Beside the 2:1:1 Sour and the Old Fashioned sits a third very malleable cocktail recipe. Highballs are refreshing, simple, low alcohol and delicious. They're most people's introduction to spirits, and can be deceptively simple. However, a Cuba Libre can be more than just a pretentious Rum and Coke and a Dark and Stormy not just an expensive Rum and ginger ale. The key to exciting highball cocktails is attention to good ingredients in a proper balance.
The Tom Collins uses a simple 1.5:1:0.5 ratio of spirit, citrus, sugar, and is topped up with sparkling water. This same ratio can be used with many combinations of spirits and flavours to create a number of classic cocktails: swap the spirit for rum and the citrus for lime, muddle in some mint and you've got a Mojito. Swap out sparkling water for champagne to make a French 75. Or sub Vodka, lime and ginger ale for a glorious Moscow Mule.
While we're using a cocktail shaker for this recipe, many highballs can be built right in the glass. The distinction is mostly a point of personal preference, a shaken highball will have a more cohesive mix of flavours, it will also aerate and dilute the cocktail. As a rule of thumb I shake when using less carbonated mixer as in a Tom Collins and French 75, and don't shake when using more mixer as in a Moscow Mule or Dark and Stormy.
The history of the Tom Collins is slightly ambiguous, owed in a small part to a number of similarly made and similarly named recipes of the time. We do know that in 1874 a hoax went around whereby people would ask each other if they'd seen Tom Collins, and when inevitably told that they hadn't, the hoaxer would point to a nearby bar and suggest that Tom Collins was in there spreading rumours about the hoaxee. The hoax swept through America and a number of newspapers played ball, reporting on sightings of Tom Collins.
Two years later, the first Tom Collins recipe appeared in print, likely using the Tom monicker to specify the use of Old Tom gin (An omission in this recipe, London Dry Gin has come a long way). And by 1880 the drink was a national favourite.
1.5oz London Dry Gin (Old Tom Gin if you have a sweet tooth)
1oz Lemon Juice
0.5oz Simple Syrup
Fill a highball or Collins glass with ice
Shake Gin, Lemon Juice and Simply Syrup in a cocktail shaker, strain into the glass
Top of with sparkling water