “Tom Collins” didn’t really exist. 


It became such a famous trick in large cities like Philadelphia and New York City that it was even dubbed “The Great Tom Collins Hoax of 1874.” Some newspapers at the time played along with the joke as well, even printing sightings of the fictional character. Several songs were also written at the time memorializing the hoax.


Some believe that a clever bartender created the cocktail to capitalize on the trend. This theory claims that a bartender created a drink named “Tom Collins” so that if anyone came rushing into his bar seeking revenge and asking for Tom Collins, they would unknowingly have ordered a tall gin drink instead.

Making A Tom Collins

Making A Tom Collins


Regardless of how the drink got its start, its simple recipe and refreshing flavor have allowed it to remain on menus for over 100 years. The flavor has been compared to sparkling lemonade, making it a popular summertime drink.


There are some minor variations between individual Tom Collins recipes. But a common recipe calls for 2 ounces of London dry gin, 1 ounce of lemon juice, 0.5 ounces of simple syrup, club soda, and a lemon wheel and maraschino cherry for garnish.


To concoct the drink, first add the gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup to a Collins glass. Then, fill the glass with ice, top it with club soda, and stir gently to mix. Add the lemon wheel and cherry as a garnish if preferred, and your Tom Collins is ready to go.

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