Cosmopolitan Cocktail Recipe: How to Make a Good Cosmo

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The Cosmo went the way of Chardonnay for a while. But we’re here to say that a good Cosmopolitan cocktail recipe is important (Okay, maybe not IMPORTANT? But fun) to have in your arsenal. Made well, this pink drink is actually a balanced, sophisticated sour cocktail in disguise. Here’s how to do it.

A pink cosmo cocktail garnished with an orange twist in a cocktail glass on a light background

Why we love this recipe

Relationship status: It’s complicated. The Cosmo is no Negroni or Little Italy. It’s no Dirty Martini or Corpse Reviver No. 2. But we do love this Cosmopolitan cocktail recipe, with its balanced tartness, gentle sweetness, and pretty pink hue that dresses up a cocktail glass just so. We also love the Cosmo’s role in the history of cocktails and the way it will forever conjure scenes from Sex and the City.

Our version of the Cosmo tilts the balance just slightly in favor of tartness and strength. It’s hard not to like, and that’s okay.

Cosmopolitan cocktail recipe ingredients

To make a Cosmo, you’ll need:

  • Vodka
  • Cointreau
  • Freshly squeezed lime juice
  • Cranberry juice cocktail
  • To garnish, an orange twist or lime wedge
adding ice, vodka, cointreau, fresh lime juice, and cranberry juice cocktail to a cocktail shaker, shaking, pouring into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnishing with an orange twist

How to make a Cosmo

Here’s how to make a Cosmopolitan cocktail. You can see all the steps in action in the video that accompanies this post.

  • Pop a cocktail glass into the freezer for a few minutes.
  • Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice.
  • Pour in vodka, Cointreau, lime juice, and cranberry juice cocktail.
  • Shake well, until the outside of the shaker is very cold.
  • Strain into the chilled cocktail glass.
  • Garnish with orange twist or lime wedge and serve.

The history of the Cosmopolitan cocktail

The Cosmo has quite an interesting history, in terms of both the murkiness of its origin story and the effect it’s had on cocktail culture over the past decades.

Some popular theories of the Cosmo’s origin:

Long before the 1970s, a couple of similar cocktails with different names probably provided the basic structure that became the Cosmo. In the late 1800s, the Daisy — the combination of a spirit, a citrus, and a sweetener that we now think of as the basic formula for a sour cocktail — emerged as a way to make the strong tastes of spirits more accessible. The Cosmo relies on that basic structure, though vodka was not one of the spirits usually treated this way. In 1934, a reference to the Cosmopolitan Daisy appeared in a cocktail book. The recipe included gin instead of vodka and raspberry syrup instead of cranberry juice.

In 1968, Ocean Spray created the Harpoon — equal parts vodka and cranberry juice cocktail with a squeeze of lime — to try to sell more cranberry juice for adult consumption.

Then, during the 1970s, a couple of drinks that closely resemble the Cosmo seem to have cropped up simultaneously. Cheryl Cook, a bartender at Strand Restaurant in Miami’s South Beach, combined lemon vodka, triple sec, Rose’s lime juice and cranberry juice to serve customers who wanted a sophisticated-looking cocktail that was smooth and easy to drink.

At the same time, a bartender named John Caine in Provincetown, MA was shaking up a similar drink using good old rail vodka, Rose’s lime juice, and what in some accounts is cranberry juice and in some is grenadine. He moved to San Francisco and brought the drink with him, where it became popular in the gay community.

Then, in 1987, the Cosmo as we know it today was created by Toby Cecchini at Manhattan’s famous Odeon, who swapped in fresh lime juice and Cointreau after hearing about the San Francisco drink. The Odeon was an ultimate hot spot during the 1980s, and the drink became more widely popular.

For the rest of us plebes — including those of us who were 11 years old and living in a ranch house in suburban NJ in 1987 — Sex and the City made it impossible not to know about the Cosmo.

The most interesting part of Cosmo cocktail history

To me, the most interesting part of the history of the Cosmopolitan is its influence on what came next. Many people credit the Cosmo with the very existence of craft cocktail culture today.

The same impetus for change that brought the Cosmo from drinking subculture into the mainstream ultimately produced bartenders who were so over its easy, ubiquitous popularity. They left the simplicity and accessibility of the Cosmo behind, in favor of more artisanal, nuanced, rarified ingredients and techniques.

For better or worse, here we are.

(Learn more about the history of the Cosmopolitan cocktail recipe here.)

What vodka to use in a Cosmo

We prefer a top-shelf plain vodka like Grey Goose in our Cosmos. Some people will push hard for citron vodka in a Cosmo, so feel free to try that version too if you like, with no other changes to the recipe. Both are arguably historically accurate, if you’re into that sort of thing — and really, of course, you should drink what you like.

A pink cosmopolitan cocktail garnished with an orange twist in a cocktail glass on a light background

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Cosmopolitan Cocktail Recipe

When made well, a Cosmo is a really good, nicely balanced, elegant cocktail. Here's how to get it right.

Prep Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes
Serves 1

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 ounces vodka
  • 3/4 ounce Cointreau
  • 3/4 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1/2 ounce cranberry juice cocktail
  • Orange twist or lime wedge to garnish

Directions

  1. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice.
  2. Pour in vodka, Cointreau, lime juice, and cranberry juice cocktail.
  3. Shake well until the outside of the shaker is very cold.
  4. Pour into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with the orange twist or lime wedge.

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Nutrition Information

Amount Per Serving:

Calories:: 200

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