The Cosmopolitan began life as a passable drink, was refined into a bright and sublime cocktail, then turned into an abomination by the excess of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s. Late century dramadies be damned, I think it’s time to take a fond look back on the Cosmo and embrace it as a wonderful classic cocktail, worthy of our love. Not the scorn we bartenders have heaped upon it for the last 30-odd years. The Cosmopolitan was born out of the San Francisco gay bar scene of the early ‘80s. It was basically a Gimlet with a dash of color thrown in to prettify it. It travelled all the way to New York to a bartender named Toby Cecchini at the Odeon. He took what was well vodka, rose’s lime juice and grenadine and transformed it by swapping in Citron Absolut, fresh lime juice, Cointreau, and a dash of cranberry juice. Thus, was born, the new, improved Cosmo. More of bright take on a Sidecar than anything else. A predecessor to craft cocktails as we know them in the modern era, the Cosmo is one of the few cocktails to come out of this time to be thought of as a modern classic.
It was then ruined by the kind of gross ubiquity that kills all things good and cool. This led to its further ruin by association with the culture of the ‘90s, most noticeably by becoming the drink of Carrie Bradshaw and gang. Worse than this, it was just made wrong. What people came to know as the Cosmo was a different cocktail from the original. It lacked subtlety and lightness. Too much cranberry is, most often, the biggest mistake. Bad proportioning, too. What is supposed to be a bright, light, and pale cocktail became a darkly red, overly sweet, obfuscated mess.
It can be embraced again, though. First, we need to go back to its roots and make it with the original proportions of 2:1:1:1. That is 2 parts citrus vodka, 1 part Cointreau, 1 part lime juice, and 1 part cranberry juice. The color from the cranberry should be pale and pink. The flavors balanced. Not sickly sweet, not painfully tart. I recommend using your own citrus infused vodka and fresh, real cranberry juice to update this cocktail. An equal part of simple syrup will balance the tartness of the cranberry without making it too sweet. Garnishing with expressed lime, lemon, and orange peels help finish the drink. I don’t think it needs much more updating than that. My updated “riff” on it would be more about me than the Cosmo itself. It should be rediscovered in its original form.
The Cosmopolitan was a bridge between drinks with recipes in the name, standard martinis, disgustingly sweet named drinks of the ‘80s, and modern craft cocktails. It has the simplicity and beauty of a classic. It should be given a fair and admired place in history and not an “I Love the ‘90’s” punchline.
Join Christopher Walker at the Southern Hotel for Hersday Thursdays every Thursday and enjoy half price wine and champagne. Try Christopher’s Cosmo in the uber-cool surroundings of the Cypress Bar at the Southern Hotel and you know it will be worthy of praise. Prefer an Old Fashioned? Try Walker Percy Wednesdays.