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Pink, sweet, sour and not too boozy, the cosmopolitan is a drink for 90s-era parties and wistful memories of an ill-spent youth. The cosmo is a smart choice for home entertaining. This simple cocktail contains only four main ingredients, and you don't have to attend bartending school to be able to make it. What's more, the drink is making a comeback after fading from the trendy bar scene.

The Cosmopolitan's Trendsetting Past

Like most famous cocktails, the cosmopolitan has a complicated and interesting past. The drink's most famous association is with the TV series, "Sex in the City." Sultry Samantha orders a cosmo in a scene in the second season set in a wedding bar. As the series progressed, the cocktail became the drink of choice of all the characters.

Inevitably, the show's fans began to copy their favorite characters and ordered cosmos while they were out bar-hopping with friends. Celebrities like Madonna got in on the act, and soon the cocktail was all the rage. But the cosmopolitan actually predates "Sex and the City" by quite a while. For such a modern cocktail, the cosmo's roots reach surprisingly far back.

The Origin of the Cosmo Drink

The cosmo's basic recipe of spirit, citrus and sweetener originated in a drink called the daisy, a cocktail of the late 19th century. The attraction of the daisy lay in the fact that it softened the harsh effects of drinking hard liquor. Even lightweight drinkers could enjoy the simple cocktail. The drink became so popular it established a classic sour family cocktail recipe structure that bartenders continue to follow today.

But the daisy didn't contain vodka, a traditional cosmo ingredient. And the cranberry juice that gives the cosmopolitan its memorable pink coloring is another modern innovation. So who gets the credit for transforming the daisy into a new, modern cocktail?

By many accounts, the introduction of both vodka and cranberry juice is credited to the cranberry drink manufacturer, Ocean Spray. In 1968, the company began to advertise a drink called a harpoon on the side of the juice box. The harpoon's recipe calls for 1 ounce of vodka, 1 ounce of cranberry juice and a splash of lime juice.

But Who Really Invented the Cosmopolitan?

Though the harpoon is very similar to a cosmopolitan, Ocean Spray's invention cocktail lacks the cosmo's orange-flavored liqueur. The addition of this extra ingredient may have occurred nearly 20 years after the introduction of the harpoon. The official claim to fame for the finishing touch to the cosmo's invention lies with Toby Cecchini of the Odeon, a bar in Manhattan. According to the widely accepted story, Cecchini created the cosmo in 1987.

Yet there's also an unofficial story: Two other bartenders may be responsible for the trendsetting drink. The first is Cheryl Cook, who worked at South Beach, Miami, during the 1970s. Some say Cook invented the cosmopolitan for customers who wanted a drink similar to a martini, but sweeter. Her adaptation of the classic cocktail contained lemon-infused vodka and triple sec.

The second possible inventor is John Caine, a bartender who was working in Provincetown, Cape Cod, during the same period. Provincetown is near a cranberry-producing region, so it makes sense that Caine might have used cranberry juice as an ingredient in a new drink. Later, the bartender relocated to San Francisco where he continued to serve the cosmo, and the cocktail became a massive hit in the gay scene of the time.

Cosmopolitan Recipe

The key to the cosmopolitan is to balance citrus, sweet and sour flavors that overlie the kick of the vodka. Lime juice and citrus vodka supply the citrus theme. Cranberry juice provides sourness as well as a pink blush. For a sweeter drink, use Ocean Spray cranberry drink, rather than straight cranberry juice.

Total Time: Five minutes | Prep Time: Five minutes | Serves: 1

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 ounces citrus vodka
  • 3/4 ounce lime juice
  • 1/2 ounce cranberry juice
  • 1/2 ounce triple sec (or Cointreau)
  • Ice
  • Orange wheel

Directions:

  1. Pour all liquid ingredients into a cocktail shaker.
  2. Fill the shaker with ice.
  3. Shake the shaker vigorously.
  4. Strain the cocktail through the cocktail shaker's strainer and through a second, fine mesh strainer into a martini glass.
  5. Garnish the cocktail with the orange wheel.

Tip

For a super-chilled cosmopolitan, put the martini glass in your freezer for 20 minutes before making the cocktail. A very cold glass develops an attractive frost after you pour in the cocktail.

Is the Cosmopolitan Still Cool?

Perhaps you're wondering if you'll have to endure smirks when offering your guests cosmopolitans at your social gathering. It's true that, after several years in the limelight, the cosmo fell from favor and became distinctly untrendy. Such is the fate of shining stars of the cocktail scene; the brighter they burn, the dimmer their light fades when drinkers move on to something new.

During its heyday, the cosmopolitan drink became so popular that bartenders grew to hate making it. For the expert, mixing the drink presents no challenge. Customers who asked for it seemed to be only following the herd. Soon, cocktail enthusiasts understood that the cosmo was old news, and they decided they wouldn't be seen dead ordering the drink.

But now the times are changing for the cosmo. Variations of the famous cocktail have appeared in smart, trendy bars. In some of the newer versions, the classic pink coloring is gone. In others, one or two ingredients have been replaced to give a hint of a different flavor or an entirely new taste. If you think your guests will be underwhelmed at your offering of cosmopolitan cocktails, surprise them with a new twist on this old favorite.

Variations on the Cosmopolitan

New styles of cosmopolitan retain the drink's clear spirit and sweet and sour mix, but introduce new elements. Experiment by replacing the vodka with gin, white rum or even tequila. Alternatively, substitute the triple sec or Cointreau with a different sweet liqueur. You could also try swapping lime or cranberry for another fruit juice. Here's a suggestion that tweaks the regular recipe.

Total Time: Five minutes | Prep Time: Five minutes | Serves: 1

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 ounces gin
  • 3/4 ounce lime juice
  • 1/2 ounce cranberry juice
  • 1/2 ounce Grand Marnier
  • Ice
  • Orange twist

Directions:

  1. Put the gin, lime juice, cranberry juice and Grand Marnier into a cocktail shaker.
  2. Fill the shaker with ice.
  3. Shake the shaker vigorously.
  4. Double strain the cocktail through the cocktail shaker strainer and through a fine mesh strainer into a glass.
  5. Garnish the cocktail with the orange twist.

White Cosmopolitan

A white cosmo isn't actually white, it's transparent. To create the new drink without the pink coloring, simply replace red cranberry juice with white cranberry juice. This recipe also substitutes elderflower liqueur for triple sec, giving the drink a floral aroma and taste. An edible flower floating on the surface of the cocktail makes an attractive garnish.

Total Time: Five minutes | Prep Time: Five minutes | Serves: 1

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 ounces citron vodka
  • 3/4 ounce lime juice
  • 1/2 ounce white cranberry juice
  • 1/2 ounce elderflower liqueur
  • Ice
  • Edible flower as garnish

Directions:

  1. Pour the vodka, lime juice, white cranberry juice and elderflower liqueur into a cocktail shaker.
  2. Fill the shaker with ice.
  3. Shake the shaker vigorously.
  4. Strain the cocktail through the cocktail shaker strainer and through a fine mesh strainer into a martini glass.
  5. Drop a flower into the cocktail so that it floats stem side down on the surface of the drink.

Tip

Edible flowers include violets, nasturtiums, rose petals, chamomile and jasmine. If you have a garden, you might find one or more of these common blooms growing there. However, don't use flowers that may have been sprayed with pesticide.

Fruity Cosmopolitan Cocktail

For an extra citrusy and fruity cosmopolitan, replace lime juice with lemon juice, and triple sec with pear liqueur. The resulting concoction could be rather saccharine to some tastes. To balance out the sweetness you can add Peychaud's bitters. For a garnish, take your pick of decorative fruit.

Total Time: Five minutes | Prep Time: Five minutes | Serves: 1

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 ounces citron vodka
  • 3/4 ounce lemon juice
  • 1/2 ounce cranberry juice
  • 1/2 ounce pear liqueur
  • 4 dashes Peychaud's bitters
  • Ice
  • Raspberry or other decorative fruit garnish

Directions:

  1. Pour the vodka, lemon juice, cranberry juice, pear liqueur and Peychaud's bitters into a cocktail shaker.
  2. Fill the shaker with ice.
  3. Shake the shaker vigorously until the contents are cold.
  4. Strain the mixture into a martini glass.
  5. Thread a raspberry onto a toothpick and place it in the glass as a garnish.

Make Your Own Cranberry Juice

One reason purists may have for steering clear of the cosmopolitan is the drink's cranberry juice ingredient. Cocktail devotees prefer their drinks to contain famous or obscure spirits, liqueurs and bitters, and they want the fruit juice components to be freshly squeezed. Cranberry drink isn't a pure juice – it's a processed product that contains sugar or another sweetener. And fresh cranberries are too dry to squeeze at the bar.

If you're determined to make a cocktail to please the fussiest guest, you can make your own cranberry juice. Homemade cranberry juice retains the fresh fruit taste and color, making it superior to anything you pour out of a box or bottle. Although making your own cranberry juice is simple, the process can be a little messy. If you're entertaining in the evening, make the juice in the afternoon or even the day before.

Total Time: Ten minutes | Prep Time: Two minutes | Serves: Enough for 16 cosmos

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice or orange juice

Directions:

  1. Put the cranberries and water in a blender.
  2. Set the blender to high and blend the berries and water for two minutes.
  3. Open the blender and check the contents for pieces of cranberry. If you see any, blend the contents again, until the mixture is uniform.
  4. Put a fine sieve over a bowl and pour the blender contents into the sieve.
  5. Strain the cranberry juice. To help the juice separate from the pulp, stir the mixture.
  6. Discard the contents of the sieve.
  7. Stir in the lemon juice or orange juice.
  8. Store the cranberry juice in the refrigerator, where it will keep for two or three days.

Tip

Cranberry juice is tart. If you prefer a sweeter juice, add sugar. Stir in 1 tablespoon of sugar until it's dissolved, then taste the juice to check its sweetness. Add more sugar if the juice is too sour for your taste. As an alternative to sugar, add honey, maple syrup, stevia or another sweetening ingredient.

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About the Author

Jenny Green

Jenny Green has a Masters in English literature and has been a freelance writer since 2008.