A RETROSPECTIVE LOOK AT THE ‘COSMOPOLITAN MARTINI’ FOR 2021
I started my professional bartending career in 1995, when I first turned 21 and could legally serve alcohol in Arizona. By mid-1996, I was working in the hottest bar in Phoenix Arizona, the sibling of the New York Mercer Street watering hole MercBar PHX.
MercBar regularly had lines outside of 40 plus people waiting to enter. The cocktail waitresses were rumored to be super models or high-end escorts. The clientele was a regular who’s-who, a mélange of local stockbrokers, celebrity athletes and their entourage, shady players flashing money, Hollywood actors and of course, countless extremely gorgeous women. Everyone just wanted to mingle. It was paradise for a 21 years old, amateur bartender like me. To my dismay, they only let me work the door and this because I was tall and had a bit of swagger for a youngling.
Eventually, I bribed my way into getting a job bartending due to a few things. One was the fact that I met the founders, Rick Phillips and John MacDonald, while serving them at the pool bar at the Ritz Carlton next door, where I was a cabana boy. It was around the same time Terry, the GM, asked me if he could hire my underage and very beautiful girlfriend as a cocktail waitress. I jumped on the opportunity, leveraged a bit and begged for a shot behind the bar. This was before I realized I had no idea what I was doing behind a bar, that nightly had three rows of people deep, waiving money and trying to order drinks. I was an introvert, and this was an alien landscape to me.
I soon realized that bravado was the key skill to learn, and knowing how to execute a well-made cocktail was down the list a bit, second, third or fourth maybe. Still, I was determined to deliver quality tipples (a word I didn’t know at that time), even though I had zero skill at bravado. To sum up my initial experience, let’s just say I scraped by, besides that fact my girlfriend was cocktailing in that vile viper pit, so no way was I going to walk out and leave her victim to people who were vastly more successful than me.
I digress a bit as this is supposed to be about the classic Cosmopolitan Cocktail, and I just thought it fitting to give you a brief synapsis of bartending in the US in the 90’s, when the Cosmo was at its hay day. I don’t know exactly how many cocktails we would sell a night, but I can say it was more than any bar I’ve worked at or owned in the following 25 years. The number one selling cocktail in the Mercbar from 1996 till I left in 2004 was, you guessed it, The Cosmo. We would batch them in massive Store-and-Pours (old school bar guys will know this). Originally, our recipe was Absolut Citron, Cointreau, Cranberry and Fresh Lime Juice. I’m pretty sure we switched to triple sec at some point, but those years were kind of blurry. To give you a gauge of what else was popular, the Apple Martini was number two, also batched. Our regulars drank pint glasses of Stoli Vanilla topped with coke (Post-mix from the gun… it was the 90’s so speed was the key), as well as a few other staples, such as French Martinis.
Getting back to the impetus of this story, I was recently informed that Cosmo day was coming up and was asked if I ever made an Iron Balls Vodka Cosmo, and actually I have, albeit a bit reluctantly. It’s not that Cosmos are a bad drink, they do however carry a stigma of blond women with fake breasts smashing them down out of giant, 12 ounces or larger, tapered goblets.
In today’s cocktail bars, our martinis and coupes are considerably smaller, we use better ingredients, more premium spirits, and take much more care in the execution. Baring this in mind, how do we represent the classic Cosmo? Here’s what I do:
First, consider your guest. If they are 40 plus and ask for a Cosmo, maybe they are looking to reminisce of forlorn days of debauchery. In this case, I would still use the forthcoming recipe, unless you have a 12 ounces martini glasses on your back. Jokes aside, this can be a lovely drink. Start off with a premium vodka, Iron Balls in our case, and touch it slightly with some sort of orange liqueur. I like to use a Shrubb or a citrus based amaro like Pampelle or China China to replace the triple sec, adhering to the philosophy that good ingredients will make a better final product. I know there are few rare spots using boutique triple sec, such as J. Boroski Hong Kong, but if you’re like most, that’s not on your back bar. If nothing else, Cointreau will work if you execute it right.
Any cocktail served in a cocktail glass should be spirit forward so let’s lay this out. It’s dubbed a martini so we’ll start with 60ml of Iron Balls vodka and 10ml of orange liqueur. There is typically no added sugar so balance the sweetness with 5 to 10ml of fresh lime. You then have to reach that perfect pink hue to make it super sexy. As a default, I use Ocean Spray Cranberry juice, it’s fairly ubiquitous and I don’t have the energy to try to make fresh squeezed cranberry juice anyway. Use just enough to get that color, it shouldn’t be red but pale pink, 10ml is plenty. As you have fresh juice in the cocktail, you’re gonna shake it, shake it hard, double strain into your chilled cocktail glass and finish it with a horse’s neck or long lemon twist. Turn on some Morcheeba, sit back and enjoy a piece of period history. Remember that in the 90’s, cocktails were way better than the 80’s, just don’t muddle an orange slice and a maraschino cherry in your old fashion and you’ll be ok.
There’s no such thing as a bad cocktail if people are enjoying it. Happy Cosmo Day!
Carson Quinn, Iron Balls Global Brand Ambassador
Editor’s note: If you want to get nerdy, just infuse your Iron Balls Vodka with 250 grams of frozen cranberry for a week, and forget the cranberry juice.