First of all, have you ever heard a conversation like this one:
“Hey let’s go have martinis!”
“Yeah what kind of martini do you want?”
“I don’t know, maybe a Cosmo!”
I haven’t either, but I am sure it has happened.
On Friday night the Alamo Drafthouse downtown is debuting the new Sex and the City movie. (I will be at the Kerrville Folk Festival, drinking cheap beer with hippies, and will therefore miss the festivities.) I can say that I have never seen a complete episode of this show. I did see part of an episode one time that featured an older woman who bagged a hot younger guy, perhaps a cater waiter?, and there were a number of steamy shots of the beefy paramour.
Though I am for the most part oblivious to the show, there is no avoiding the result of Sex and the City on contemporary mixology, and that is the goddamned Cosmopolitan. Invented some time in the eighties, popularized by Dale DeGroff et al in the nineties, the drink was broadcast to the American public by this show. Though DeGroff has been credited, inaccurately, with creating the drink, he clarifies in his 2002 book The Craft of the Cocktail that he did not create the drink, rather he developed the formula that is most widely used: Citrus vodka, Cointreau, lime juice, cranberry. He first put the drink on his menu at the Rainbow Room in 1996. Two years later Sex and the City would hit the airwaves, and the Cosmopolitan would forever be associated with the show. I thought that I should mark the occasion of the movie's release by posting a few comments on the Cosmopolitan, since it is not likely to ever be discussed here again.
First of all, I am an unlikely apologist for the Cosmopolitan. I don't drink vodka, I don't take my cocktail cues from television, and I generally don't like to get involved in things that involve kinship with a bunch of strangers (For example, I was initially hesitant to support Barack Obama, for no other reason than because he was too popular; I thought perhaps Barack was the Cosmo of presidential candidates, but have since changed course). The Cosmopolitan is one of the few cocktails that can be called a "modern classic"(the Mojito is another), and of those it is by far the most famous. It is also by far the most tired (Pomegranate Cosmo, anyone?) Despite the oversexposure of the Cosmopolitan, it is not without its charms. First of all, it has a fabulous name—what a shame that it is almost always abbreviated to “Cosmo.” It is a simple drink to make that is pleasing to a wide audience. Tipsy and I were tending bar at his parents’ 40th wedding anniversary a few months ago and true to form we set up an elaborate bar, and developed an elaborate and ultimately unappreciated cocktail list. There was a group of ladies who were thoroughly unimpressed with our Sidecars, our Pisco Sours and any number of other classics and original creations that we were trying to impress them with. But when we made them a round of Cosmopolitans, they thought it was the best drink they ever had. Go figure.
The Cosmopolitan, though certainly not complex in flavor, is drinkable when made properly. It also serves the purpose of exposing consumers to cocktail mixology. Regardless of how simplistic the drink is, it is better that someone order a Cosmo than a Bud Light or, godforbid, a wine cooler. If one looks at the Cosmopolitan as a stepping stone, and the drinker as a potential cocktail convert, then the drink is well positioned to promote the cause.
Another reason why I am tempted to defend the Cosmopolitan from its detractors is because I think that a lot of the vitriol invoked by mention of the Cosmo, in certain circles, is rooted in sexism and homophobia. Consider this comment mined from drinksmixer.com:
Of the Cosmopolitan, scottishbastard writes, "Only bitches and fags drink this. I'll stick with single malt Scotch."
Perhaps scottishbastard was jesting. Regardless, his opinion that the Cosmopolitan is a woman's drink is a pervasive one, ridiculous as it may be. It is no less fruity than the countless sugary concoctions that frat boys and tipsy texans pound in shot bars every weekend. But when you put it in a conical glass and place it in the hands of empowered women, it becomes a "bitch's drink." A hateful assessment.
Despite its pop culture ubiquity, the Cosmopolitan actually has a rather distinguished pedigree. A quick look at the structure of the drink reveals a striking similarity to the Margarita, which is arguably descended from the Sidecar. For evidence of how this drink fits into the cocktail canon, turn to Gary Regan. In his pathbreaking 2003 book The Joy of Mixology, Regan attempts to divide the canon into structural and thematic categories, so that the cocktailian can understand how seemingly unrelated cocktails are actually variations of each other. Regan includes the Cosmopolitan in what he calls the "New Orleans Sours" category, which includes the Margarita, the Kamikaze, and the Sidecar, among others (including the Metropolitan, which substitutes Currant vodka for the citron vodka). According to Regan’s formulation: “New Orleans Sours call for a base spirit, lemon or lime juice, and triple sec or another orange-flavored liqueur, such as curacao." A respected mixologist and cocktail theoretician, Regan acknowledges that "This runaway hit of the 1990's continues to be successful today. And deservedly so."
Cocktail Historian David Wondrich, in Esquire Drinks, is much less generous, having these choice words for the Cosmopolitan:
“It has all the appearance of tradition without any of the workmanship…If a cocktail is chemistry, this is just mixing. A cocktail should not take you back to your childhood, unless of course you grew up in a bar.”
Here are a few more revealing comments from drinksmixer.com
Ever since I became a fan of Sex in the City. I changed my favorite drink Long Island Ice tea to a sexy glamorous glass of Cosmo. And that makes me feel like I'm one of them.
Though I'm not sure I follow her logic, Aryn observes that the Cosmo is a:
Very good drink, as is Sex on the Beach...another fabulous drink. Yes, as Carrie's favorite drink on Sex and the City, it's bound to be a good drink.
Dixon has apparently been making something like a Cape Cod:
I love the way cosmos look & taste. Sex & the city is my all time favorite drink!!! One question what exactly is triple sec?? When i tried to make cosmos on my own i only put part vodka,cranberry juice, lime. I was not aware you use triple sec.
If the drink is descended from the Margarita, the drinker is descended from the Appletini drinker, as evidenced by these comments:
jazzyg says, "I was on this apple martini kick for awhile and then I tried a cosmopolitan. I'm hooked."
My favorite comment is from Fred, who is unafraid of looking pretty in pink:
I love this drink too...and I feel like a real lady when I am drinking it...even though I am a man