In 1998, HBO brought something to the small screen that had a far reaching impact on the pantheon of great television shows. “Sex and the City” was an audience and critical hit, winning seven Emmys and eight Golden Globes in its six year run (and providing the title to this article). It has also spawned two movies (possibly a third), and a diverse following across the country. It also brought a relatively young cocktail into the spotlight, one that was barely a decade old when the show was introduced. It is what Carrie Bradshaw and her friends started drinking towards the beginning of the second season, but tapered off towards the end. Near the end of the series, Miranda asked Carrie “Why did we ever stop drinking these?” Carrie’s answer was, of course, “Because everyone else started!” That now iconic pink drink is known far and wide as the Cosmopolitan.
The flavor profile of the Cosmopolitan (or a Cosmo for short) came from an older cocktail, the Harpoon. The Harpoon, which is where many have attributed the paternity of the drink, came from a marketing campaign conceived by Ocean Spray. During the 60’s, Ocean Spray was looking for other ways to market their cranberry juice cocktail. They came up with a series of several drinks, some of them stuck (the Sea Breeze is one they offered as a premade drink) and some did not (the Firecracker was cranberry mixed with Canadian whiskey. All they were missing was apple pucker to make a Washington Apple). The Harpoon was a drink made with vodka and cranberry juice, with a splash of lime juice thrown in for good measure. It was quite close to where the drink eventually ended up just a few decades later.
The Cosmopolitan itself is a relatively new drink. As with most drinks, it has quite a few people claiming that their bar was the place that it was invented. One account has the drink being created at a steak house in Minnesota in the 1970’s. Many bar and cocktail historians believe it may have been created by the gay community in Provincetown, MA, which is in Ocean Spray’s back yard. Another account has the drink created in the same era in San Francisco, being a well received drink in some of the more upscale bars of that city that were tended by John Caine. The most popular story for the creation of the Cosmo is that that it was created in the mid-80’s by a bartender named Cheryl Cook. She worked in Miami, and noticed that the martini craze had come back. However, people did not actually like the flavor of the classic cocktail; they just wanted to be seen holding the glass. She created a cocktail that tasted better as well as having a brighter, look-at-me color to it. Initially, she used citrus vodka (a test version of Absolut Citron), a splash of triple sec, a hint of Rose’s lime juice, and “just enough cranberry to make it pink”. The drink travelled very well, spreading from San Francisco to New York in an era when there was no Internet or cocktail databases to make it easy.
By the late 90’s, the cocktail had slid backwards a little, going from the color of pink lemonade to more of a ruby color, and the citrus vodka had been replaced by regular vodka. It needed a bit of a touch up, and cocktail expert Dale DeGroff was the right man for the job. Dale revived the cocktail at The Rainbow Room in New York by adding the citrus vodka back into the mix, and substituting out the lower quality processed lime juice and triple sec with fresh squeezed lime juice and Cointreau, a high quality orange liqueur. With a room like that showcasing the drink, it was just a matter of time before stars were seen sipping it, and it started to take off in popularity. A picture in the New Yorker with the caption “Madonna drinks Cosmopolitans at the Grammy after party, Rainbow Room, New York” certainly helped the drink’s popularity. With Sex and the City showcasing it a few years later, it was well on its way to becoming an icon in the pantheon on great cocktails.
The Cosmo, due to its pink color and prominence in Sex and the City, has a reputation as a ladies drink. Do not let the pleasant taste and soft color fool you; it is a cocktail that still packs a punch. The lime juice and the cranberry juice add a little color and enhance the citrusy flavor of the vodka, but that is all. The rest of the cocktail is, like any other martini, alcohol. It has a lovely, fresh flavor, and tastes light enough to enjoy several. If you have not tried this gem, you should give it a look. Imbibe magazine notes, when naming this one of their Top 25 Most Influential Cocktails of the Twentieth Century, that this cocktail is perfect for someone looking for something “pretty, potent, and tasty”. I am not sure Carrie Bradshaw could have summed it up and better. Cheers!
1 1/2 oz. citrus vodka
1/2 oz. Cointreau (or triple sec)
3/4 oz. fresh lime juice
1/4 oz. cranberry juice
Combine the ingredients in a shaker and fill it with ice. Shake well and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a lime wedge.