What Is A Cosmopolitan And What Does It Taste Like?

A cosmopolitan — also known as the cosmo — will forever be linked to Carrie Bradshaw of "Sex and the City." Refinery29 interviewed Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, author of the book "Sex and the City and Us," who explained, "I don't know if there's any other drink or even food that I could think of that is so closely associated with a show ... I think whatever you think of as the caricature of SATC, the Cosmo goes with it."

But aside from being TV-famous, the cosmopolitan is also, as Wine Enthusiast puts it, "emblematic of the terrible excesses of bar culture in the '80s and '90s" but it also has the possibility to be "a delicious, refreshing, well-balanced drink" when made correctly. They note that the cosmopolitan is a sour drink, akin to the family of margaritas, daiquiris, and whiskey sours that are similar in taste but don't have quite the same associations. 

The history of cosmopolitans

A cosmopolitan, according to Punch Magazine, is an alcoholic cocktail served in a martini glass made with a combination of vodka, cranberry juice, triple sec, and lime. It first came on the scene around the emergence of the Gay Rights movement, "before the cocktail renaissance," as they put it, and stole the show, becoming a quick classic. And although the flavors are often agreed upon, the inventor is a bit of a mystery. 

Punch Magazine traces inventor credit to several sources. John Caine, a bartender in San Francisco, believes it began as a Vodka Gimlet in World War II, later morphed into a Kamikaze, and was riffed on in the '80s with a splash of cranberry to give the drink its signature color and flavor. Miranda Dickson, the Global Brand Director at Absolut Elyx at the time of the interview, credits it as a product of the '80s when slightly whimsical flavors of martinis were in rotation. And a third voice, Toby Cecchini, owner of Long Island Bar in New York, says that the version of the cosmo we know today was created by him at Odeon in New York. Originally, Cecchini was trying to improve on a badly flavored but good-looking cocktail that had been popular in San Francisco in the 1980s. By combining Citron, lime juice, Cointreau, and a splash of cranberry, Cecchini takes credit for the invention of the famous pink drink.

The flavor profile of a cosmopolitan

Let's talk flavor. As Cold Glass puts it, the cosmopolitan has a variety of flavor profiles. It's sour from the lime, sweet and a little fresh from the Triple Sec/Cointreau and its orange flavor, and has a kick from the vodka. They note that the balance of sweet to sour varies based on what recipe book you go by. However, for those who are fans of a sweeter, tarter drink, this is in your wheelhouse. Wine Enthusiast says to think of the cosmopolitan like a vodka-based margarita with a hint of cranberry — fruity, refreshing, sweet, and light.

Nutritionally speaking, for a cocktail, you could do worse. According to Cosmopolitan, it's one of the healthiest drinks on their holiday round-up list. "It's low in calories and contains health-boosting cranberry juice," nutritionist Juliette Kellow told the magazine. So it ranks below a mojito, bloody mary, and even a bellini in the calorie department.

What's in a cosmopolitan?

As noted by the Pursuitist, a modern cosmopolitan involves some variation of vodka, lime, Cointreau, and cranberry juice. Based on their recipe, and some mentioned earlier in this article, there is definitely a higher content of alcohol compared to other ingredients, with vodka being the primary addition. The Spruce Eats recommends a top-shelf vodka for this cocktail, as the few ingredients leave little to hide behind.

Cointreau, as My Recipes explains, is a kind of triple sec. It has a strong orange flavor and is usually ingested as an after-meal drink or as an essential balancing component of iconic cocktails. It actually comes in around the same ABV as vodka, approximately 40%, so when combined, they can be quite strong. The Spruce Eats estimates a mixed cosmopolitan has a 27% ABV when using an 80-proof vodka.

Adding to that strength is the fact that a cosmo is typically served in a martini glass, according to Chowhound, and does not need ice, so it doesn't get diluted at all after sitting for a bit like other iced drinks might.

Variations on a cosmo

While the average cosmopolitan has a basic structure, it has sparked a pack of similar drinks inspired by the original. Bevvy's website actually lists seven variations on the classic cosmo. There is a recipe for a Cosmobellini, a mix of a cosmopolitan and bellini to create the fruity, bubbly brunch drink you never knew you needed. There's also the Cosmocello, in which the cosmo's signature lime juice is replaced with limoncello, a popular Italian aperitif which also lends even more booze to the mix.

If you're looking for an easy swap, Martha Stewart.com jumped on the variation train and posted a recipe for a white cosmo, essentially switching your typical cranberry juice for white cranberry juice. Yum! The variations are endless, but they do prove one thing: Cosmopolitans are a clear favorite of mixologists, amateur chefs and more, and they make a delicious drink, no matter how you riff on them!