The next time you think about mixing gin and orange juice, go classy and make this easy Tom Collins variation instead. Cara Cara oranges lend a sweet complexity to the traditional Collins, and you can easily make a vodka collins version if you don’t like gin.
I like to tell people that I named this cocktail after Cara Collins, who was Tom Collins’ sweeter sister. Of course, that’s a joke – Tom Collins wasn’t a real person. But the Cara Cara orange cocktail is sweeter than the original Collins, and the gin and OJ pair well together.
The Cara Collins is a “long drink,” meaning that there is more liquid in the glass compared to cocktails like the Old Fashioned, Martini, or Margarita. However, there is the same amount of liquor because the extra liquid comes from juice and soda. I often make long drinks when I’m going to have a meal, so I can sip on it all the way through dinner.
The star of this drink is the Cara Cara orange. These are seasonal navel oranges with red flesh. You can typically find them at US grocery stores between December and April, sometimes lasting into May.
Can you still make this cocktail with a normal orange? Of course. Just don’t call it a Cara Collins!
Cara Collins Recipe
- 2 oz Gin (or vodka)
- 1/2 oz Lime Juice
- 1/2 oz Simple Syrup
- 2 oz Cara Cara Orange Juice
- 2 oz Club Soda
- Cara Cara Orange Slice
- Lime Slice
- Add ingredients to shaker with ice cubes
- Shake vigorously until chilled
- Double-strain into a highball glass containing fresh ice
- Top with club soda
- Stir Gently to mix soda with other ingredients
- Garnish with fruit slices
- You can substitute vodka if you don’t like the taste of gin. Use the same amount.
- Cara Cara oranges are in season from December to April. You can substitute navel oranges if you want to make this cocktail year-round.
- Double-strain to remove any fruit pulp, seeds, or ice shards when pouring into the highball glass.
- The club soda has a tendency to float on top of the drink, so stir gently with your bar spoon, plunging it up and down, to mix in the soda. Just don’t stir so much that the soda goes flat.
Detailed Instructions and Notes
This drink is served in a collins glass or highball. Add a few ice cubes to the glass so they warm up and won’t crack when you pour the cold cocktail in.
Using your hand juicer, squeeze your Cara Cara orange and lime first. I like to strain out the pulp and seeds with a fine mesh strainer before I measure, so my measurements are exact.
Add everything but the soda to the shaker (never shake soda), and shake with ice cubes until chilled – probably around 20 seconds.
Double-strain the cocktail into your serving glass. This means using your Hawthorne strainer on the mouth of the shaker to keep out the ice, and pouring the cocktail through the fine mesh strainer to filter out any ice shards, pulp, or seeds. Any of these solids in the cocktail will make the soda go flat faster.
Finally, pour the soda into the glass. I always measure mine so I can be consistent, but if you have the right sized glass you can just fill it up.
An advanced technique is to pour the soda into your shaker first and then pour it into your glass. This way, the soda washes some of the leftover fruit juice foam out of the shaker.
The soda has a tendency to float on top of the gin and orange juice mixture, so gently plunge your bar spoon into the cocktail and pull up the juice to blend with the soda. Your goal is to incorporate the soda into the cocktail without stirring so much that it goes flat. Do this plunge-and-pull motion several times until the drink is visibly blended.
Garnish with some fruit slices from your beautiful Cara Cara oranges and limes.
Ingredients and Substitutions
It’s super easy to make your own simple syrup with sugar and water.
I’m currently enjoying The Botanist, a dry gin from Islay. It still has that dry gin flavor, but doesn’t have that in-your-face juniper sting of a more traditional London dry gin.
I’ve also made the Cara Collins with Beefeater (traditional, not the strawberry) and that’s a good option too.
In the end, whatever dry gin you already like drinking should fit the bill.
Don’t like gin? No problem. It’s easy to make this a vodka collins by substituting an equal amount of vodka for the gin.
Most vodkas and gins are 40% ABV (alcohol by volume) or 80 proof. You can easily substitute one for the other without changing the amount of alcohol in the cocktail.
With a few rare exceptions, all vodkas taste basically the same. So use whatever one you like. If you press me for a recommendation, Stolichnaya, Ketel One, and Grey Goose are a few major brands I’ve bought before. These days, I use Townes Vodka from Fort Worth, Texas.
If you like the Cara Collins with vodka, I encourage you to try it with gin. I was a gin-hater for many years, but I’ve come to appreciate it. Different gins vary greatly in the kind and number of botanicals used to flavor the spirits. It could be that you don’t like a particular gin, while you may find you love another one.
Either way, the herbal-juniper taste of straight gin that can be rough on the palate is very complimentary to citrus juices. The botanicals enhance the flavors of the juices and together create new complexities. This is why gin is used as a base in so many classic cocktails.
Cara Cara Oranges
If you can’t find Cara Cara oranges or they’re out of season, substitute other oranges. Do you have blood oranges? Use this recipe template to make a blood orange gin cocktail.
You can also experiment with other fruit juices. Try grapefruit, tangerine, or even pineapple. If you do, keep in mind that more acidic juices (acid = sour), may need more sugar to balance the acidity. If you make something that is just too sour for your palate, just stir in a little more simple syrup.
Club soda is preferred because it has minerals that enhance the flavors of the cocktail – similar to adding salt to food.
However, you can substitute seltzer water or even mineral water like Topo Chico if that’s what you’ve got in the fridge.
Before you go…
If you enjoyed this upscale gin and orange juice concoction, can you rate the recipe? Click on the stars in the recipe card to let me know what you thought. Even better – leave a comment and star rating below!
1 thought on “The Cara Collins Cocktail – Gin and Orange Juice Elevated”
Very good ratios! Taste great