Spirits & Liqueurs Vodka

6 Things You Should Know About the Cosmopolitan

It’s much more than the Carrie Bradshaw drink.

A vivid pink Cosmopolitan in a classic Martini glass is garnished with a whole lime wheel. The background is bright yellow
Image: Tim Nusog

When drinking a Cosmopolitan, it’s best to dispense with the notion that you’re indulging in a guilty pleasure. When made right, the tart-sweet combination with its glorious rosy hue is a lovable libation. Though it will likely remain inextricably linked to the late ’90s gal-pal classic “Sex and the City” (itself no guilty pleasure), the Cosmopolitan is a true New Yorker, and predates the show by around a decade. From its beginnings behind the bar to the history of cranberry juice in the U.S., here are six things to know about the Cosmopolitan.

1. Toby Cecchini Is the Cosmo’s Father

While there were likely some potential precursor versions of the drink, it’s Toby Cecchini who in the fall of 1988 unequivocally created the cocktail canon standard as we know it: Absolut Citron vodka, Cointreau, fresh lime juice, Ocean Spray cranberry juice cocktail and lemon twist. “I was working at The Odeon with this woman who had some friends in from San Francisco, and they showed her this drink that was kind of making the rounds in bars in San Francisco: vodka and Rose’s lime and Rose’s grenadine, shaken up and put in a martini glass with a twist of lemon,” he says. “And I was like, Oh, well, that’s very pretty, but it’s dreadful!”

2. Its Blueprint Is the Sour

At its core, the Cosmo is in the family tree of the sour—spirit, citrus, and sugar, much like the Margarita, which was part of Cecchini’s retooling inspiration. “I basically did the same thing we were doing with a Margarita; it was a really short leap,” he says. “The Cosmo’s a very simple sour. That’s the way we were making Margaritas at the time, so I made it with fresh lime juice and Cointreau,” and he swapped the tequila for Absolut Citron, adding a splash of cranberry juice for color.

3. Flavored Vodka Was the Final Lynchpin

In the late ’80s, Absolut had just released its first flavored vodka, the lemon-flavored Citron. Cecchini had been playing around with it behind the bar at The Odeon, and it seemed like a good fit for the Cosmo, along with a few other fresher tweaks.

4. The Cranberry Panic of the ’60s Is Why It’s Your ’80s Ingredient

In November 1959, cranberries in the Pacific Northwest were discovered with traces of aminotriazole, an herbicide used to kill bog weeds that also caused cancer in lab rats. The U.S. Secretary of Health put Americans on high alert regarding the tart fruit, crushing the cranberry industry. To recover, a collective of growers known as Ocean Spray started publishing recipe booklets to encourage the use of cranberries in all of its solid and liquid forms once again, thus bringing cranberry juice cocktail back into popularity (this may have also led to the Sea Breeze). In Cecchini’s Cosmopolitan, the juice gave the drink a rosy tone, similar to the ones with grenadine at the Odeon but not so syrupy sweet.

5. Ocean Spray Is Standard, but You Can Riff

Cecchini always keeps Ocean Spray on hand at his venerable Long Island Bar in Brooklyn, but it’s possible to try your hand at a house-made version if you want to give it a go. In a medium pot, cover 12 ounces of fresh cranberries with water, simmer until the skins burst, and strain and press the solids into a bowl. Return the juice to the pot, stir in a cup of white sugar (or to taste), and heat until the sugar dissolves. Once refrigerated in a sterile container, the syrup should last about three weeks. It also works well in wintery cocktails for holiday gatherings.

6. Carrie Didn’t Sip One Until Season 2

While it may seem as though the drink was the fifth friend on “Sex and the City,” the Cosmo didn’t make an appearance on the show until the second episode of the second season—more than a decade after the drink’s invention. Since then, though, it remained a staple of the show.