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When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Vodka Collins!

When life gives you lemons, make Vodka Collins recipe - Happier Place on the beach

Light, delicious and refreshing, Vodka Collins is the perfect summer cocktail because it’s basically just homemade sparkling lemonade made happier with vodka. So it’ll quench your thirst and put a smile on your face.

Since Vodka Collins is so easy to make and super tasty, you really shouldn’t keep it all to yourself. That’s why we put together a simple recipe for a Vodka Collins batch to take outdoors and share with friends.

When Life Gives You Lemons…

We’re not saying that alcohol solves all problems. But whenever things are off, there’s usually something you can do to either fix the situation or at least feel a bit happier. It’s not about “just having a positive attitude” or “turning a frown upside down” (ugh!!!). It’s about thinking a little creatively and finding something that will make things better when everything appears to suck. Don’t let frustration paralyze you. You might have to find or do something different than you expected to turn things around, like (metaphorically) making a vodka drink instead of lemonade “when life gives you lemons”. Of course, sometimes the solution actually is to sip a Vodka Collins while sitting outside. In that case: cheers!

When life gives you lemons, make Vodka Collins - Happier Place Recipe

… Make Vodka Collins

Vodka Collins is a variation of a true classic from the late 1800s: the gin-based Tom Collins. The first Tom Collins recipe appeared in Jerry Thomas’ 1876 Bar-Tender’s Guide; but was preceded by a British drink known as the Jim Collins (first recorded in Steward and Barkeeper’s Manual of 1869).

Both versions matched a full wine glass (!) of gin with just a bit of lemon and a dash of sweetener. They sure liked their alcohol back then. Or their wine glasses were smaller?

Of course, our Vodka Collins recipe calls for a reasonable amount of vodka. And because the mix of lemon juice, sugar and carbonated water makes for a tasty drink on its own, you can dial down the vodka even more or skip it altogether. Without the vodka, you have homemade sparkling lemonade that will make your “non-drinking” friends and family members happier.

Another reason why Vodka Collins is an ideal picnic cocktail is that you can mix everything, except for the carbonated water, ahead of time and keep cold in an insulated bottle. Once you’re at your destination and ready to indulge, just pour your mix and some carbonated water into a cup of ice and enjoy your sparkling refreshment!

Carbonated water vs. club soda vs. seltzer vs. sparkling water, you ask? For this recipe any of those will work. Carbonated water is actually the umbrella term for all the others, which in turn have different additives or come from different sources.

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Vodka Collins Recipe For One Cocktail

Vodka Collins Recipe Ingredients (1 Cocktail):

2 oz. (60 ml) vodka

1 oz. (30 ml) lemon juice ( = juice from about 1/2 large lemon)

1 oz. (30 ml) simple syrup (or 1 tbsp powdered sugar)

5 oz. (150 ml) carbonated water (measure to taste)


lemon wedge (if you like it fancy)

Vodka Collins Instructions (1 Cocktail):

  1. Mix vodka, lemon juice and syrup in a cocktail shaker.
  2. Pour mix into ice-filled Collins glass (that’s the tall one).
  3. Add soda water to taste (5 oz. is just a suggestion).
  4. Garnish with a lemon wedge (if you’re so inclined).

Recipe For Vodka Collins To-Go Batch (5 Cocktails)

Vodka Collins Recipe Ingredients (To-Go Batch):

10 oz. (300 ml) vodka

5 oz. (150 ml) lemon juice ( = juice from 2 – 3 large lemons)

5 oz. (150 ml) simple syrup (or 5 tbsp powdered sugar)

25 oz. (750 ml) carbonated water (please don’t take glass bottles into nature)


Vodka Collins Recipe Instructions (To-Go Batch):

  1. Drop a 1/2 cup of ice cubes into a 25oz double-wall insulated bottle (of course, we recommend the Happier Stainless Steel Bottle – but any insulated bottle that size will work).
  2. Add vodka, lemon juice and syrup to the bottle.
  3. Close bottle and shake it!
  4. Grab the mix, another bottle (or cans) with carbonated water, cups, and (optional) some ice and lemon wedges – and head outdoors.
  5. Once you’ve reached your destination just pour mix into (ice-filled) cups.
  6. Add carbonated water to taste.
  7. Garnish with a lemon wedge (if you brought some).
  8. Enjoy responsible: please clean up after yourself and don’t drive drunk. Thank you.

Happier Tips

Something we think makes this drink happier is to NOT do something. That is: do NOT add the crazy-sweet cherry most recipes suggest. What’s so great about this drink is how simple and well-balanced it is. No need to complicate it with a sugary garnish. Also: are those things even real cherries?

When we take a batch of to-go cocktails outdoors, we usually bring some ice cubes in a zip-locked bag inside our cooler. While our drinks stay cold in the Happier Stainless Steel Bottle, we’re not usually drinking our mixed drinks straight from the bottle. So it’s nice to add a bit of clean ice (i.e., no cans, bottles or fish have been swimming among the ice cubes) to the cup – especially if you’re topping off your cocktail mix with room-temperature sparkling water.

You might want to play around with the ratio of sweet (syrup or sugar) and sour (lemon juice) to match your own personal taste. Leaning towards the sour side will make it more refreshing. Adding more carbonated water will make it more of a thirst quencher.

If you don’t have simple syrup at hand, you can use powdered sugar. In case you’re wondering: powdered sugar, confectioners sugar and 10x sugar are all the same thing.

Per the instructions by “father of American mixology” Jerry Thomas in his original Tom Collins recipe: “drink while it is lively.”

Simple Syrup Recipe

Yes, you can buy simple syrup at the store. But it’s so easy to make, why would you? All you need to do is dissolve sugar in water at a 1:1 ratio. You can mix sugar into the equal amount of water in a pot on the stove and bring it to boil (don’t boil longer than 5 minutes).

Or even simpler: put sugar into a bottle and add the equal amount of hot, not boiling water. Close bottle and shake until sugar has dissolved. (Don’t put hot water in cold glass bottle or it may burst.)

Please be ware that purchased “bar syrup” (or “rich syrup”) is often mixed at a 2:1 sugar/water ratio – so it’s quite a lot sweeter.

Vodka Collins and Happier Place insulated stainless steel bottle on the beach in Florida - Happier Place

Quick Thoughts About the Environment

As mentioned above, we want to strongly discourage you from bringing glass out into nature since it has a tendency to break. Instead, bring your beverages in cans, plastic bottles or a stainless steel bottle – and serve drinks in reusable plastic or stainless steel cups. And it goes without saying that you should always clean up after yourself and not leave anything behind, right?

Since living in a beach town in Florida, we have also learned about the harm plastic straws can cause sea turtles. So we’d like point out that the straws in our cocktails are paper straws that are supposed to dissolve if they ever accidentally make it into the sea.

Pin this image to Pinterest to save this recipe for later.

lemons vodka collins bottle on the beach recipe when life gives you lemons

Let’s Inspire Each Other!

We would love to hear if you’ve tried this recipe and what you thought. Can you recommend any other summer cocktails or mocktails to us and your fellow readers? 

Please leave a comment below – inspired by these questions or whatever you’d like to share…

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