The Cosmopolitan is easily the most famous cocktail created in the last 50 years. It’s so well known most everyone calls it by a nickname. A Cosmo is pretty much a vodka Margarita with ounce of cranberry juice, which imparts it’s trademark shade of pink. This drink is often dismissed by some drinkers, aka men, because they think it’s too sweet, or for it’s association with a certain TV show, or purely because it’s pink. I’ve already discussed how I feel about these types of gender biased-cocktail drinkers. All I’ll say here is that when well made, the Cosmo is as tasty as anything. Strong, fruity, citrusy, not too sweet, and very refreshing.
Things can go awry, of course. If you use too much sugar it erases the tartness of the cranberry and the drink tastes like nondescript fruit candy. That’s why Cointreau is so important, as opposed to lower quality triple sec/orange liqueur. At 40% ABV, Cointreau cuts away sweetness and dries the drink out (sour mix ruins things too. But I’m pretty sure everyone who reads this you’re site already knows that).
As for the Cranberry juice, Ocean Spray is commonly used and is the easiest to find. It’s how I’d typically chose to incorporate cranberry into a drink an ingredient using this in drinks - see the Port of Call - but here it works. Unsweetened Cranberry juice, such as Just Cranberry, works great too and imparts an attractive deep pink color, you just need to adjust the recipe for balance. I’ve included versions for both below, and both are delicious. Now go fix up a round, and party like it’s 1998!
2 oz citrus vodka or traditional vodka
¾ oz Cointreau
¾ oz lime juice
¾ oz cranberry juice (such as Ocean Spray)
¼ oz cane syrup (or 2 teaspoons simple syrup)
Combine all ingredients in a shaker. Fill with ice, shake for 6-8 seconds and strain into a chilled coupe or martini glass. Express the oils from the orange peel, stir with the peel, and garnish.
With Unsweetened Cranberry Juice
2 oz citrus vodka or traditional vodka
½ oz Cointreau
½ oz lime
½ oz unsweetened cranberry juice (such as Just Cranberry)
½ oz simple syrup
Prepare as above.
If you happen to post a picture of a Cosmopolitan
on Instagram, please consider tagging
The History of the Cosmo
The Cosmopolitan’s history is one of extremes. In the 90s it was the most popular cocktail in the world, in the 2000s it was the poster child of unsophistication. As is the case with just about every cocktail origin story, the details of the Cosmo’s exact inception are a bit murky. One of the most circulated stories is that a bartender named Cheryl Cook created the first version of it while working at a bar in South Beach Florida, another is the drink rose out of the gay community Provincetown, Massachusetts.
There is probably some truth to one or both of these claims. But I go by the approach taken in Robert Simonson’s 2016 book on the rise of modern cocktail culture “A Proper Drink”. Instead of focussing on the specific moment someone put together a rough assembly of vodka, orange liqueur, and cranberry juice and called it a Cosmopolitan, he zeros in on who created the version of it that went on to take over the world. That person is Toby Cecchini. In 1988 while working at the Odeon in the trendy Tribeca, NYC, Toby encountered a version of the Cosmo by way of San Fransisco that contained Rose’s lime juice and grenadine. He refashioned a balanced version with fresh lime juice, Cointreau and Absolut Citron - which has just come out that year and served it as a staff drink. Before long customers began asking for it and it went on the menu. The match was lit. Incidentally, Toby now owns a bar called “Long Island Bar” that’s about a 15 minute walk from Clover Club.
From there, the drink spread to higher and higher profiles. A big jump occurred when Dale DeGroff - a major cocktail pioneer who’ve I’ve mentioned multiple times on the site, particularly on the Bourbon Smash page - began serving Cosmos at the Rainbow Room. He often tells the story of how Madonna was photographed drinking one there after a Grammy party and it ended up in the New York Post. Of course, as we all know, once it became the signature libation of the girls on Sex and the City, there was no going back. From that point on a giant Martini glass filled with pink liquid would be one of the most emblematic images of the 90s. Speaking of which, I have a theory about those glasses - which is based on no evidence whatsoever. I think because Cosmos are such large drinks volume-wise, they are responsible for those ridiculously enormous 10-12 oz Martini glasses that were everywhere in the 80s and 90s. So annoying, a classic Martini looks minuscule in them! But I digress.
The Cosmo’s dominance was not to last. Just as it hit the big time, forces were at work that would eventually undermine it. As the interest in classic cocktails grew, blossomed and then exploded over the course of the 2000s, the Cosmo experienced a severe backlash. One reason for this was that it contained a flavored vodka and cranberry juice. Both were viewed as artificial ingredients which went against the tenants of the cocktail revival. But even more damning was it’s image. Because it was the world's most popular cocktail before the shift towards “craft cocktails” occurred, the Cosmo was branded as an symbol of the age of unsophisticated, overly sweet drinks. It became a punchline. One of my favorite analogies is from a Vinepair article (that doesn’t get everything quite right), which calls the Cosmo the Backstreet Boys of cocktails.
A personal anecdote: I remember going out for a cocktail with my Dad in 2003 when I first moved to NYC, I was 19 at the time (my Dad is awesome). He’s always been interested in cocktails and no doubt read about the the drink somewhere and ordered one. I was totally embarrassed and told him it was a girly drink that no one should order. I have no idea where I got the idea from, I don’t think I’d ever had a Cosmo before. Until then that it is, I thought it was delicious, but didn’t admit it. I’m an idiot.
When I got into cocktails 5 years later I still had the same opinion of the Cosmo, but I've changed my tune. I think the Cosmo has been unfairly treated. It’s important to remember to keep it in context. It emerged following the true cocktail dark ages of the 60s and 70s. The Cosmo was the first sign of a pulse that cocktails were attracting interest again and it carried the torch in the years leading up to the cocktail revival. In many ways, it was ahead of its time. Perhaps most importantly, it’s a damn good drink! It does not deserve to be lumped along the with Sex on the Beaches, Fuzzy Navels, and Long Island Iced Teas of the world.
Thankfully now that the cocktail revival is a couple decades old, things are more relaxed and bartenders have begun to realize that we may have projected our condemnations a bit too broadly. To be sure, some drinks deserved to be forgotten. I personally find nothing redeeming about Long Island Iced Teas. But others just needed to be made better. For example, drinks as like the Mai Tai, Piña Colada and frozen drinks in general can be fantastic. I place the Cosmopolitan, firmly in the camp of the latter.
Today, just about any cocktail bartender will have no problem making a Cosmo and will readily admit it’s a good drink. Many even jump to it’s defense, almost as a way of showcasing their lack of pretentiousness, which in and of itself is, of course, a bit pretentious (we’re doing our best!). I personally think it’s legitimately great. It may not be in my top 10, but every time I make one at work, I’m always eager to straw-taste it.
One final thought, while being delicious and having an eye-catching color was key to the Cosmopolitan’s success, the biggest factor that led to it spreading like a wildfire may have been its name, especially when you consider that it was the original modern classic cocktail. From around the 1960s through the late 80s, cocktails were seen as a thing of the past, enjoyable sure, but a fixture of their parents, and grandparents generations. The Cosmopolitan, a word that evokes all things cultured, fashionable and stylish, suggested that there was more to be explored in the cocktail realm, and that cocktails could be a thing for today’s generation. Thank goodness for that. So let’s raise Cosmo to the Cosmo. Where would cocktails be without it?
Yep. This is probably the only flavored vodka you’ll see in a recipe on this site. Generally, my opinion of flavored vodka is what you’d expect. I don’t think much of it. Here though adding lemon flavor to a vodka is not so tragic. It actually tastes like lemon or rather lemon peel, in limoncello-ish way. Most importantly, it enhances the drink’s flavors. Absolut Citron was the original brand used in the Cosmopolitan, I often use Stoli Citrus, but every vodka brand makes a citrus flavor and I’m sure any one of them is just fine. That all being said, traditional vodka works great in a Cosmo too. Maybe use a lemon peel instead of an orange for garnish.