Your Cosmopolitan Should Be Tart, Not Sweet, Says Its Inventor—Here's How to Make the Iconic Pink Drink the Right Way
Whether you came into adulthood during the Sex and the City era, or found author Candice Bushnell's four fiercely independent female compatriots in reruns and reboots, you know that the Cosmopolitan cocktail was nearly the fifth friend to Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda. But the drink's origins didn't begin with the Patricia Field-styled fab four—it was inspired by a classic sour.
"It's a compelling cocktail because, contrary to what people think about it being a sweet, pink thing, it's actually in the same family as the margarita, the Sidecar, and the whiskey sour," says veteran bartender Toby Cecchini, the Cosmopolitan's inventor. "When done with the proper specifications, people are surprised by how grabby it is."
A Cosmo Is Born
Cecchini created the drink in 1988, while working as a bartender at the Odeon in downtown Manhattan, a hot spot popular with '80 icons like Madonna, Andy Warhol, and Robert DeNiro. A waitress he worked with at the time had just returned from a trek to San Francisco, and told him about a pink-hued concoction with vodka, Rose's Lime, and Rose's Grenadine that she'd encountered while there. Cloyingly sweet and relying almost entirely on artificial ingredients, it wasn't a drink Cecchini took much stock in—but its pretty color and martini-glass presentation gave him an idea. Why not create a new riff on a classic sour?
Absolut Vodka had just released its first flavored offshoot, Citron, and Cecchini was keen to experiment with the new subtly lemon-flavored spirit. He tinkered with it and eventually settled on a combination of fresh lime juice, Cointreau, a dash of Ocean Spray cranberry juice cocktail for color, and a twist of lemon.
Enter Carrie Bradshaw
A decade later, when Sex and the City adopted the pretty pink Cosmopolitan as its own, it came to symbolize more than just a happy hour clink for its core characters: It fit the bill for something else Bushnell—and, towards the end of the '90s, the adapted show's producers—was trying to achieve. "Her characters put on their Jimmy Choos, made their own worlds, and drank Cosmos," Cecchini says. "It became a symbol that made women feel sophisticated and seen."
"The Cosmo is a pretty simple drink—basically, a flavored vodka with a touch of Cointreau. But you need to rely on that fresh lime juice. It supports the flavor," says Linden Pride, the co-owner of New York's Dante, a popular cocktail bar with locations in SoHo and the West Village. At the latter location, the cocktail menu has a section that showcases its own Cosmopolitan list, offering multiple riffs on the classic.
The most popular, he says, is the Cosmojito, a mash-up of both the Cosmopolitan and the mojito, combining Grey Goose L'Orange with Cointreau, fresh lime juice, their own house-made cranberry juice, mint, and a splash of Perrier. Once you master the classic, give the White Cosmo or a Black Currant Cosmo a try—these are excellent offshoots of the original, as well.
Making the Classic Cosmopolitan
To make a classic Cosmopolitan, Cecchini insists on the drink's original blueprint—subbing in cheaper ingredients or taking short-cuts just doesn't result in a snappy, bright, and quenching drink.
It Should Be Tart
"People are constantly telling me they use any old vodka, or triple sec instead of Cointreau, or simple syrup, or less lime juice. People make all kinds of iterations. But there's a reason I stick to my original ingredients and specs," Cecchini says. "When done right, the Cosmopolitan is never a cloying, affected drink. It's a tight, bracing sour."
Stick to Cranberry Juice Cocktail
The Cosmopolitan is all about quality ingredients. But what about that Ocean Spray cranberry juice? For Cecchini, other versions are too drying and tannic, as well as too tart in combination with the acidic punch of the lime juice. So, don't deviate. "It was part of the original spec of the cocktail I created," he says. "The way I make the drink is very dry and sour. The cranberry juice cocktail ends up being the perfect cap on the drink, especially because, for a liqueur, Cointreau is not terribly sweet. Plus, it gives it that coloring—just a splash of pink."
Cecchini's original recipe was made to fill '80s-era martini glasses to the brim (they were giant!). Today, when someone in the know implores him to make his classic at the Long Island Bar, the establishment he now owns in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, he measures with today's slightly smaller glasses in mind.
- 1 ½ ounces of Absolut Citron
- ¾ ounce fresh lime juice
- ¾ ounce Cointreau
- ¾ ounce Ocean Spray cranberry juice cocktail
Shake the ingredients with ice, strain into a coupe or a martini glass, and adorn with a lemon twist.