According to the International Bartenders Association the original recipe is based on vodka citron, lemon-flavored vodka. The cosmopolitan is a relative of cranberry coolers like the Cape Codder. Though often presented far differently, the cosmopolitan also bears a likeness in composition to the kamikaze cocktail.
This origins of the cosmopolitan are somewhat disputed. It is likely that the drink was created independently by different bartenders since the 1970s. It is generally recognized that John Caine brought the drink to San Francisco around 1987 from the Midwest. The same year in Manhattan, the internationally recognized version of the cocktail was created by Toby Cecchini, based on a poorly described version of Cheryl Cook's creation.
The cosmo is the granddaughter of an evolution of drinks that began with vodka and gin in the ’50s and ’60s. You remember the gimlet from the ’30s and ’40s? ... Vodka and Rose's Lime, that's a gimlet. That goes back 100 years. Then 40 years later you add triple sec to it and orange liqueur and that makes it the kamikaze. Then Ocean Spray developed cranberry juice out of New England. That gets added and then you have the cosmo. I worked in a lot of cutting-edge bars in Cleveland and Cincinnati, and we were making cosmos [around 1987].
What overwhelmed me was the number of people who ordered Martinis just to be seen with a Martini glass in their hand. It was on this realization that gave me the idea to create a drink that everyone could palate and was visually stunning in that classic glass. This is what the Cosmo was based on.
Her original recipes called for "Absolut Citron, a splash of Triple Sec, a drop of Roses lime and just enough cranberry to make it oh so pretty in pink, ".
The cosmopolitan gained popularity fairly quickly, traveling from Provincetown, through New York, Cleveland, and Cincinnati, and on to San Francisco (Caine) or possibly from Miami to San Francisco, and on to New York (Cook).
The cosmopolitan gained popularity in the 1990s. It was further popularized among young women by its frequent mention on the television program Sex and the City, where Sarah Jessica Parker's character, Carrie Bradshaw, commonly ordered the drink when out with her girlfriends. In the episode "Sex and the Country", Carrie goes to a drive-through diner and jokingly orders, "A cheese burger, large fries and a cosmopolitan please". The film adaptation made a reference to its popularity.
It is not only in television that the cosmo has influenced popular culture. Demeter Fragrance Library has created a cologne intended to smell like the cosmopolitan cocktail.
Mix 2 parts lemon vodka to one part triple sec combined with one part cranberry and the juice of half a lime. Cointreau or other high-quality triple sec provides a cleaner taste than cheaper triple sec, and is generally substituted in the cosmopolitan. Grand Marnier produces a very sweet and cloying version and should be avoided. The cranberry mainly adds colour and should not excessively dilute the drink.
A wedge of lemon or lime, or a twist of orange or lemon peel, are commonly used to garnish. Traditionally a coin sized piece of orange should be "flamed" across the top of the drink. This coats the drink with a slick of citrus oil, but also produces a flame.