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Meet the New Tricked-Out Cosmo

From an Aperol-driven mash-up to a sous-vide version made with Meyer lemon, today's riffs on the Cosmopolitan bear little resemblance to the original. Kara Newman on how bartenders are reinventing the iconic, pink-hued sour.

Were it not for the name, few drinkers would realize the connection between the Cosmogroni and the Cosmopolitan. Though it offers a nod to the pink-hued sour, the Cosmogroni is actually a mash-up of the Cosmo and the Negroni—and it skews much closer to the Italian aperitivo. Served at Washington D.C.’s Columbia Room, it subs in Aperol in place of Ocean Spray, and a mere dropperful of acid phosphate in lieu of fresh lime. 

Look around and you’ll notice that this isn’t a one-off phenomenon. The Cosmogroni is just one of a growing number of Cosmopolitan-inspired cocktails that pay homage to the original drink—despite bearing very little resemblance.

Although Cosmo variations have been around almost as long as the drink itself (next year will mark 30 years of Toby Cecchini’s iconic version, made with Absolut Citron, Cointreau, Ocean Spray cranberry juice and lime), these imaginative and often tongue-in-cheek riffs have just started to pick up speed within the last couple of years. This seems to be driven by a perfect storm: the slow destigmatization of vodka at craft cocktail bars (even Death & Co. put a vodka drink on their menu after a decade-long moratorium on the spirit); bartender enthusiasm for revamping retro drinks of the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s; and, most importantly, a new generation of bartenders and drinkers discovering the Cosmopolitan as something ripe for reinvention.

“A lot of bartenders are going back to the drinks people thought of as… less serious, [and are] making them with more care and craft,” explains Omar Cormier, bar manager of San Antonio’s The Brooklynite, speaking about the Cosmo’s newfound appeal. His take on the drink, fittingly developed around Thanksgiving last year, employs a mix of cranberry sauce, cranberry juice and bitters, and splits the orange component between sweet and dry liqueurs (dry Curaçao and Grand Marnier). The end result has a deep, concentrated raspberry color and appealing tartness.

Another variation—one that offers an ironically complex play on the original sour template—comes from Jake Novick-Finder, the chef and owner of Brooklyn’s Gristmill. As a base for his Brooklyn Cosmo, he swaps out the Absolut Citron for a citrusy homemade version made by combining vodka with lemon and Meyer lemon peels in a sous-vide machine.

“We set out to make a drink that was a bit nostalgic and a bit playful,” Novick-Finder explains of his culinary-minded approach (which also employs tart, fresh cranberry juice in place of cranberry cocktail, plus dry Curaçao and pineapple gomme). Using the sous vide method, he adds, “was in some ways a bit of an irreverent nod to Brooklyn food culture, but it also enabled us to showcase the flavors of the Meyer lemon in a way we couldn’t have achieved by simply adding lemon juice.”

Of course, these variations are only drops in the vast pink ocean of contemporary Cosmo riffs. LA’s Honeycut has employed a complicated housemade pomegranate grenadine—made with orange extract, plus malic and citric acids—in their makeover of the drink. Likewise, at Chicago’s South Water Kitchen, then-head bartender Dan Rook created what he has called a “deconstructed Cosmo,” which combines vodka, Cocchi Americano, black walnut bitters and a housemade cranberry-sage-honey syrup. He named it No Need To Argue after a song from ‘90s Irish rock group The Cranberries.

However, as bartenders merrily bend the rules in pursuit of the new, improved Cosmos of today, one universal rule seems to have emerged: the once-mandatory V-shaped “Martini glass” stays firmly on the shelf.

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Tagged: Cosmopolitan