Collins Cocktails Explained

By Sina Torner / Last updated on April 30, 2023

Collins Cocktails are refreshing sour cocktails following the same pattern of base spirit, lemon, syrup, and carbonated water. Traditionally, these drinks come in a Collins glass served with a so-called Collins stick.
Collins Cocktail

The refreshing, fizzy Collins Cocktails have a very long tradition. They go back to at least the early 1800s and, quite possibly, even longer than that. The sour cocktails originated in England and were first made with a gin base. But over time, the Collins recipe became its own cocktail category with dozens of twists and tweaks.

Ingredients of Collins Cocktails

Collins cocktails are classic, refreshing, sparkling drinks. The formula for Collins Cocktails is simple. -All you need are four ingredients: a base spirit, lemon juice, simple syrup, and soda water. Some also refer to this as the Collins mix:

  • The base spirit: The first Collins Cocktail, the John Collins, was made in London. With gin being a traditional English spirit, it's no wonder the original contained the juniper-flavored liquor. Popular options for Collins drinks are dry gin, Dry London, or Old Tom. 
  • The lemon juice: Early recipes used a combination of lemon and lime juice. However, today's classic formula for a Collins Cocktail only asks for lemon juice. To get the drink perfect, always squeeze fresh lemons, and don't go with store-bought options. The difference is massive. If you want to experiment, go with the slightly less sour fresh lime juice. Or, if you want a bit of bitterness, give grapefruits a try.
  • The syrup: As for the sweet part, a regular simple syrup will work a treat. You can buy it in the store or use your homemade simple syrup. It's easy to make, and you can incorporate a little twist on your Collins cocktails using flavored syrup. We give some recommendations on this further down.
  • The Soda: That's the crucial part of making any Collins drink. It needs that refreshing fizz. Therefore, don't use a bottle of soda you opened days ago. -Always check there's enough carbonation left to bring that freshness into your drink. 

The Perfect Ratio

Our favorite measurements for basic Collins Cocktails are two parts spirit, 0.75 parts lemon juice, 0.5 part syrup, and 1.5 parts soda water. It's sour & refreshing and gets you a moderate ABV of about 16%.

One of the first written-down Collins recipes is the Tom Collins from Jerry Thomas Bartender Guide, published in 1887. 

He asked for 0.75 tbsp of sugar, three dashes of lemon juice, two dashes of lime juice, five lumps of ice, a cup of gin, and a bottle of soda. -He also advised drinking the cocktail immediately because otherwise, it would lose its flavor.

Over time, the ratios changed. -With modern mixology continuously trying to reach the perfect balance in a drink. Today, there's still some variation in ratios, depending on personal taste and recipe and the base spirit you pick. Still, our go-to ratio (2 parts spirit, 0.75 lime, 0.5 syrup, 1.5 soda) usually works great.

Collins Cocktail

Garnish for Collins Cocktails

The standard garnish for Collins cocktails, like the John or the Tom Collins, is a Maraschino cherry combined with a lemon peel. So, if you want to keep it traditional, that's the way to go. 

Do yourself a favor, and don't go with the cheap candied cocktail cherries. If you want a cherry for garnish for your drink, opt for authentic or homemade Maraschino cherries. They add a beautiful, really pleasant almond and cherry flavor to the mix.

Alternatively or additionally, peels from citrus fruit like orange or lime make a nice garnish. 

For a fancier visual, you can consider adding some berries, a mint sprig, or even a pretty flower garnish. All go well with gin-based Collins cocktails and with other variations. 

What is a Collins Glass?

Collins cocktails have their own signature glassware - the Collins glass, which has a cylindrical shape and looks similar to a highball glass. It's higher and slightly narrower, though. 

The average capacity of a Collins glass is between 10 to 14 oz - or about 300 to 420ml. The height-to-diameter proportion is between 2.5:1 and 3:1. An example size would be 6.75in high and 2.5in diameter - or in cm that's 17cm high and 6cm wide. 

What is a Collins Stick?

Collins ice sticks or spears

The Collins Stick is a long, clear, rectangular, ideally crystal clear ice stick. It fits into the Collins glass perfectly and melts slower due to its large size and high quality.

You put it into your cocktail glass before adding all ingredients, and the stick leaves just enough space to put in your bar spoon and give your drink a little stir before drinking it. Which brings us to the next question:

How to Make Collins Cocktails - Shake or Stir?

You best combine three ingredients of these drinks - spirit, citrus juice, and syrup - in a shaker, then pour that mix into your glass, top it up with the soda and use a bar spoon to stir everything gently.

Generally, you don't shake cocktails that have a fizzy component. Or, to be more precise, you should not add the carbonated element to your cocktail shaker. However, Collins Cocktails are no drinks you usually would stir in a mixing glass either. 

Alternatively to our approach, you can build these drinks directly in the glass and make do with a gentle stir after pouring the soda. However, lemon and syrup blend better with the spirit when shaking them.

Collins Cocktail Garnish

Members of the Collins Family

What started with John and Tom is now a whole Collins Family because the template is extremely versatile and works with almost every base spirit.

Since the concept of the late John Collins - the bartender who made the cocktail famous- was such a winner, all variations have their own fun first name. 

Some whiskey-based Collins cocktails are, for instance:

  • Colonel Collins with a Bourbon base
  • Captain Collins with Canadian Whisky
  • Sandy Collins with a Scotch base
  • Mike or Michael Collins made with Irish Whiskey

Variations with other base spirits are:

  • Joe Collins, based on vodka
  • Pedro or Ron Collins with rum
  • Juan Collins with a tequila base
  • Pierre Collins, made with cognac
  • Russel Collins made with Jägermeister

Origin of Collins Cocktails

It is a general consensus that the concept of mixing citrus juice, sugar, gin, and soda was already a thing sometime before the early 19th century. 

Yet, it was in 1810 when bartender John Collins decided to name this formula after himself. He served the drink regularly at his pub Limmer's Old House in London, and people picked up on it. 

Historians believe the initial recipe might have contained genever - the forerunner of gin. However, because Old Tom was so readily available in the England of the 19th century, this type of gin became a common choice.

Soon, many also referred to the drink as Tom Collins, which caused some confusion in today's world of mixology. If you want to know more about this, you can read the whole story in our article about the difference between the Tom and the John Collins.

Difference Between a Collins and a Fizz

Since the components of a John Collins and a Gin Fizz are the same, I quickly want to point out the main differences:

  • For one, a John Collins is a 10 to 14-ounce drink (due to the ice), whereas the Gin Fizz traditionally is an 8-ounce cocktail. -Even though with the same amount of alcohol.
  • Second, while the Gin Fizz is shaken with ice, then strained into a glass without ice, the Collins is shaken or built directly in the glass and served over ice. 
  • Plus: the Gin Fizz can come with a foamy egg white top - Collins drinks don't.

Using Flavored Syrup

If you want to mix up a creative twist on a Collins Cocktail, you can replace the simple syrup with flavored versions. For instance, floral sweeteners like homemade elderflower or butterfly pea syrup work great with gin-based Collins drinks. -Butterfly pea also adds a bit of magic to your drink because it changes color.

Raspberry Collins

Fruity syrups made from fig, raspberry, or pink dragon fruit also go well with gin, while pineapple or passion fruit syrup are fantastic additions to a rum-based Collins. Another classic choice would be agave syrup for the tequila-based Juan Collins.

The options are endless because the Collins template is so versatile. So, there's a lot of room for being experimental.

Related Articles

Collins Drinks are not the only popular cocktail type in mixology. Here are some more top categories that include some ultimate classics and crowd-pleasers:

Tom Collins Cocktail

Tom Collins

A refreshing, sour cocktail made with Old Tom Gin, lemon, syrup, and soda.
Prep Time: 3 minutes
Course: Drinks
Cuisine: British
Keyword: Gin
Servings: 1
Calories: 199kcal
Cost: $2.70


  • 1 Collins glass
  • 1 Cocktail Shaker
  • 1 Jigger
  • 1 Hawthorne Strainer


  • 2 oz Old Tom Gin
  • 0.75 oz Freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 0.5 oz Simple syrup
  • 1.5 oz Chilled soda water
  • 1 lemon peel
  • 1 Maraschino cherry


  • Add Gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup into your cocktail shaker together with a cup of ice.
  • Shake until the shaker feels ice cold and strain the contents over ice into a Collins glass.
  • Top your drink with ice-cold soda water and garnish with citrus peel and a Maraschino cherry.


Serving: 5ozCalories: 199kcalCarbohydrates: 13.25gSodium: 13.25mgPotassium: 62.25mgSugar: 13gVitamin C: 9.25mgCalcium: 21mgIron: 0.03mg
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

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