Is the Cosmo a Thanksgiving Cocktail?
Yes. And it’s a perfect with homemade cranberry juice.
Asking whether or not the Cosmopolitan is a Thanksgiving cocktail is sort of like asking whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie. (As the old meme goes: “There are two types of people in the world. Those who think Die Hard is a Christmas movie, and those who are wrong.”) Of course the Cosmo is a Thanksgiving cocktail. Its key ingredient is cranberries. Cranberries are an integral part of our American holiday. If you don’t enjoy a Cosmo, it’s likely because you’ve never had them with fresh cranberry juice, and I am sad for you.
Over here, on Thanksgiving day, I will be mixing up Cosmos and drinking them while watching the finest Thanksgiving movie—which as everyone knows is Rocky. (This is a hill I will die on.)
I don’t know if the Cosmopolitan is “making a comeback” in the same way that the espresso martini did. I have seen the slow return of other drinks, such as the Appletini, the Bahama Mama, and the White Russian as part of a deep collective 1990s nostalgia. But honestly, the Cosmo has really never left us.
When I started writing about booze in the mid-aughts, the prime cultural reference point for cocktails was Sex and the City (which had just ended in 2004) and its ubiquitous Cosmopolitan. I believe it was Samantha who ordered the first Cosmo on the show? In any case, around Y2K, I definitely had my share of them.
However, during the subsequent years—since I was deep inside a movement of insufferable cocktail nerds who were rediscovering pre-Prohibition recipes, frequenting speakeasies, committing molecular mixology, and disparaging vodka—I, of course, “hated” the Cosmo. It was a pose.
I’d come of age in the late 1980s and early 1990s, also known as the Dark Age of Cocktails and the epoch of such concoctions as the Fuzzy Navel, the Slippery Nipple, and the Screaming Orgasm. Back then, cranberry juice was a staple in such infamous drinks as Sex on the Beach, generally mixed with something like peach schnapps or Jägermeister or Rumple Minze. I remember ordering a lot of “vodka cranberry” and Sea Breezes in my younger days.
According to cocktail lore, we know the Cosmopolitan was invented in 1988, by Toby Cecchini at The Odeon in Tribeca (the same year as the movie Cocktail, with Tom Cruise), a blend of citrus vodka, Cointreau, lime juice, and Ocean Spray cranberry. It may be the only cocktail of that era that deserves to be called a “classic.”
A problem with many of those late 20th-century recipes (besides horrible names and the awfulness of peach schnapps) is the use of “cranberry cocktail” rather than 100 percent cranberry juice. Not that there’s anything wrong with Ocean Spray. (A couple years ago, we all saw how well it pairs with longboarding and Fleetwood Mac, for instance).
But trust me, just spending a few extra minutes to juice up some fresh cranberries juice in your blender will take a Cosmo to another level. It’s so good that you don’t even need to use it in a cocktail, and it’s perfect with a little sparkling water and a slice of citrus for guests that don’t drink.
I’ve use a simple recipe that I took from Todd Thrasher, who ran one of those influential craft cocktail speakeasies, PX, in Alexandria, Virginia (and he now makes a great rum). All you do is mix the berries with sugar and water, blend the whole thing, and strain it. There’s no cooking: You don’t want to add any heat during this process: Cranberries contain a lot of pectin, and the juice will gel when it’s heated. The only trick here is to strain thoroughly with a fine-mesh strainer, possibly a few times, just to remove the solids from the juice.
For the cocktail, I’ve always liked Thrasher’s take on the Cosmopolitan, the Provincial, the original of which calls for rhum agricole instead of vodka, and has a homemade lime syrup recipe.
In my own version of the Provincial, I like to use fresh lime juice, as well as Cointreau, and I experiment with different types of white spirits—honestly, whatever I happen to have on hand. Rum is great, gin or aquavit is good, and blanco tequila…why not? Since I usually seem to have unaged fruit brandies around, I find pear eau de vie to be amazing in this. My favorite might be with unaged apple brandy, particularly La Blanche by Calvados producer Christian Drouin. The result is maybe the best cran-apple drink you’ve ever tasted.
Many times, though, I’ll take my Cosmopolitan the old-fashioned way, the way it was intended: With vodka.
Homemade Cranberry Juice
72 ounces (six 12-ounce bags) fresh cranberries, rinsed and stemmed
1 ½ cups sugar
6 cups water
Have a fine-mesh strainer or chinois at hand. Combine the cranberries, sugar, and water in a large bowl; toss to coat. Pour the mixture into a blender and liquefy, working in batches if necessary, then strain into a separate large bowl, pressing to extract as much juice as possible. Repeat to blend and strain all of the mixture, discarding the solids. The juice can be refrigerated for up to 3 days in an airtight container. Makes 2 quarts.
1 ½ ounces white spirit such as rum, fruit brandy, vodka, gin, whatever.
3 ounces homemade cranberry juice (see above)
½ ounce Cointreau (or whatever orange liqueur you’d like)
½ ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
Fill a shaker with ice. Add liquid ingredients. Shake vigorously, then strain into a glass (can be served up or on the rocks). Garnish with lime slice, if you want.