In the year 1874, Tom Collins was a popular meme. Bar patrons in states like New York and Pennsylvania would sportingly ask their fellows if they'd seen the (fictional) Tom Collins, and if the bait were taken, the speaker would claim Mr. Collins had insulted the listener, but could be found just down the street. That, of course, would send the listener storming out of his barstool and off to settle the score.

Even journalists got in on the fun in what was known as the great Tom Collins hoax, running stories containing references to Mr. Collins to legitimize him. And the craze even led to its own drink, or the renaming of an old one, previously the John Collins.

That drink was named around the 1860s for the head waiter at a popular London hotel and coffee house. John Collins, though realer than Tom, was something of a mythical figure, too, and is memorialized in the following rhyme:

My name is John Collins, head waiter at Limmer's,
Corner of Conduit Street, Hanover Square,
My chief occupation is filling brimmers
For all the young gentlemen frequenters there.

For the conversion of the John Collins to the Tom Collins following the Tom Collins Hoax, and for much else in bartending, there’s another larger-than-life man we ought to thank, and it’s high time we did so. This week, in lieu of a living mixologist, we commune with the father of them all, Jerry Thomas.

The fabled “Professor” Thomas learned his craft in New Haven, Connecticut, but was soon caught up in the California Gold Rush, moving west to work as a bartender, gold prospector, and minstrel show manager. Thomas made his big splash when he returned east to open a saloon below Barnum’s American Museum in New York City, the first of four he would operate. His fame became such that he went on to mix — and invent — drinks at bars and hotels in San Francisco, New Orleans, and all over Europe.

Of course Thomas was known for his drinks, but he was also respected for his solid silver bar tools, flashy dress, and passion for bare-knuckle prize fights. A decided showman, his signature drink, The Blue Blazer, involved the juggling of fire between two mixing vessels.

But today, partly due to safety concerns, we offer the Tom Collins recipe from his 1862 book, The Bar-Tenders Guide (sometimes titled How to Mix Drinks or The Bon-Vivant’s Companion). The first volume of drink recipes and instruction ever published in America, it collected and codified the previously oral cocktail tradition.

Be assured, this isn’t the first Jerry Thomas drink you’ve tasted, nor is it the last we’ll hear from him.

Jerry Thomas' Tom Collins Gin (1876)

(Use large bar-glass.)
Take 5 or 6 dashes of gum syrup.
Juice of a small lemon.
1 large wine-glass of gin
2 or 3 lumps of ice

Shake up well and strain into a large bar-glass. Fill up the glass with plain soda water and drink while it is lively.


Learning To Drink Vol. 1: Shaken Or Stirred?
Learning To Drink Vol. 2: Punch Drunk
Learning To Drink Vol. 3: Bubbly
Learning To Drink Vol. 4: Bitters
Learning To Drink Vol. 5: Sours And Daisies
Learning To Drink Vol. 6: French Brandies