“Hedda Adlon had a friend, too, but not the kind you find anywhere south of paradise. Her name was Mrs Noreen Charalambides and, a couple of days before I was introduced to her, I had already committed her face and her backside and her calves and her bosom to a space in the flask of my Faustian memory previously reserved for Helen of Troy. …
….I wouldn’t have minded being bitten by Noreen Charalambides. Any proximity to her pouting, cherry red Fokker Albatross of a mouth would have been worth losing a fingertip or a piece of my ear. Vincent Van Gogh wasn’t the only fellow who could make that kind of heady, romantic sacrificial gesture.”
-Philip Kerr, If The Dead Rise Not
As regular readers of Saucy Dressings will know, I am Detective Tale addict, and one of my favourite investigative heroes is the hard-bitten, tough-talking pre and post WW2 Berlin ex-cop, Bernie Gunther. If The Dead Rise Not is set in the Hotel Adlon, where Gunther is working as a house detective. The super-luxury Adlon is on Unter den Linden, the main drag in Berlin’s central Mitte district, pretty much opposite the Brandenburg Gate.
So, of course, finding myself in Berlin, I wanted to go and spend a bit of time in the Adlon, and soak up the building where Gunther had fallen so nearly-fatally in love…or was it lust?
The best value way to spend time in an expensive hotel is to head for the bar, and that’s exactly what I did. The Adlon’s Elephant Bar is circled around the famed elephant fountain, gifted to the hotel in the 1930s by the Maharaja of Patiala, a man who by all accounts enjoyed the finer things of life and was well known for his lavish lifestyle – which included long stays at his favourite hotel in Berlin. These days even the drink muddlers are branded with echoing black elephants.
Gunther, I am sure, would have ordered a whisky. But it was a sweltering, steamy-hot day when I arrived and I needed something refreshing. So I plumped for a Tom Collins.
What is a Tom Collins?
Essentially and simply a Tom Collins is made from gin, fresh lemonade, and sparkling water. More correctly, the lemonade should be made along with the cocktail – ie freshly squeezed lemon juice and sugar syrup.
What’s the history of the Tom Collins and where did it get its name?
In the beginning….. or at least in the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth, in London (especially in slightly raffish clubs such as the Garrick, which was, and still is, for actors) there was a drink known as a Gin Punch. This was a combination of Hollands Gin (nowadays more commonly known as genever), lemon juice, chilled soda water and maraschino liqueur.
One particularly popular place for a Gin Punch was a hotel called Limmer’s, and the headwaiter there conjured them up with such success that he inspired the name for the punch as well as the following ditty:
“My name is John Collins, headwaiter at Limmer’s
Corner of Conduit Street, Hanover Square,
My chief occupation is filling brimmers
For all the young gentlemen frequenters there”
In the second half of the nineteenth century, John Collins (the cocktail, not the man) made it across the Atlantic to New York, and the recipe was published in the 1869 version of Haney’s Steward & Barkeeper’s Manual as follows:
“Teaspoonful of powdered sugar
The juice of half a lemon
A wine glass of Old Tom Gin
A bottle of plain soda
Shake up, or stir up with ice.
Add a slice of lemon peel to finish.”
So – one significant change – from the original Hollands Gin to Old Tom Gin. Old Tom is drier than Hollands Gin, but sweeter than London Dry gin.
And it’s my view (shared by a number of others) that it was at this point that ‘John’ and ‘Tom’ got mixed up and the cocktail had a renaissance as a Tom Collins. There are other, not very convincing, theories involving a widespread and not terribly funny practical joke which was popular in 1874.
How to make a Tom Collins
Yes, indeedy, this drink even has its own special shape of glass – it’s narrower and taller than a highball glass. Obviously the drink won’t taste quite right unless you have one of these…Then you will need:
- 3 parts Old Tom gin… or the Scottish Rock Rose gin (which isn’t sweet, but is slightly floral thanks to the rose root)… or Aviation gin which includes two types of orange peel and will marry well with the lemon juice…. or any London Dry will do
- 2 parts freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 part sugar syrup
- 4 parts fizzy water – cold
- A few drops of Brimmers Bitters
- Garnish – it’s traditional to garnish with a maraschino cherry and a slice of lemon
Note: If you have made your fresh lemonade, you can experiment with using that instead of the fresh lemon and sugar syrup. If you can’t be bothered footling around making sugar syrup you can add a teaspoon of icing sugar – and then taste, if it’s still a bit tart, add a little more, but cautiously.
- Chill your glasses.
- Mix the gin, sugar syrup, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker with lots of ice cubes.
- Put a couple of ice cubes into your Collins glass, strain in the liquid from the cocktail shaker.
- Top up with your fizzy water, drop in a couple of drops of bitters.
Substituting the gin – in my view, none are as good
If you substitute the gin, all kinds of other people enter the frame:
- Jack Collins – with applejack
- José Collins – with tequila
- Michael Collins – with Irish whiskey, named after the Irish revolutionary Michael Collins
- Ron Collins – with rum
- Jock Collins – with Scotch whisky
- Ivan Collins – with vodka
- Phil Collins – with pisco
- Klaus Collins – with Jägermeister
and there is also a straightforward Brandy Collins made with brandy.
To find out how to make fresh lemonade, follow this link.
Below, Phil Collins, no doubt sipping at his pisco, sings Another Day in Paradise.