Crafting the Cosmopolitan

The Cosmopolitan is one tasty cocktail and probably most popular drink created in the last 30 years, but it is not magically original. The recipe calls for lemon vodka, lime juice, orange liqueur, and a splash of cranberry for color. Minus the cranberry, the drink follows the formula of spirit plus lime plus orange liqueur. If that spirit is tequila, that’s a Margarita. If it’s unflavored vodka, that’s a Kamikaze.
In fact, the prevailing theory on the creation of the Cosmopolitan is that it was a spin-off of the Kamikaze created by a Miami bartender named Cheryl Cook in 1985 or 1986. She said the Cosmo is, “Merely a Kamikaze with Absolut Citron and a splash of cranberry juice.”
But her version called for Rose’s lime juice, a bottled lime juice that’s a poor substitute for fresh-squeezed, and triple sec, which usually refers to the low-end orange liqueurs that are poor substitutes for Cointreau. These items are often served at high-volume bars that want to save money on (admittedly pricey) orange liqueur and don’t want their bartenders taking the time to squeeze limes for each drink.
But I find the Cosmo to be intolerable without them. So too did Toby Cecchini, a New York bartender credited with finessing the drink into its best form. Someone told Cecchini about the drink, but in their version it was made with unflavored vodka, Rose’s lime, and the red-colored syrup grenadine. He liked the look of the drink – soft pink and served in a Martini glass – and experimented with ingredients to make the flavor match the fashion. In the end, his version came out just like Cheryl Cook’s version, but with better ingredients.
This version caught on like wildfire in New York, causing Cecchini and other bartenders to make them by the thousands. In the era of bottled sour mix and vermouth-free Martinis, this drink seemed high-maintenance enough for Cecchini to call them “labor-intensive pink monstrosities.”
The trick to making a good pink monstrosity, even if you have the proper ingredients, is getting the ratio of them right. Apparently this is a problem for bartenders too – I’ve had Cosmopolitans in every shade from clear to deep red. When I make them at home, I’m too lazy to look up the recipe so I just take it one ingredient at a time: a couple ounces of Citron, a small splash of Cointreau, and a large quantity of lime. (I like them tart.) I make mine in keeping with Cheryl Cook’s original instructions of “just enough cranberry to make it oh so pretty in pink.”
That’s my starting point, anyway. One thing I’ve learned making this drink is that cranberry juice, like slimming black clothing, hides many sins. Even if you get the initial ratios of liquor and juice all wrong, or have to resort to bottled lime juice and bottom-shelf triple sec, you can always make a drinkable version of this drink. Just keep adding cranberry until it’s good.

Camper English is a cocktails and spirits writer and publisher of

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