Gin Fizz vs. Tom Collins: What's the difference?

Herbaceous and citrusy with just a touch of sweetness, both the Gin Fizz and the Tom Collins are refreshing cocktails that have more than a century's worth of history. The two cocktails have plenty in common, in fact, their list of ingredients is almost identical. Both call for gin, lemon, soda water, and a sweetener, making for variations of spiked lemonade. To understand the difference between the cocktail, it helps to learn about their backgrounds.

The Tom Collins recipe was first documented in an 1876 edition of Jerry Thomas's How to Mix Drinks (via Punch), but its popularity was already widespread thanks to a truly bizarre hoax that was all the rage in New York in 1874 (via Vinepair). The hoax entailed telling someone that they were being badmouthed by a person named Tom Collins. Other sources credit the drink's origins to a London bartender named John Collins who mixed up the cocktail with Old Tom Gin. Regardless of its origins, the recipe was so popular that a bespoke glass became a necessary staple less than a decade later (via Mr. Boston Drinks).

The Fizz appeared in an earlier edition of Jerry Thomas's How to Mix Drinks. Punch describes the cocktail as an early hangover cure and offers a few insights into how these Gin Fizz and the Tom Collins differ.

A few insights into how the Gin Fizz and Tom Collins differ

The ingredients in a Gin Fizz are shaken and classically served in a highball glass with minus the ice. For the Tom Collins, bartenders pour the gin, simple syrup, and lemon juice over ice, before topping everything off with a splash of soda water. The Art of the Drink has more insight into the small details that set the two drinks apart. These days, most bars stock a standard selection of London Dry Gins, but to make a traditional Tom Collins, the recipe calls for a sweeter and harder-to-find take on the spirit – Old Tom Gin.

And then there's the question of glassware. The Gin Fizz is shaken and strained before serving, so a smaller highball glass is the preferred vessel, and since the Tom Collins is poured over plenty of ice, a larger glass is needed to comfortably accommodate the cocktail.