When done well, the ubiquitous pink Cosmo is actually a fabulous, balanced, sophisticated sour cocktail. Here's how to make it great.
Why we love this recipe
Relationship status: It's complicated. The pink Cosmo is no Dirty Martini. But I do love this cocktail from time to time. I like:
- Its balanced tartness and gentle sweetness
- The way its pretty pink hue dresses up a cocktail glass just so
- Its role in the history of cocktails
- That it will forever conjure scenes from Sex and the City
This version of the pink Cosmo tilts the balance just slightly in favor of tartness and strength. It's hard not to like, and that's okay. I first published it here in 2020. I've since updated the post for clarity, but the recipe remains the same.
What you'll need
Here's a glance at the ingredients you'll need to make this recipe.
- You'll start with a top-shelf vodka. I'm using Grey Goose, which has a lovely, toasty vibe and creamy finish. Belvedere is another great choice. I'm not really on the Tito's bandwagon, but if you are, that would be a fine option, too.
- Cointreau is a 40% ABV orange liqueur made from a secret formula containing sugar beet and dried orange peel. It has been produced in Saint-Barthélemy-d'Anjou, France since 1875. It's a component of many well-known cocktails and is also popular by itself as both aperitif and digestif.
- There's no substitute for freshly squeezed lime juice, which adds brightness and balance to this cocktail.
- Cranberry juice cocktail gives the cosmo its pink hue and adds delicious flavor. This is the run-of-the-mill stuff from the grocery store with plenty of added sugar. If you've got unsweetened cranberry juice, add an equal amount of simple syrup.
- This drink has two official garnishes. You can choose between a lime wheel and an orange twist. Here I've pictured it with a minimalist
How to make it
Here's an overview of what you'll do to make a pink Cosmo. You can see the steps in action in the video that accompanies this post, and get all the details in the recipe card below.
- 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 and garnish with orange twist or lime wedge. That's it!
A little history lesson
The Cosmopolitan cocktail recipe 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 ideas about its origins include:
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.
Six (and I saved the best for last)
To me, the most interesting part is the Cosmo's influence on what came next. Many people credit it 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 Cosmo here.)
How to make a citrus twist
Here's a little video that takes you through the steps of how to make a citrus twist for a cocktail. In the pink Cosmo photos here, I've featured a simple, elegant strip of orange peel removed from the fruit with a vegetable peeler. But if you'd like to get fancier, here's how.
For an orange twist, you won't need to use as much of the white pith, since oranges tend to have thicker skin.
Expert tips and FAQs
I prefer a top-shelf plain vodka like Grey Goose. 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.
Sure thing. Up to three hours in advance, pour into a pitcher: 1 ½ cups vodka, ¾ cup Cointreau, ¾ cup freshly squeezed lime juice, and ½ cup cranberry juice cocktail. Give it a good stir and refrigerate. When ready to serve, pour into glasses and garnish individually.
More favorite vodka cocktails
- 1 ½ ounces (45 ml) vodka
- ¾ ounce (22 ml) Cointreau
- ¾ ounce (22 ml) freshly squeezed lime juice
- ½ ounce (15 ml) cranberry juice cocktail
- Orange twist or lime wedge to garnish
- 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 a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with the orange twist or lime wedge.
- I prefer a top-shelf plain vodka like Grey Goose. 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.
- If you like, you can batch this cocktail for a party. Up to three hours in advance, pour into a pitcher: 1 ½ cups vodka, ¾ cup Cointreau, ¾ cup freshly squeezed lime juice, and ½ cup cranberry juice cocktail. Give it a good stir and refrigerate. When ready to serve, pour into glasses and garnish individually.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 200