A Tale of Two Cosmopolitains

This weekend, my coworkers and I met to discuss the summer menu of the bar I work at; and I was very excited to present the following recipe for a Cosmopolitan from 1934.

Cosmopolitan
  1. 30 ml gin (Tanqueray Ten)
  2. 20 ml fresh, strained lemon juice
  3. 10 ml triple sec (Pierre Ferrand Dry CuraƧao)
  4. 5 ml raspberry liqueur
  1. Shake hard and serve in cocktail glass. If you feel like Dale DeGroff, flame a lemon zest on it.
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The reason why I like this recipe is that Cecchini’s Cosmopolitan is one of the most iconic drinks of the 1980s, and this period is the reason why it is still difficult to get a well-made Old Fashioned in most bars. Don’t get me wrong, the modern Cosmopolitan can be made to taste decent, but it will always be a drink that does not celebrate the base spirit, that tastes one-dimensional and uses cranberry juice. As Ocean Spray, the largest producer of cranberry juice, note themselves, cranberries are so tart that they are unpalatable without a hefty dose of sugar; and so what is marketed as cranberry juice is usually sugar-water with cranberry concentrate. 

Now, the 1934 Cosmopolitan shares the spirit of it’s modern variant: It has a pink colour, it is quite strong, and there’s a berry-ness that plays nicely with the triple sec. However, the older cousin is a true cocktail, a celebration of the gin, beautifully accented by the orange and the raspberry; a little symphony where all the ingredients play in key. Compared to that, the modern Cosmopolitan only has the interplay of the lime, the cranberry and the orange to offer; and it seems the vodka only serves to get you drunk.

What ensued was a discussion not only about what Cosmopolitan we should serve, but also about what we consider our profession to be.

On one side, the argument was that people who order a Cosmopolitan in a bar expect the 80s variation, and will not like the 30s recipe. Consequently, these people should get what they want; because if they enjoy what they like, have a good time and pay good money, it is not our job to lecture them about what is a proper cocktail and what not. 

I agree that we should force our knowledge onto our guests; I’m most definitely not saying we should lecture anyone. But I do see two problems with this:

Firstly, there is the problem of the responsible service. Alcohol is a poison, and an expensive one at that, so it makes sense to have an appreciation for its taste, its complexities and stories. If you pay 20 francs to damage to your liver, at least make sure you get the most out of it; and every time I make a Cape Cod for someone I wonder if I’m really doing them a favour. In my opinion, if you put alcohol in a cocktail, it has to serve a function beyond getting you drunk. 

Secondly, and more importantly, there is the question of authenticity. If you preach water but drink wine, how is your guest going to judge you if they learn about the joys of mixology somewhere else? Can your guests trust you to be guided by your opinion what is a good cocktail; or can they trust you to always make what they want? If so, what differentiates your bar from other bars, and why should the guest return specifically to your bar, if you merely act out the guests’ ideas.

I think it is a pity if we forgo the chance – especially if it reveals itself so easily as when somebody orders a Cosmopolitan – to offer them our hand and give them the opportunity to learn about spirits. I’m not suggesting to be a mixologist jerk, but why not make them the Cosmopolitan they know first to establish trust, and lead them down the rabbit hole when they order a second round?

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