For decades, vodka was the "it" spirit. While there are a galaxy of flavored vodkas available, discerning drinkers have recently been turning to the original flavored vodka: gin.
Now that modern drinkers no longer see gin as something to fear (largely thanks to cheap Windex-flavored gin and long-oxidized vermouth bottles ruining martinis everywhere), older cousins of gin have become popular in the mixology set. Some outfits have brought back genever, a Dutch spirit that's a malty, sweeter ancestor of today's London Dry gin.
In between genever and London Dry, there's Old Tom gin. It's a little sweet, but not as sweet as genever. It also doesn't have as much juniper flavor as your average London Dry, making it a great gateway for people who aren't used to a London Dry's botanical profile.
In the late 19th Century, if you ordered gin in the United States, you were almost certainly going to get Old Tom. And back then, the Collins was a very popular drink category. You've almost certainly had a Tom Collins if you've spent any time in a bar; I know I cut my drinking teeth on them many moons ago.
The more attentive readers out there have already noticed the connection. If you were ordering a gin Collins, it was surely with Old Tom gin, therefore you'd order a Tom Collins.
Your average dive bar Tom Collins is a somewhat grim affair, with neon yellow sour mix from the soda gun and cheap well gin. As with so many other simple cocktails, paying attention to simple details turns the drink transcendent.
First, if you're still using bottled sour mix at home, stop that right this instant. Pour it down the drain, and go get some real lemons and make some simple syrup.
Second, go get a bottle of Old Tom gin. I recently saw that Tanqueray has released a limited edition Old Tom as a companion to their incredible Malacca gin; if the Old Tom is even half as good as the Malacca, I recommend you buy a train load of it post-haste. You'll be glad you did.
When building your drink, remember Old Tom is sweeter than London Dry gin. Your average Tom Collins is 2 parts gin to 1 part each of lemon and sugar. If you make that with Old Tom, your drink is going to come out unpalatably sweet. Cut the sugar in half, adjusting the proportions to taste depending on what bottling of Old Tom you've picked up.
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I've seen a number of recipes for a Tom Collins call for the non-sparkling ingredients to be shaken together with ice, as one does with a great many other cocktails. Don't bother. Shaking introduces water through the ice melting. Since you're already adding sparkling water, the only thing that shaking the drink will do is reduce the efficacy of the bubbles.
Old-Style Tom Collins Different bottlings of Old Tom gin can have different levels of sweetness; start here and adjust the simple syrup amount to your preference. 2 ounces Old Tom gin 1/2 ounce simple syrup 1 ounce lemon juice Soda water to fill
Add gin, syrup, and lemon juice to a Collins glass filled with ice. Stir gently to combine. Top with soda water, and garnish with a lemon wedge.