Collins Cocktail

All you need to know about Collins Cocktails

By Sina Torner / Last updated on July 29, 2022

First published on May 9, 2022 

All Collins Cocktails are refreshing sour cocktails following the same pattern: they are always a combination of a base spirit, lemon, a syrup, and carbonated water.

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 cocktail originated in England and initially was made with a Gin base. But over time, the principle of the Collins recipe became its own cocktail category.

The template for Collins Cocktails

Collins cocktails are classic, refreshing, sparkling drinks. The template for Collins Cocktails is simple. -All you need is 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 first made in London. And with Gin being a traditional English spirit, it's no wonder that this original was based on Gin. A popular option for Collins drinks is either Dry Gin, Dry London Gin, or Old Tom Gin. 

The lemon juice: Some of the early recipes used a combination of lemon and lime juice. However, today's formula for a Collins Cocktail only asks for lemon juice. And to get your drink perfect, always squeeze fresh lemons and don't go with storebought juices. The difference is remarkable.

If you want to experiment a bit, go with fresh lime juice, which is slightly more sour than lemon. Or, if you want a bit of bitterness, give grapefruits a try.

Collins Cocktail

The syrup: As for the sweet part, a good, old simple syrup will work a treat. You can buy simple syrup at the grocery store, or alternatively, you can use your own homemade simple syrup. It's easy to make, and you can incorporate a little twist on your Collins cocktails by using flavored syrup. Scroll down for some recommendations on this.

The effervescence: That's the crucial part of making any Collins drink. It needs that refreshing fizz. Therefore, don't use a bottle of soda that you have had open for a few days already. -Always make sure there's enough carbonation left to bring that freshness into your drink. 

The perfect ratios for Collins Cocktails

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, 3 dashes of lemon juice, 2 dashes of lime juice, 5 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 flavors. -Just on a sidenote.

Over time, the ratios changed with modern mixology always trying to reach the perfect balance in a drink. And today as well, there's still some slight variation, depending on personal taste and the base spirit you pick. But my preferred formula is 2 parts Gin, 0.75 parts lemon juice, 0.5 part syrup, and 1.5 parts soda water.

Difference between a Collins and a Fizz

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

For one, a John Collins usually is a 14-ounce drink, whereas the Gin Fizz traditionally is an 8-ounce cocktail. Second, while the Gin Fizz is shaken with ice, then strained into a glass without ice, the Collins can be either shaken or stirred and gets served over ice.

Typical garnish for Collins Cocktails

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

And please, don't save on the cherries. If you use them to garnish your drink, opt for authentic or homemade Maraschino cherries, not the cheap replacements. They have such an artificial taste that it will spoil the whole cocktail.

Collins Cocktail Garnish

Alternatively, citrus fruit like orange or lime makes a nice garnish. And berries, a mint sprig, or even some pretty flower garnish goes well with a Gin-based Collins cocktail, too. 

Members of the Collins Family

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

And because the concept of the late John Collins - the bartender this time- was such a winner, they all got named accordingly. 

Whiskey based Collins cocktails:

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

Other base spirits:

  • Joe Collins is 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

Shake or stir Collins Cocktails?

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 aren't drinks you usually would stir in a mixing glass either. 

That means you can shake the other three ingredients with ice. Then strain them over ice into your Collins glass and top everything up with the soda water. 

If you don't have a shaker, here's a list of things that work as an alternative. Or, you check out our recommendations for cocktail shakers and the best cocktail shaker sets.

The Collins Glass

Collins cocktails even have their own signature glassware. A Collins glass is cylindrical in shape and looks very much like a highball glass. It's higher and more narrow, though. 

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

Using flavored syrup in Collins Cocktails

If you want to create your own version of a Collins Cocktail, you can replace the simple syrup. For instance, floral sweeteners like homemade elderflower syrup or butterfly pea syrup work great with Gin-based Collins cocktails. -The 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 syrup and passion fruit syrup are a fantastic addition to a Rum-based Collins. And 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.

Inventor of Collins Cocktails

I also quickly want to mention the origin of the Collins cocktails. The general opinion is that the concept of mixing citrus juice, sugar, Gin, and soda had been around before the early 19th century. 

But it was then, in 1810, that a bartender with the name John Collins decided to name the drink after himself. He served the drink regularly at this watering hole, and people picked up on it. However, because Old Tom Gin was so popular in the 19th century, many also referred to the drink as Tom Collins. If you want to know more about this, you can read the whole story in the article about the difference between the Tom and the John Collins.

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