Words by: Simon Difford
The Cosmopolitan is one of those cocktails that has had various incarnations through the ages - some of them, quite probably, independent of one another. During the 1990s, the familiar blend of cranberry, citrus and vodka was one of the most popular cocktails in New York and London.
Our Cosmopolitan recipe uses equal parts vodka and triple sec with more cranberry juice than most. The extra fruitiness from the increased triple sec and cranberry means this recipe also works well with unflavoured vodka so is useful if citrus flavoured vodka is not to hand.
The first reference to a Cosmopolitan cocktail appears in the 1934 book Pioneers of Mixing at Elite Bars. This Cosmopolitan recipe includes triple sec and is very similar to today's drink, only with lemon in place of lime, gin in place of vodka and raspberry syrup in place of cranberry. The raspberry gives the drink a pale pink appearance not dissimilar from its modern-day namesake. See the 1934 Cosmopolitan recipe.
A likely early ancestor of the modern day Cosmopolitan is the Harpoon Cocktail, a drink promoted by Ocean Spray during the 1960s. A 1968 bottle label from Ocean Spray's archives lists the Harpoon as a "new cocktail" with a recipe specifying 2 ounces Ocean Spray cranberry and 1 ounce vodka or light rum served "over the rocks or tall with soda". Ocean Spray's recipe also suggests adding an optional splash of lime or lemon. In 1970, the company updated their Harpoon Cocktail recipe to also list gin as a possible base spirit.
Well over a decade after the Harpoon during the latter half of the 1980s, Cheryl Cook claims to have invented the Cosmopolitan Cocktail while head bartender at The Strand on Washington Avenue, South Beach, Miami. She apparently based her drink on the newly available Absolut Citron vodka and added a splash of triple sec, a dash of Rose's lime and, in her own words, "just enough cranberry to make it oh so pretty in pink". The date often quoted for her claim is 1985, three years prior to the launch of Absolut Citron.
The Cosmopolitan made the rounds of gay bars in San Francisco in the late 70s and early 80s. At that time it consisted of rail vodka with Rose's Lime and Rose's Grenadine and it is this drink that Toby Cecchini says "came to New York and came to me through another bartender who worked at The Odeon called Melisa Huffsmith. It was a ghastly drink and I reformulated it using Citron, which Absolut had just come out with, cranberry juice, and the things we were using at the time to make fresh Margaritas. It was kind of a no brainer. I was 25 years old and I invented the drink to impress the waitresses. I invented the Cosmopolitan as it's known." Toby Cecchini's Cosmopolitan original 1988 recipe.
In 1996, across town at Manhattan's Rainbow Rooms, bartending legend Dale DeGroff came across the Cosmopolitan, perfected his own recipe, and helped by Madonna and his signature flamed orange zest twist garnish, made the cocktail fashionable.
New York Magazine credited Dale with the drink's invention, other publications followed, and he was asked to present it on several television stations. Due to this publicity it is Dale who continues to be most identified with the Cosmopolitan Cocktail.
Dale has never claimed to have invented the Cosmopolitan and in his own 2002 book, The Craft of the Cocktail he explains that while he did not invent the Cosmopolitan, "What I did do was popularize a definitive recipe that became widely accepted as the standard." It was Dale who added the flamboyant flamed orange zest twist.
When the HBO television series, Sex and the City debuted in 1998, its creators decided the Cosmopolitan would be the perfect accompaniment to Carrie Bradshaw's fashionista Manhattan lifestyle. Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and sexpot Samantha were frequently shown sipping Cosmos and when the series hit the big screen in 2008, the film closed with the girls questioning why they had ever stopped drinking them.