Collins Cocktail

Photograph by St. Louis Photographer Jonathan Gayman.

The Rickey and the Collins – I can’t seem to write about one of these cocktails without including the other. They are too similar to warrant individual attention, and both drinks are refreshing, easily produced and can be modified in various ways to include seasonal flavors. Both are made with a simple combination of citrus juice, club soda and one spirit, and both have two classic variations – there’s a Joe Rickey (commonly known as the Rickey, made with whiskey) and a Gin Rickey (made with gin) as well as a Tom Collins (made with Old Tom Gin or London Dry gin) and a John Collins (made with Genever or Holland gin).

The differences between the Rickey and the Collins are the preparation methods, the use of simple syrup in the Collins and how each drink is served – the Rickey is prepared and served in the same glass, while the Collins is shaken, strained and then topped with soda water.

Rickey. The Rickey is named after “colonel” Joe Rickey, a Democratic lobbyist from Fulton, Missouri, who lived during the mid-1800s. Rickey was a veteran of the Confederate army and was known to be a sporting fellow – he enjoyed horse racing, poker and cigar-smoking, as well as instructing bartenders on how to make the drink that bears his name. The precise origin of the drink is consequential, as the colonel, involved in politics right after the war, traveled a great deal, visiting bars in St. Louis, New York and Washington, D.C. Bartenders in each of these cities lay claim to the drink, but we know it was the colonel who originally taught bartenders how to make it. The drink itself is nothing more than a Keith Richard’s dose of whiskey (2 ounces), the juice of half a fresh lime and club soda served in an 8 to 10-ounce glass over ice. No shaking, stirring or fanciness is involved.

Collins. Over the past decade, there’s been a huge amount of debate and research surrounding the origins of the Collins. Who came first, Tom or John? What type of gin was originally used? Where did the drink originate? The proven facts are slim, but they do provide some answers. John Collins was first on the scene, and the cocktail’s namesake was the head waiter at Limmer’s Hotel in London during the 1830s. There is record of Americans being very familiar with the drink around the time of the Civil War as well. It’s not until the 1870s that we see recipes and references to the Tom Collins, but here’s the kicker: The only difference between the John and Tom Collins cocktails is the style of gin used in each drink. The John Collins calls for Genever, a malty, subtly sweet gin light on juniper. The Tom Collins uses a type of gin called Old Tom Gin, an English sweetened gin, which, by the 1860s, became the more common gin on the market in the U.S. The gin wasn’t overly cloying, though, with just enough sweetness to take the sharp edge off of the spirit’s dryness. Aside from the type of gin used, the recipes are the same.


Serves | 1 |

2 oz bourbon or rye whiskey

½ oz fresh lime juice

2 to 4 oz club soda


| Preparation | Pour all ingredients into an ice-filled glass, stir briefly with a straw and serve.


Serves | 1 |

2 oz gin

1 oz fresh lemon juice

¾ oz simple syrup


4 to 6 oz club soda

lemon peel (for garnish)

| Preparation | In a cocktail shaker, combine first 3 ingredients and shake well. Strain cocktail into a 12- to 15-ounce ice-filled Collins glass. Top with club soda, garnish with a lemon peel and stir briefly to incorporate. Serve.

Seasonal Flavors

Rickey. Modify the Rickey by swapping the bourbon or rye whiskey for another spirit. Tequila makes a great Rickey – think a dry Margarita. There’s the Rum Rickey variation, which is a dry and sparkling Daiquiri. Scotch also works, as its maltiness and sometimes smoky flavors play well with lime juice. You can also get really creative with the Rickey recipe and substitute liqueurs as the base spirit. Since liqueurs contain sugar, this approach can still be considered a Rickey because there’s no added sugar in the drink – it just so happens to be an ingredient in the spirit. Also, liqueurs will cut the tartness of the lime. I recommend trying the following liqueurs in a Rickey: Chartreuse (both yellow and green), Aperol, St-Germain, Big O ginger liqueur, Amaro Montenegro, Marie Brizard white crème de cacao and Lillet blanc or rouge.

Collins. The Collins is a little easier to modify than the Rickey due to the simple syrup used to sweeten it. Syrups are easy to swap out and can hugely alter the flavor of the drink. The simplest route is to infuse simple syrups with fruits or vegetables, or you can get really bold and creative and make syrups with nuts and seeds or use maple or agave syrups or honey. And don’t forget your spice cabinet: Try incorporating flavors like cinnamon, clove, cumin, coriander, cayenne, dill, pepper, curry, allspice and anise into syrups to sweeten your next Collins.

Matt Seiter is co-founder of the United States Bartenders’ Guild’s St. Louis chapter, a member of the national board for the USBG’s MA program, author of The Dive Bar of Cocktails Bars, bartender at BC’s Kitchen and a bar and restaurant consultant.