What We're Drinking: The Cosmopolitan

2011-12-31T07:00:00Z 2014-08-21T15:02:21Z What We're Drinking: The CosmopolitanStory and recipe by Matt Seiter
Photography by Laura Ann Miller
Feast Magazine | Inspired Local Food Culture/Midwest

Most of us know the Cosmopolitan as the pink-hued beauty made fashionable by the Sex and the City television series. However, the drink has a past more storied and complex than the show's four lead characters combined.

The version we know today got its start in the 1960s with Ocean Spray. The company would print drink recipes on the sides of its bottles to promote the versatility of its juices. One such marketing campaign featured a drink called the Harpoon, a mix of vodka, cranberry juice, orange liqueur and a squeeze of lime. Sound familiar? From there, the journey of the fabled drink leads us to the fern bars of the 1970s in San Francisco. Fern bars are upscale see-and-be-seen spots where the beloved Lemon Drop martini and Cosmo are rumored to have been spawned. And finally we head to Miami's South Beach, where bartender Cheryl Cook is said to have "created" the Cosmopolitan in the mid-1980s. Absolut Citron was an unknown product at the time, and South Beach was chosen as a test market. As Cook states in a letter to cocktail writer Gary Regan: "My Southern Wine and Spirits rep brought me a new Absolut product, Absolut Citron. He said, ‘Create something Cheryl.'" And while the modern Cosmopolitan was thus introduced to the public consciousness, we simply haven't gone back far enough to discover the roots of this enigmatic drink.

The first noted mention of a cocktail called the Cosmopolitan dates back to 1927 - on Page 82 of Barflies and Cocktails, to be exact. It includes vodka, but that's the only thing the modern version shares with this fantastic classic. As the author states: "Casting a side glance at the meal-ticket, O.O. McIntyre concocts the ‘Cosmopolitan:' 1/6 Italian vermouth, 1/6 French vermouth, 1/6 Swedish Punsch, 1/6 Scotch whisky, 1/6 Irish whiskey, 1/6 Russian vodka. And then the case containing the corpse is submitted to the League of Nations." This sounds like a potentially horrid drink, but as we've learned, we don't know as much about the Cosmo as we thought. Subtle hints of tea from the punsch play extremely well with the smoke and barrel of the whiskies, while the vermouths round off the bite. It's a truly well-balanced palate pleaser that, when compared with the modern favorite, is just a bit more, well, cosmopolitan.

The Cosmopolitan (1927 version)

  • ½ oz blended Scotch whisky (not single malt)
  • ½ oz Irish whiskey, preferably Redbreast or Jameson
  • ½ oz Swedish punsch
  • ½ oz vodka, preferably Ruskova or Boyd & Blair
  • ½ oz Italian vermouth, preferably Cocchi Vermouth di Torino or Dolin Rouge
  • ½ oz French vermouth, preferably Dolin Dry or Noilly Prat
  • lemon twist

| Preparation | Combine all ingredients except lemon twist in a shaker, add ice and shake for 15 seconds. Pour through a fine strainer into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.


The Cosmopolitan (modern version)

  • 1½ oz Boyd & Blair potato vodka or any citron vodka
  • ¾ oz Cointreau
  • ½ oz lime juice
  • ½ oz cranberry juice
  • lemon twist or orange peel

| Preparation | Combine all ingredients except lemon twist or orange peel in a shaker, add ice and shake for 15 seconds. Pour through a fine strainer into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist or flaming orange peel - drinker's choice.


Swedish Punsch

This is a cocktail ingredient that is, by chance, a cocktail in and of itself. It's a blend of white rum, lemon juice, simple syrup, tea and Batavia Arrack. Arrack is rum made with sugarcane and fermented red rice. It's produced in Indonesia, specifically on the island of Java. There are a few bars around the country that make it in house; however, to date, I know of only two products that are mass-marketed: Carlshamns Flaggpunsch Swedish Punsch Liqueur and Kronan Swedish Punsch. Both of these can be purchased online.

Italian and French Vermouths

When you read older cocktail books, you see these two terms used extensively. "Italian vermouth" refers to sweet vermouth, or red/rouge vermouth. French vermouth is dry vermouth. At one time, only Italy produced red vermouth for export and only France the dry vermouth. Today vermouths, both dry and sweet, are produced all over the world. The nomenclature in the recipe at right is an ode to the past as well as an excuse for a spirited history lesson.

--Matt Seiter

Matt Seiter is a co-founder of the United States Bartenders' Guild's St. Louis chapter, a member of the national board for the USBG's MA program and a continuing educator for all desiring knowledge of the craft of mixology. He is a member of Drink Lab and is the creator of the Sanctuaria Cocktail Club.


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