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How to Make a Cosmopolitan Cocktail Like a Pro

Cocktail pouring in glass outdoors
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The Cosmopolitan has enjoyed its ups and downs over the years. Like Merlot or fruit beers, the bright-toned cocktail is seemingly either the toast of the industry or pushed out from it entirely, depending on the year.

Two things can be blamed for the Cosmo’s damaged reputation: The 90s and a wildly popular television show. And while the drink is still recovering from the side effects, at its core it is no doubt a classic. In fact, when executed properly, the Cosmopolitan is, as the name suggests, a bit worldly and of intrigue to all kinds of drinkers, not just happy hour Manhattanites. It’s a close relative of the Sidecar and a great drink experiment with.

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Zachery West is the bar lead at White Limozeen, the stylish rooftop bar that’s part of the Graduate Hotel in Nashville. He says the Cosmo is a product of its environment, born of a desire to create a new classic cocktail with vodka as its base. “Reaching its height of popularity in the 1990s, the Cosmopolitan has been featured time and time again on the TV show Sex and the City as a transparent purple cocktail in a V-shaped martini glass,” he says. “I think this is the most common example of how this cocktail has been misconceived. While presenting a vibrant purplish hue, if made properly, this cocktail should be cloudy in appearance and should leave your palate with notes of tart citrus as opposed to vodka and bottled cranberry juice.”

Image used with permission by copyright holder

West says the original Cosmo, from the 80s, was actually relatively complex, much more than the dumbed-down version of bottled cranberry juice and vodka we’ve grow accustomed to. The original, he says, called for things like Cointreau and fresh lime juice. “This variation elevates a boring cranberry vodka into the contemporary classic it was intended to be,” West says.

When making the best version of the cocktail, West is reminded of some sage bar advice, the old adage that your drink is only as good as its weakest ingredient. So, celebrate and embrace the nature of the Cosmo while selecting ingredients carefully. “For instance, I prefer using Clear Creek cranberry liqueur in place of a bottled cranberry juice and I also prefer using Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao in place of Cointreau,” he says. “These small substitutions alone create a much more elevated, well balanced, and enjoyable cocktail than the stripped-down version many initially think of when they hear the word ‘Cosmopolitan.'”

Keep it classy, fellow drinkers. Cranberry juice and vodka is fine, but let’s keep that drink where it belongs, hastily whipped-up at 30,000 feet mid-flight or in the wee hours when you lack what it takes to make a real cocktail. The Cosmopolitan is iconic for a reason and ought to be made according to its original intent. You’ll end up with a better drink more indicative of its tasty roots.

Classic Cosmopolitan

There are a few original versions and they generally follow the below format. This one is heightened by both citrus vodka as well as fresh cranberry juice, which ought to be sugar-free and plenty tart to make the cocktail pop.

  • 2 ounces citrus vodka
  • .75 ounce Cointreau
  • .5 ounce fresh lime juice
  • .5 ounce pure, unsweetened cranberry juice
  • .5 ounce simple syrup
  • lime wheel for garnish

Method: Shake all ingredients with ice, then double-strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with lime wheel.

Reyka Cosmo

Trevor Schneider is a brand ambassador for Reyka Vodka. The Cosmo, he says, “should be perfectly balanced between sweet and tart.” He achieves that via the below recipe.

  • 1.75 parts Reyka Vodka
  • .5 part Solerno Blood Orange liqueur 
  • .5 part cranberry juice
  • .5 part lime juice

Method: Combine all ingredients into cocktail shaker. Shake, strain, garnish with a lime wheel and serve.

Queen of the Rodeo

Here, West offers a riff on the Cosmo. “It’s a fun spin on this classic featuring the bright, tart notes of citrus that are very reminiscent of the original Cosmopolitan recipe with a little something extra,” he says.

  • 2 ounces of preferred vodka
  • .75 ounce lime juice
  • .75 ounce grapefruit juice
  • .5 ounce pomegranate syrup
  • .25 ounce Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur

Method: Add all ingredients to a shaker tin and mix it up. Strain into a glass, garnish with a lime wheel and dust with edible pink glitter.

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Mark Stock
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon. He fell into wine during the Recession and has been fixated on the stuff since…
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