When the weather is very hot and even our spirits begin to wilt, there are a few libations that typically provide temporary solace. The Margarita is probably the drink most regularly ordered, or a light and simple gin and tonic. But despite being one of the more well-known classic cocktails, Tom Collins is rarely in the hand of someone outside the bar industry. Consider this your periodic reminder.
“I kind of look at it like, you want to drink lighter in the summer, a Tom Collins is the perfect drink,” says Pete Polselli, bartender at the cocktail-centric Wink & Nod in the South End. “You’ve got the carbonation, and lemonade is already a summery drink.”
The Tom Collins, which, as is often the case in a century-plus-old recipe, has its competing origin tales, dating to either a 19th-century American bar hoax game, or a riff on a gin punch served by John Collins at Limmer’s Hotel in London, which used Old Tom gin as its base. At any rate, the recipe most bartenders look to appeared in Jerry Thomas’s “Bar-Tender’s Guide’’ in 1876, calling for Old Tom gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, and soda.
Today, there are dozens of variations, usually made by switching out the base spirit: a Juan Collins is made with tequila, while a Jack Collins takes applejack. For his Joan Collins — a name that has been used in other variations — Polselli worked off a recipe for a Brandy Collins, which he found in Charles Christopher Mueller’s “Pioneers of Mixing at Elite Bars: 1903-1933.” It was mixed with brandy, crème de violette (a violet, floral liqueur repopularized in recent years), lemon juice, and mineral water.
“At the time I was looking at cutting down the alcohol content on drinks, not having such pungently, strong-tasting drinks, and we needed a gin drink on the menu, so I switched out the brandy for an Old Tom gin,” says Polselli. Old Tom, a style of gin that was popular in the 18th century, might best be described in the middle spectrum of dry to sweet. Since the floral qualities of the gin, in play with the violet, can get lost, the bartender uses barrel-aged Spring44 Old Tom gin, where some of the wood asserts itself.
The result is a sort of back door to an Aviation, another classic cocktail, but without the maraschino liqueur. There’s no need for it here, or for simple syrup, because of the additional sweetness from the violet liqueur, in this case Crème Yvette.
It’s a recipe well suited for two types of drinkers, Polselli says: Those who like a story with their cocktail, and those who, on these hot summer nights, want something that will cool them down without putting them down for the count.