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The Tall Tales of Tom Collins (and how the drink came about)

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"I was taking a drink just now at Andy Parle's, when I overheard an individual denouncing you in the vilest manner. He said you loafed on your friends, borrowed money and never returned it, owed bills in every quarter of the city, and were the biggest beat he knew. I inquired who he was and he said his name was Tom Collins. He can be found at Parle's."

And so began The Great Tom Collins Hoax of 1874, which begat The King of Cooling Drinks, the Tom Collins. The hoax kicked off with a prankster telling a group that they were being talked about by the loose lipped Tom Collins, and then sending them on an angry goose chase to find him.

In 1874, the Steubenville Daily Herald reported that the hoax "belong[ed] to New York, where it was played with immense success to crowd houses until it played out...". The paper continued, "frantic young men rushed wildly through the streets of the city on Saturday hunting for libelous Tom Collins." They were often directed to the local bar, where Tom Collins had just left for another bar across town.

Newspapers propagated the hoax by printing sightings and urging citizens to find the slanderer. The Decatur, Illinois Daily Republican printed "Tom Collins Still Among Us," in June 1874. "This individual kept up his nefarious business of slandering our citizens all day yesterday. But we believe that he succeeded in keeping out of the way of his pursuers. In several instances he came well nigh being caught, having left certain places but a very few moments before the arrival of those who were hunting him. His movements are watched to-day with the utmost vigilance." The papers kept the story going by reporting false sightings and projecting Collins' next move.

So, how did the Hoax turn Drink?

According to Wall Street Journal columnist and cocktail historian Eric Felten, "It doesn't take much to imagine how Tom Collins came to be a drink. How many times does someone have to barge into a saloon demanding Tom Collins before the bartender takes the opportunity to offer him a cocktail so-named?"

That's where it gets tricky. The first Tom Collins recipe dates to the 1876 edition of Jerry Thomas' The Bartenders Guide.

The Recipe is:

(use small bar-glass)

Take 5 or 6 dashes of gum syrup

Juice of a small lemon

1 large wine-glass of Gin

2 to 3 lumps of ice;

Shake up well and strain into a large bar-glass. Fill up the glass with plain soda water and imbibe while it is lively.

However, there's an old "John Collins" poem that's cited as evidence that the John Collins drink was created in England by John Collins, a waiter at Limmer's Old House in London. Some people claim that the Tom Collins was just an adaptation that substituted a sweeter gin for the whiskey-ish gin, and that it was named "Tom" Collins because the brand of gin was Old Tom.

While that story has been disputed, beverage historians have yet to agree on a common story. Whatever the case, it's a delightful summer drink, known as "the king of cooling drinks." It used to be the official drink of the summer. In my book, it still is.

I'm making it with: 1-2 oz gin, juice of lemon, simple syrup (boil 2 parts sugar, 1 part water until syrupy), 4 oz soda water. Build it on the rocks in a Collins glass. Garnish with cherry. And make sure you don't order it at a bar. They'll use lemon-lime mix.

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Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
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Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

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What Are the 12 Days of Christmas?
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Everyone knows to expect a partridge in a pear tree from your true love on the first day of Christmas ... But when is the first day of Christmas?

You'd think that the 12 days of Christmas would lead up to the big day—that's how countdowns work, as any year-end list would illustrate—but in Western Christianity, "Christmas" actually begins on December 25th and ends on January 5th. According to liturgy, the 12 days signify the time in between the birth of Christ and the night before Epiphany, which is the day the Magi visited bearing gifts. This is also called "Twelfth Night." (Epiphany is marked in most Western Christian traditions as happening on January 6th, and in some countries, the 12 days begin on December 26th.)

As for the ubiquitous song, it is said to be French in origin and was first printed in England in 1780. Rumors spread that it was a coded guide for Catholics who had to study their faith in secret in 16th-century England when Catholicism was against the law. According to the Christian Resource Institute, the legend is that "The 'true love' mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The 'me' who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the 'days' represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn."

In debunking that story, Snopes excerpted a 1998 email that lists what each object in the song supposedly symbolizes:

2 Turtle Doves = the Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

There is pretty much no historical evidence pointing to the song's secret history, although the arguments for the legend are compelling. In all likelihood, the song's "code" was invented retroactively.

Hidden meaning or not, one thing is definitely certain: You have "The Twelve Days of Christmas" stuck in your head right now.

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