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When life gives you lemons, make Collins.

Jeffrey Morgenthaler is Food Republic’s new contributing cocktail editor and the author of the occasional column Easy Drinking. Jeffrey is an industry veteran, having worked at many styles of bars for the past two decades. He currently manages the bars Clyde Common and Pépé Le Moko in Portland, Oregon, and is the author of The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique. In this space, he will talk about making excellent drinks at the home bar — which, as the name suggests, does not need to be difficult — as well as suggest favorite products and gear and maybe tell you where you need to drink when not perfecting the Blood and Sand at home.  

As a bar manager, one of the great challenges I face is coming up with new cocktails. And for me personally, it’s nearly impossible to try to reinvent the wheel a dozen times a year. A little secret trick that many of us use is the remodeling of versatile classics. One of my best-selling drinks ever is simply a whiskey sour touched up with a splash of creme de cassis.

So we’re always on the hunt for drinks that are versatile like that. Switch out an ingredient or two, and boom. New cocktail. And few drinks are as versatile as the Collins.

Essentially a gin sour lengthened with soda, the drink is believed to have been created in 1814 by a waiter at Limmer’s Hotel in London, a waiter by the name of John Collins. I speculate that the drink was made possible by the invention of the world’s first portable soda siphon by a man named Charles Plinth the year before. Plinth mounted his portable soda system to horse-drawn carts and serviced the city’s bars, restaurants, and hotels.

At any rate, the drink was a massive success in London and eventually back here in the States. Its symphony of Old Tom gin, fresh lemon juice, sugar and soda water is simple, refreshing and easy to enjoy. Here’s the recipe we use at my bars:

Tom Collins
2 oz Hayman’s Old Tom gin
.75 oz fresh lemon juice
.5 oz 2:1 simple syrup
2 oz chilled soda water

Combine gin, lemon juice and simple syrup with ice in a cocktail shaker and shake until chilled. Add soda directly to shaker and strain over fresh ice in a Collins glass. Garnish with a lemon peel.

As I was saying earlier, it’s a challenge to come up with new cocktails, so many of us rework other drinks that have been around for some time. That’s certainly what a bartender known only by the name of “MacGarry” (I fear his full name may be lost to us) did when he substituted French Champagne for the soda water in a Tom Collins back in the early 1900s. His version has stood the test of time and is known the world over as the French 75. I’ve modified the recipe slightly for our bars, and our guests find this one to be quite quaffable:

French 75
1 oz London dry gin
1 oz fresh lemon juice
.5 oz 2:1 simple syrup
2 oz sparkling wine

Combine gin, lemon juice and simple syrup with ice in a cocktail shaker and shake until chilled. Add sparkling wine directly to shaker and strain over fresh ice in a Collins glass. Garnish with a lemon peel.

One fun thing to do with the Collins formula is to play with the base spirit. Sure, there are vodka and rum Collinses, and one of my favorites is silver tequila and brut rosé. But it’s really fun to branch out into the realm of the unordinary. I find that amari are well suited to the Collins’s sour formula; with their earthy, bittersweet flavors, they can pair beautifully with sweet, sour citrus juice.

We wanted to do something a little different for the menu at our newest bar, Pépé Le Moko, and experimented with a few different options until we settled on Cynar. Made from artichokes, its flavor is dark, earthy and slightly bitter. It’s a refreshing little number we call, simply, the Cynar Collins.

Cynar Collins
2 oz Cynar
.75 oz lemon juice
.5 oz 2:1 simple syrup
2 oz soda water

Combine Cynar, lemon, and simple syrup with ice in a cocktail shaker and shake until chilled. Add soda directly to shaker and strain over fresh ice in a Collins glass. Garnish with a lemon wedge.

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