Put down your sugar-rimmed, V-shaped cocktail glass full of ruby red syrup. That’s not a Cosmopolitan. It’s a melted candy necklace masquerading as a Cosmopolitan, which, when made correctly, is a balanced symphony of sweet and sour flavors. For the best tips on how to make a Cosmo right, we tapped Justin Lavenue, co-owner of The Roosevelt Room in Austin, Texas, which dedicates an entire section of its massive menu to drinks from the Cocktail Dark Ages, like the Cosmo.
Lavenue’s first experience with the Cosmopolitan was on his 21st birthday. “It was the first legal drink I ever drank,” he says. “It was a joke played on me by my girlfriend at the time. We were at Old Chicago, and the clock was about to strike midnight, and she ordered me a Cosmopolitan to chase with a Lemon Drop. I don’t remember much after that.” But for Lavenue, the Cosmo is more than just a personal touchstone. “The modern cocktail revival, in many ways, owes itself to the Cosmo,” he says. “That drink really helped propel the idea of starting to use fresh juices again.” Invented in the 1980s and popularized by the legendary Dale DeGroff at the Rainbow Room (where it was famously enjoyed by Madonna), the drink in its original form was a massive hit. But, like so many popular things, it was eventually ruined by the masses. “That drink has been so bastardized, I wanted to put a really good one on the menu,” Lavenue says. The Roosevelt Room’s Cosmo certainly is a worthy homage to the original cocktail. Made with housemade citrus vodka, housemade triple sec, orange bitters, fresh lime juice and quality cranberry juice, it is the platonic ideal of a Cosmo. Want to accomplish the same at home? Listen up, all you Carries and Samanthas, and heed Lavenue’s advice.
At The Roosevelt Room, Lavenue honors the era in which the original Cosmopolitan was born by serving it in a traditional “Martini” glass. While we at Supercall have made our position known about the wobbly cocktail glass, we, like Lavenue, respect every drinker’s right to sip their cocktail of choice out of their glass of choice. “You can use anything, really,” he says. “People go for coupes. We make ours in a classic Martini glass as an ode to the ‘80s, but anything stemmed that is comfortable will work.” Whatever glass you choose, though, be sure to chill it in the freezer while you’re making the drink. “It keeps the drink better for longer,” Lavenue says. Or, if there’s no room in your freezer, fill the glass with soda water and ice, and dump the glass out just before you fill it with the cocktail.
While the original Cosmopolitan was made with Absolut Citron, Lavenue opts for a homemade citrus vodka infused with four different types of citrus: lemon, lime, orange and grapefruit. You could follow suit (homemade flavored vodka isn’t difficult to make), but you don’t need to. “The store-bought stuff is the way to go at home,” Lavenue says. But you should probably opt for a citrus vodka with little to no added sugar.
The Cranberry Juice
Before you drop good money on a juicer and invest in your own backyard cranberry bog just to get the freshest cranberry juice ever, know that, according to Lavenue, Ocean Spray Cranberry Cocktail is perfectly fine. “It’s pretty much in the middle,” he says. It’s not too sweet and not too tart. If you do decide to juice your own fresh berries or opt for a super tart bottling from the store, taste it alone before mixing it into your drink. If it’s particularly dry and puckering, you’ll probably want to add a bit more triple sec to the mix. If, on the other hand, you’re using an extra sweet juice, go ahead and add more lime juice to your cocktail. When it comes to a Cosmo, it’s all about finding that perfect balance.
“You want to shake anything with fresh juice, always,” Lavenue says. “The perfect shake that we train our bartenders is to fill up a pint glass with ice, put the tin on top and seal it, and give it a good, hard shake for 10 seconds.” He adds that the ice should be fresh from the freezer—not partially melted and wet, because that will over-dilute the cocktail. “You’ll get the perfect dilution, a great amount of aeration and the perfect chill,” he says.
At the Rainbow Room, DeGroff garnished his Cosmo with a flamed orange peel. At The Roosevelt Room, Lavenue gives the drink a spritz of orange oil and then finishes things off with an attractive lime wheel. As for the sugared rim? Skip it. “You don’t need it if you’re making a balanced cocktail,” he says. The crystalline sugar will only ruin all your hard work.
If you’re ready to take your Cosmo to the next level after perfecting the basics, first try adding orange bitters. “The classic Cosmo does not contain a bittering agent of any sort, so you’re leaving that element of the tongue bare and untouched,” Lavenue says. “When you add a touch of orange bitters, it won’t taste bitter but it will hit that receptor on your tongue.” The result is a more complex and flavorful drink. Similarly, Lavenue also recommends adding a “squint” of salt. “Salt will, in small amounts, boost other flavors,” he says. “We’re talking two grains of salt—it’s below the perceptible level. But when you taste the drink, it is more full and heightened.”