Collins or Sour: What's the Difference?

A Classic Whiskey Sour on the Rocks
The beauty of all sour drinks is that they can easily be transformed to fit your personal taste or mood at the moment. Rob White/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Sour drinks are favorites for many and within this family there are two common variations, the sour and the collins. They are very similar and related, but just a little bit different, so let's break them down.

The Basic Sour

The basic sours are made up of a base spirit plus a sour ingredient (either simple syrup with lemon or a pre-mixed sour). If we switch to a tall glass, add ice and top the drink with soda, then we have created a collins.

For example: a Whiskey Sour is served in a sour glass (or other short glass) and is a simple mix of whiskey, lemon and syrup. If that same mix were to poured into a collins glass over ice and topped with soda, a John Collins is born.

This easy association can be applied to the majority of the most common sour cocktails and with almost any base spirit. The Tom Collins and Gin Sour both have gin; Vodka Collins and Vodka Sour, vodka; Juan Collins and Tequila Sour, tequila, etc.

At times the ingredient ratios are tweaked just a little bit to accommodate taste. That is always the beauty of any sour: you can always make it your own with a few simple adjustments.

The Endless List of Sours

Sours are expansive and the list is nearly endless. Common variations include those made with absinthe, amaretto, apricot brandy, Grand Marnier, Kahlua, Midori, rum and Scotch, as well as those already mentioned.

The Pisco Sour uses pisco and the egg is a requirement, while the Frisco Sour adds Benedictine to the whiskey sour base.

The Memory Trick for the Collins

For the most part, the collins drinks follow suit and define the liquor to use in the name. However, there are two that do not and for these I use a little name association to trigger my memory.

  • The Tom Collins is made with gin because it was originally made with Old Tom Gin.
  • For the John Collins, I think of the song "Big Bad John" to correlate with whiskey's manly association. Of course, John has many friends like Jack (Daniels) and Jim (Beam) and both are great candidates for a John Collins.