Celebrating the Second Golden Age of Cocktails
<Tom Collins (left) and Gin Fizz (right) from the IBA website. The two drinks have identical ingredients so in real life will appear the same more often than not>
Quoting David Wondrich: ‘there are few arguments in the world of bartending more perennial than the distinction between Collinses and Fizzes1)’. In particular, John/Tom Collins and Gin Fizz have identical ingredients, which confuses a lot of bartenders. The school of thought that tends to dominate the current bartending world is that Collinses are built on ice whereas Fizzes are shaken, but is this accurate? I will go through a number of renowned cocktail texts/recipes and investigate the differences between these two very similar, possibly identical, drinks.
Steward & Barkeeper’s Manual (1869)
This book contains one of the earliest recipes of John Collins2), which goes like this:
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.
Jerry Thomas – The Bon Vivant’s Companion (2nd edition 1876, 3rd edition 1887)
In the first edition (1862), there is no mention of Collins or Gin Fizz.
In the second (1876) and third (1887) editions, there are entries for Tom Collins & Gin ‘Fiz’.
Tom Collins Whiskey recipe, 1876 edition4)
5 or 6 dashes of gum syrup
Juice of a small lemon
1 large wine-glass of whiskey (substitute with gin for Tom Collins 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 imbibe while it is lively.
The above recipe does not change in the 1887 edition of the book5). Both Jerry Thomas’s book and Steward & Barkeeper’s manual list Collins as a shaken drink. Now let’s have a look at the Gin Fizz.
Gin Fiz recipe, 1876 edition6) (Note how the drink is spelt ‘Fiz’ instead of ‘Fizz’)
4 or 5 dashes of gum syrup
Juice of half a lemon
1 small wineglass of spirits
Fill the glass half full of shaved ice, shake up well & strain into a glass. Fill up the glass with Seltzer water from a siphon and drink without hesitation.
Gin Fiz recipe, 1887 edition7)
1 tea-spoonful of powdered white sugar
3 dashes of lemon juice
1 wine-glass of Holland gin
1 small piece of ice
Fill up the glass with Apollinaris or Seltzer water. Stir thoroughly and serve.
Note how, in the 1876 edition of Jerry Thomas’s book, the Gin ‘Fiz’ is listed as a shaken drink, but in the 1887 edition the drink becomes a stirred drink.
The sources above indicate that Collinses should be shaken, and Fizzes stirred (at least after 1887). This is opposite to the dominant school of thought nowadays that Collinses should be built over ice and Fizzes shaken. So are the modern bartenders getting the preparation methods for the two drinks mixed up?
A guy called George Sinclair seems to think so. In his essay8), he insists that the modern bartenders have got the preparation methods for Collinses and Fizzes mixed up. However he does not have any arguments to back up his assertion, other than the fact that that’s how Jerry Thomas did it in his recipes (1887).
Sebastian Reaburn, founder of 1806 bar in Melbourne, Australia, suggests that Jerry Thomas’s 1887 Gin Fiz recipe could have been inaccurate. He describes on his 1806 Bar Menu: Jerry Thomas’s Gin Fiz being a stirred drink ‘represents the American style rather than a true difference in the cocktail itself9)’. But this is still insufficient to conclude that Gin Fiz should not have been described as a stirred drink by Jerry Thomas.
David Wondrich – Imbibe! (2007)
Wondrich has written an impressive essay on the origin of the Collins, and also explains the difference between Collinses & Fizzes10). Collins, being a larger drink than a Fizz, need to contain ice in the glass to maintain its chill for longer, and having ice in the glass in turn eliminates the need to shake the drink – the drink can simply be built on ice directly in the glass it is served in. Fizz, on the other hand, is meant to be downed ‘with dispatch’, so is served in a smaller glass than a Collins. Small serving size means that there is no need to provide a ‘battery’ to prolong the chill of the drink, so no ice is necessary in the glass – shaking the drink with ice and straining it into a pre-chilled glass will provide sufficient chill to the drink.
David Embury – The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, 3rd Edition (1958)
Below are the recipes for Tom Collins and Gin Fizz listed in Embury’s book.
1 tablespoonful sugar syrup
Juice of 1 medium-sized lemon
3 to 4 ounces Gin
Stir together in Collins glass, add 4 large ice cubes, fill glass with charged water, stir again briefly, and serve.
Embury also mentions that Collinses should be served in 14-16oz. glasses12), which is larger than the glass he recommends for serving a Gin Fizz (8oz.)
1 tablespoonful sugar syrup
Juice of 1 medium-sized lemon
1.5 jiggers Gin (1 jiggers is 2oz. in Embury’s book)
Shake vigorously with crushed ice for several minutes and strain into pre-chilled 8-ounce glass. Fizz up with siphon of charged water, stirring continuously as water is added.
Embury emphasises that Collinses are the tallest of all drinks, and being long drinks, they are to be consumed slowly ‘with reverence and meditation14)’. To achieve this, the drink should be able to retain its effervescence for an extended period of time. Embury points out that sodas that come in capped bottles are appropriate for Collinses, since they release bubbles for much longer than soda dispensed from a siphon. He also says that Collinses should only be stirred briefly, so that the carbonation is not crushed by the stir.
Fizzes, on the other hand, are much smaller drinks than Collinses (served in 8oz. glass instead of 12-16oz.), so should be ‘drank as soon as handed out15)’. Therefore the carbonation should be vigorous when the drink is served to the customer, but it does not need to retain its effervescence for a long time. Siphons are better than bottled sodas in this respect – soda dispensed from siphon bottles produce larger gas bubbles, although they will go flat quicker than bottled soda.
So, whether the drink uses soda from capped bottles or siphons is the ‘difference that distinguishes the Collins from the Fizz16)’. To summarise all the differences between the two types of drinks that can be found in Embury’s book:
|Tom Collins||Gin Fizz|
|Served in 14-16oz. glasses||Served in 8oz. glasses|
|Built in glass filled with ice cubes||Shaken with ice, then served in pre-chilled glass without ice|
|Use soda from capped soda bottle||Used soda from siphon|
|Only stir briefly after adding soda||Stir continuously as soda is added|
International Bartender’s Association (July 2012)
Here are the recipes for the two drinks listed by the IBA17).
4.5 cl Gin
3 cl Fresh lemon juice
1.5 cl Sugar syrup
6 cl Soda water
Pour all ingredients directly into highball glass filled with ice. Stir gently. Garnish with lemon slice and maraschino cherry. Add a dash of Angostura bitters.
4.5 cl Gin
3 cl Fresh lemon juice
1 cl Sugar syrup
8 cl Soda water
Shake all ingredients with ice cubes, except soda water. Pour into tumbler. Top with soda water. Garnish with lemon slice.
The IBA recipes agree with David Embury & David Wondrich’s recipes, but not those of Jerry Thomas’s.
It seems that in the modern bartending world, the differentiation between Collins and Fizz is made by the preparation methods of the two drinks – modern recipes agree that Collinses should be built and Fizzes shaken. This is fine. However, rather than just accepting this as a creed, it is more important that the rationale behind the two different methods is understood. Collinses are intended to be enjoyed over an extended period of time, so the glass must carry some ice in it to prolong the chill, and having the ice in the glass eliminate the need to shake the drink, lest the drink be too diluted. On the other hand, Fizzes are intended to be drunk as soon as it is served, so no ice is necessary in the glass – the shake would provide adequate chill and dilution to the drink before it is served.
The remaining question now, then, is why modern recipes contradict Jerry Thomas’s early recipes for Collinses and Fizzes. Jerry Thomas, in his 1876 text, lists both Tom Collins and Gin ‘Fiz’ as shaken drinks, but later changes the Fiz to a stirred drink in the 1887 reprint. It is clear that the current bartending world is not adhering to the Professor’s recipes – since when and why did this happen? Since when did the Collins become a built drink, and the Gin Fizz a shaken drink? These are the questions that remain unanswered and require further investigation.
1) David Wondrich, Imbibe!, p80
2) David Wondrich, Imbibe!, p80
3) David Wondrich, Imbibe!, p113
4) Ginologist.com, http://www.ginologist.com/Wordpress/?p=318
5) Jerry Thomas, How to Mix Drinks or The Bon Vivant’s Companion, 1887 reprint, p33
6) David Wondrich, Imbibe!, P112
7) Jerry Thomas, How to Mix Drinks or The Bon Vivant’s Companion, 1887 reprint, p47
8) George Sinclair, The Great Tom Collins Hoax (2007), http://www.scribd.com/doc/18790/Tom-Collins-Article
9) 1806 Bar Cocktail Menu, http://www.1806.com.au/cocktail/tom-collins/
(Addendum 14/11/13: the website has been updated, and the quoted part has been removed)
10) David Wondrich, Imbibe!, p81, p113
11) David Embury, The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, 3rd Edition, p291
12) David Embury, The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, 3rd Edition, p291
13) David Embury, The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, 3rd Edition, p294
14) David Embury, The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, 3rd Edition, p291
15) David Embury, The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, 3rd Edition, p293
16) David Embury, The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, 3rd Edition, p293
17) International Bartenders’ Association, http://iba-world.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=88&Itemid=532