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How cosmopolitan: An oft-maligned cocktail makes a comeback

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Like many people learning to navigate a cocktail menu, when I was first (legally) allowed into bars, I preferred amaretto sours and similarly sweet, tangy sips. They were candy-like and approachable, and came in a sturdy glass that was easy to drink from while I danced. At the time, I didn't have an appreciation for wine and beer didn't interest me either.

It was the early aughts, an era when conspicuously colourful cocktails conveyed prestige – it would be another decade before they started to find their way into humble mason jars, with sprigs of locally harvested pine needles garnishing them. Eventually, I, like many others, found myself ordering the ultimate example of the showy, pop culture-influenced cocktail, a mixed drink that my favourite television characters – Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte of Sex and the City fame – would order while out on the town.

The cosmopolitan, all pink and mouth-puckeringly sweet, made me feel instantly sophisticated and stylish, mostly due to the fact that it arrived in a martini glass. Though I couldn't afford a Dior saddle bag or the latest lipstick-print Prada skirt seen on SATC, I could afford the same cocktail the characters enjoyed at Manhattan's Le Cirque. But it wasn't long before I outgrew the cosmo. Much like the sartorial phases Sarah Jessica Parker's love lorn protagonist went through during the show's run – sexpot, arty, French girl – my beverage preference shifted. I developed a taste for bitters, and the Campari soda became my signature tipple. A standard highball glass felt more contemporary than a fussy martini glass. Even Carrie Bradshaw eventually admitted in the Sex In The City movie that she and her peers had abandoned their cosmos because everyone else started drinking them.

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A few months ago, I ordered a cosmopolitan at the Soho House in Toronto on a whim, telling my dining partner I wanted to "bring the cosmo back." We laughed as we watched the bartender scan the room, searching for who had ordered it. I couldn't tell if he was amused or annoyed – Soho House offers an extensive list of hip cocktails, so why would someone order something that hasn't been cool since 2001? What arrived tasted better than the examples I'd downed 15 years earlier: ice cold and juicy, with just the right balance of tart and sweet.

My mind was made up to continue the cosmo crusade, which perhaps not surprisingly to the more prickly end of the mixologist spectrum, included many bad versions. A poorly made cosmopolitan isn't so much a disappointment as an insult to the palate. "In my experience of being a bartender, I will have to say that the cosmo, like the French Martini and the Long Island Iced Tea, deserve to be buried and forgotten," says Warren Bobrow, mixologist and author of several cocktail books including the most recent Craft Cocktail Compendium. "Why? Because they are fad drinks that never went out of style because they are so mundane and, dare I say, common and easy." Still, Bobrow has attempted to bring the cosmo out of its funk with a version that includes THC-infused simple syrup. He calls the drink "A daughter in graduate school."

"I also only use freshly squeezed juices in my cosmo," says Bobrow. "And never, ever triple sec – a most foul concoction. I use Grand Marnier or Cointreau, which I know is a type of Triple Sec – but it's also got far better ingredients than that stuff that is clear and cheaply made."

People's Eatery, a hip boite in Toronto's Chinatown neighbourhood, added its own version of a cosmopolitan to its menu at the behest of one of its owners, Adrian Ravinsky. "The only cocktail [he] cared to have on the menu was a cosmo, celebrating the zestiness and depth of flavour from all the orange and lime," says People's Eatery partner Matthew See. "So I made it a mini-mission." See experimented with verjus, or grape must, to build his version. "A particular bottling from Featherstone winery reminded me of cranberry cocktail juice," he says. "I went through quite a number of variations, reducing oranges for a burnt orange taste, trying a variety of curaçaos. Ultimately, I settled on an infusion of lime and orange zest in Stolichnaya vodka, Grand Marnier, a richer orange liqueur, lime juice and verjus, the Featherstone pinot noir must."

Served in a cute coupe rather than a martini glass, the result is sweet but not cloying. "Much like the sidecar, it's just the right amount of sweet, which makes for the ultimate aperitif," See says. He also says it possesses an air of mystery and magnetism, a quality that Carrie Bradshaw would no doubt approve of. "It has a bit of a bloody Caeser effect, in that when people notice their friends drinking it, they tend to order the same."

***

This updated take on the statement cocktail by People's Eatery in Toronto replaces cranberry juice with grape must from Featherstone Estate Winery in the Niagara region.

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PPLs Cosmopolitan

1½ ounce citrus-infused Stolichnaya

¾ ounce Grand Marnier

1 ounce Featherstone verjus

1½ ounce lime juice

Method

Add ingredients to a three-piece shaker filled with ice and shake. Rub the rim and stem of a coupe with the oils from an orange peel. Strain the cocktail into the glass and garnish with another piece of orange peel.

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