Christmas with a Rum Collins

From The Boys' and Girls' Little Book of Alcohol, available on amazon, iTunes, and soon Barnes and Noble....

            I’ve always had more than enough Christmas cheer by Thanksgiving. The Apartment (1960), one of the greatest of the great Billy Wilder’s comedy-dramas, is just the antidote I need. A comedy that features a suicide attempt and lots of self-loathing, this five-Oscar-winning film has one particular scene that always cracks me up: on a most depressing Christmas Eve, a drunken blond picks up an equally plastered Jack Lemmon, who has been thrown out of his own apartment so that his married boss can have a place to screw the elevator girl (Shirley MacLaine). The blond, “Mrs. MacDougall,” attempts to draw Lemmon’s attention by blowing the tips of straw wrappers at him. When the assault fails - Lemmon is too snockered to notice the little paper torpedoes - she staggers over and blurts, “Ya buy me a drink, I’ll buy ya some music.” Then she slams her empty glass on the bar and shouts “Rum Collins!”

I’ve seen the movie countless times, but I never had a Rum Collins until this year - the first cocktail hour after Halloween. That’s the day the endless Yuletide began. No sooner were Halloween’s decaying corpse masks off the shelves than party lights and tinsel and rousing, upbeat carols whirlwinded in, sending me into a borderline psychopathic mood. A couple of Rum Collinses helped.

            As I looked through various cocktail books for both classic and variety Collins recipes - Bruce was still at work - imitated Mrs. MacDougall’s best lines at least fifteen times. Armed with her refreshed Rum Collins, she recites, with a hilariously bored expression, her own adaptation of Clement Clarke Moore’s gag-worthy classic: “’Twas de night befo’ Chissmiss, ‘n all trew de house/ not a creatchuh was stirrin’. Nuthin’. No action. Dullsville. Ya married?” If a stranger said that to me at a bar, he could have me within the minute.

            So what’s in a Rum Collins? The Rum Collins features a variant sour-citrus flavor - lime juice instead of the lemon typically associated with Collinses. Don’t limit yourself to so-called expert opinions: vary the proportions as much as you want. You’re drinking it, after all. But I must insist: there is no reason whatsoever to use a mix. This is a simple drink, people. Buy the few ingredients individually. No, don’t bother squeezing fresh limes. Use unsweetened bottled juice instead. And if you don’t have simple syrup, just toss in a little sugar before adding the seltzer. One thing to keep in mind: club soda has salt in it. Use it if you want, but seltzer makes a fresher tasting drink.

The Collins family is all about lemon (or lime), seltzer, and a touch of simple syrup. A Tom Collins, for instance, features gin. Tom’s cousin John uses bourbon. John’s Mexican husband, José Collins, employs tequila. José Collins features rum; I don’t know why, nor did I make up those names. Nor am I making up the Sandy Collins (Scotch), or the Brandy Collins, which although made with brandy, was actually invented in honor of the Looking Glass tune from 1972—“And the sailors say ‘Brandy, you’re a fine girl…’” (Okay, I did make that one up.)

Why they are all called “Collins” owes to the bartender John Collins at Limmer’s Hotel in London in the early 1800s. It was not a genteel establishment. Though famous for its “gin punch,” it was widely known as “the dirtiest hotel in London”—“dirty” in the sense of soiled, not obscene, though one imagines that certain “guests,” plied with John Collins’ Tom Collins (don’t ask—I have no idea), made wild whoopie in the filthy sheets in the bedrooms upstairs after working their way through the bartender’s famous cocktails. One should have the experience of sex in squalid bed sheets at least once in one’s life—that’s my motto.

The Rum Collins

2 parts light rum

1/2 part lime juice

1/4 tsp. simple syrup or sugar to taste

As much or as little seltzer as you like.

Put the first three ingredients into a tall, empty glass. Stir to mix, then add chilled seltzer slowly to avoid wasting the fizz. Finish it off with a couple of ice cubes. Avoid the tacky formaldehyde cherries unless you have a death wish.