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The Cosmopolitan’s Family Tree

The holiday season is fast approaching and that means it is almost time to break out the lights and other decorative objects that add a little color to our dull winter landscapes. I say almost time to break out the Christmas decorations, because I encourage people to wait at least until Thanksgiving has passed before they remind us of the long lines of unruly customers and the myriad of short-tempered sales professionals that seem to wait for us in every aisle. Ah, the holiday season, the time of comfort and joy and rising blood pressures.

Holiday cheer is often accompanied by colorful adult beverages that help us forget the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Bright pink champagnes, spectacularly glistening white wines, and brilliantly colored cocktails enhance the ambiance around the dinner table. There is not a better way to usher in the holidays than to sip an expertly made Cosmopolitan, a drink that once dominated the menus of lounges, bars, and restaurants all over America. What makes a Cosmopolitan so refreshingly delicious? We must travel back in time to acquire a better understanding of the Cosmopolitan’s family tree.

The Sidecar

Many cocktail aficionados agree that the origins of the Cosmopolitan began in the same Parisian bar that launched the Bloody Mary, sometime before the turn of the 20th century. Author David Embury claimed the Sidecar got its name from a friend of his who named the drink after the motorcycle sidecar that took him to the bistro that is believed to have created the drink. Some historians believe the Sidecar was a New Orleans inspired creation that made its debut during the 1850s. Jerry Thomas’1862 book, The Bon-Vivant’s Companion, includes a recipe for a Brandy Crusta. The Brandy Crusta was made with brandy, lemon juice, and orange curacao, which is the sweeter version of triple sec. The only difference between the Brandy Crusta and Sidecar is the sweetness level of the orange liqueur.

Whether we go with the Sidecar or Brandy Crusta as the forefather of the Cosmopolitan, we can agree that both drinks contain a base spirit, citrus juice, and an orange-flavored liqueur. One of the all-time favorite concoctions, the Margarita, utilizes the same principle, with tequila being the base spirit, lime juice giving the drink its citrus kick, and triple sec finishing off the cocktail. No one knows how long the Margarita has graced bar menus. The popular cocktail may have been the grandfather of the Cosmopolitan. The point is that many cocktails contain the same base ingredients, albeit with a slight twist, as the Sidecar, Brandy Crusta, and Margarita.

Brothers and Sisters

After the Sidecar, Brandy Crusta, and Margarita became bar staples, innovative bartenders began to tweak the classic recipes. The Kamikaze, which contains vodka, lime juice, and triple sec, is a popular shot among the old school drinking crowd. The XYZ is made with rum, lemon juice, and triple sec. All a bartender had to do to create new Crusta inspired cocktail was to change the XYZ base spirit from rum to gin and presto…the Maiden’s Prayer was born. The Lemon Drop has gone through many incarnations through the years, but bartenders who are true to their trade make the shot with citrus-flavored vodka, lemon juice, and triple sec. After reviewing what the Crusta and its brothers and sisters have spawned, it is not out of the question to label the Cosmopolitan as a descendant of the Sidecar, Brandy Crusta, and Margarita.

The New Kid in Town

The Cosmopolitan’s humble beginnings morphed into a cocktail sensation during the 1990s. While we can argue that the Cosmopolitan includes an additional ingredient-cranberry juice-there is no doubt that the cocktail shares the same base spirit, citrus juice, and orange flavored liqueur components of the Brandy Crusta. Cranberry juice simply places the Cosmopolitan on the second branch of the Crusta family tree. While bartenders tinker with the type of vodka used to make Cosmopolitans, the most popular way of making the drink is to mix citrus-flavored vodka, lime juice, and triple sec, before adding just a splash of cranberry juice.

Since the Cosmopolitan, seems to have staying power, it appears the drink will not only be around for decades to come, but it will also create further branches on the Cosmopolitan’s family tree. For instance, Pink Lemonade, which followed the Cosmopolitan in bartending lore, comprises citrus-flavored rum, lemon juice, and triple sec. A splash of cranberry juice is added after the base ingredients are thoroughly mixed to create just a slight deviation of the Cosmopolitan. After all, this family tree is comprised of many branches that possess similar structures.

When it comes time for you to host a festive holiday party, brighten up the cocktail menu by adding the Cosmopolitan. The standard Cosmopolitan recipe is easy to make. Pour one ounce of citrus-flavored vodka, one-half ounce of fresh squeezed lime juice, and one-half ounce of triple sec into a stainless steel shaker and shake vigorously for about 10 seconds. Strain the concoction into a chilled martini glass and then add a splash of cranberry juice. Do not stir the drink once it reaches the chilled martini glass. Garnish with a lime wedge on the rim of the martini glass and your guests will be asking for this recipe for years to come.