On this episode of “Cocktail College,” host Tim McKirdy dives into the Cosmopolitan with the drink’s inventor, Toby Cecchini. Cecchini shares how he developed the cocktail during the ‘80s, why he thinks it’s become so popular in recent years, and why the drink can be considered a modern classic (with a bit of help from “Sex and the City”). Tune in to learn more.
Toby Cecchini’s Cosmopolitan Recipe
- 1 ½ ounces Absolut Citron
- ¾ ounce Cointreau
- ¾ ounce fresh lime juice
- ¾ ounce Ocean Spray Cranberry
- Garnish: lemon twist
- Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice.
- Shake until cold and strain into a chilled Coupe glass.
- Garnish with lemon twist.
Check Out The Conversation Here
Tim McKirdy: Hey, this is Tim McKirdy, and welcome to VinePair’s “Cocktail College.” It is an exciting one today because we polled you, the people that matter, to see who you’d most like to have join us. For the first time ever, a reappearance on the show. And unfortunately, Brian Miller wasn’t available. But you don’t need to worry about that, because Toby Cecchini is here, everyone. Toby, welcome back. It’s a pleasure.
Toby Cecchini: Thank you. I’m delighted to be here. Both of those things were a lie. No one was polled. And I’m not delighted to be here.
T: For those who have not listened to your episode before, that’s where they should start. They should listen to the Gimlet. I know people are coming up to you all the time at the bar and telling you how much they enjoyed that.
TC: It did happen once.
T: It did happen once. That’s nice.
TC: It was weird. But this one’s going to be not as pleasant to talk about.
T: I think it is a pleasant one to talk about, because not only are you the first repeat guest on this show to talk about a second drink, but you’re also the first person to come on this show and talk about not only a drink that they invented, but a drink that’s known around the world.
TC: Well, you haven’t had Sammy Ross or Joaquin on the show talking about their drinks? Bryan Miller certainly has invented drinks. He talked about them, didn’t he?
T: But we haven’t focused on those. Sam, if you’re listening — almost certainly not — please return my phone calls or emails or anything.
TC: It’s Sammy Ross.
T: Joaquin, we’ll need to get back to that. But of course, we are talking about the Cosmo. People know it because they’ve seen the title of the show when they clicked on their episode on iTunes. But we’re in, what I like to call a “Cosmopolissance” right now. Tell me how that’s been for you. Is that something you’re experiencing?
TC: The title of the show should be “The Albatross.” This is my albatross. Is it a renaissance of the Cosmopolitan? I don’t know. People keep asking me this, and it’s hard for me to tell because in my bar and because of who I am, I’ve always been asked to make it. “Hey, would you mind? Can I have a Cosmo from the inventor?” So it’s always been a thing where I’ve been asked to make Cosmos constantly throughout my career.
T: So you’re probably a very bad person to ask this question.
TC: We make, I don’t know, 18 Cosmos a night, and that kind of never changes. If other bartenders are making 18 Cosmo a night, I assume that’s kind of unusual. But in my bar, it’s not unusual. So it’s difficult for me to gauge those things. If you tell me there’s a Cosmo renaissance, I will say I believe you.
T: I’m sure you’re probably fielding a lot of media requests over the past year talking about this, talking about the fact that Cosmos are back. People are saying it’s back, at least.
TC: I have been reading that it’s back. I’m not fielding tons of requests. I think there’s been enough muddying of the water that people like, “Oh, really? Who really invented the Cosmopolitan?”
T: Well, here we are today. Let’s tell your side of the story. Let’s set the record wobbly.
TC: I wrote a whole book.
T: We referenced it in the previous podcast. It’s a great book and it’s titled —
TC: “Cosmopolitan: A Bartender’s Life.” But, you know, people don’t read anymore. So I guess we have to do this on the new model.
T: Which is the audio medium.
TC: What do you want to know?
The History Behind the Cosmo
T: Talk us through that. Talk us through the beginning, the origins here. As I understand it, there was a variation, a seed of this drink being made perhaps on the West Coast. I believe, to my understanding, that’s where the story begins. But why don’t you tell us more about it?
TC: OK, sure. So here’s what happened. I had just come to New York, had been living in France for many years, and came to New York in ’87 and got a job bartending at The Odeon down in Tribeca. In the fall of ’88, one of the bartenders I worked with, a woman named Melissa, was out with some friends who had come to New York from San Francisco. And she said, “Hey, these friends of mine last night, we were hanging out at Life Cafe on Tompkins Square Park and they showed me this drink that’s sort of making the rounds in gay leather bars in San Francisco. It’s called Cosmopolitan. You want to see it?” And I said, sure. So she made me this drink. It was real vodka with Rose’s lime juice and Rose’s grenadine, and a twist of lemon. And I thought, “Oh, that’s cute.” Because it was in an up glass. It was in one of those up V-shaped Martini stems.
T: Very of the time.
TC: Very of the time, yeah. And I thought, “Oh, that’s funny. It’s in a Martini glass.” You just put a Martini in a Martini glass. So that’s clever. I mean, it’s cute. It’s kind of red and funny looking, and it has a twist. But it’s disgusting.
T: The drink itself tasted bad.
TC: The drink itself was grotesque. It was Rose’s fake cloying lime cordial. As I said, the better reference is our earlier podcasts. And Rose’s grenadine, which is even worse. It’s literally just simple syrup, artificially colored red. You do not get the makings of a great cocktail. And I simply thought, “Well, it’s cute. I can make that better, easily.” We were making cocktails constantly for the staff. That’s all we did, making cocktails for the waitresses there. Because we made our Margarita at the time with Cointreau and fresh lime juice at The Odeon, I just thought, “Oh, there’s the base.” And Absolut had just come out with Citron some months earlier. This sounds like a laugh, but it was 1988. It was kind of the first flavored vodka that we’d ever seen, and it was absolutely mind-blowing to us. We were like, “Dude, the flavor is inside the vodka. That is the coolest thing ever.” But we couldn’t really figure out why. We’re just like, it’s super new and stuff. You don’t even have to put lemon in it, so let’s make all kinds of things. But we couldn’t figure out what to do with it. We’re making Martinis with it. It was dreadful. We were like, “Yeah, that didn’t work so well but never mind, it’s still really cool.” I just couldn’t figure out what to do with it. So I was like, I’ll use that stuff that I kind of can’t figure out to do it. So I used Absolute Citron and fresh lime and Cointreau and just made it in the proportions of a regular sour. But then I thought, “OK, so how do I approximate the red?” I don’t want to use Rose’s grenadine because it’s gross. We have cranberry juice because we make Cape Codders. I’ll just put a couple of dashes of cranberry in there, and then shake it up and boom, it’s instantly that much better. I mean, it doesn’t take a genius. You just have to use fresh ingredients here and boom. And I put it out for some of the servers. And they were like, “Wow.” It was this instant smash hit, and they’re like, “You have to make those for us tonight.” And so I was like, “Sure.” Night after night after night, it became our thing. That was our staff drink. When I say “our,” I really mean the waitresses. I tasted it and was like, “Yeah, it’s OK. Kind of a kind of girly thing, whatever.” And I just forgot about it. But they kept asking for and asking for it. Then there was a weird, epochal moment where one of the regulars came up and was like, “Hey, can I have a Cosmopolitan?” I was like, “Wait, what? That’s our drink. How do you know about that?” Oh, one of the servers told me about it.” Oh, I see. It was an even slightly stranger moment when somebody I didn’t know came up and asked for one. I was like, “Well, how do you know about that?” Oh, Bob De Niro told me about it, or whoever. Then some of the regulars were telling people that I didn’t even know about it.
T: So Bob De Niro was drinking them back in the day?
TC: I don’t know if he was.
T: He was aware of it, though.
TC: There were all these regulars, and they became aware of it. One of whom was certainly Madonna. Madonna would come in for lunch several times a week with — why am I forgetting her name? She terrified me at the time. It’ll come to me. They called me boyfriend. I was all of 25, and they’d snap their fingers and be like, “Boyfriend, we want that pink drink. Boyfriend, get us that pink drink.” They were nice, but I found them terrifying.
T: That’s how it gets into the public. I’d like to jump in here for a second just to ask some theoretical questions here, or maybe you do have the answers for them. I mentioned this in the last show, and it’s a barometer I like to use. How does it get to the point where this is a drink, that if you made and put on the table, my mom would know what that drink is. My mom, who lives in England, is not a particular fan of cocktails. She does have a few that she loves, but she’s not a cocktail nerd by any measure. How did the Cosmo go from there? Is it because of the clientele that you had at The Odeon at the time when these influencers, before influencers existed? Do you think that plays a part in it, or is it more about the drink itself? It looks great.
TC: I would have said that’s kind of silly and little bollocks and it just was a drink that kind of caught on a bit. I’ve thought about it since then and I think, yeah, The Odeon was this hub of downtown nightlife in NYC in the late ’80s. I was serving Warhol and Basquiat and Haring and Sam Shepard and Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel and Johnny Depp and Winona and Letterman, Mick Jagger, everyone. That room was mind-blowing. And that can’t be for nothing. I always say, the drink had a really good name, which I should have changed when I changed the drink.
T: So the drink arrived with the name and the terrible flavor profile and the color. The color probably wasn’t the same as the one that you make, though, because of the vibrancy.
TC: It looked like a Negroni when I first saw it, and I transformed it into this very pale pink thing.
T: Which looks even better.
TC: Which looks even better. I mean, does a Negroni look beautiful? Sure. But a Cosmo looks like what it looks like because of the lime juice, it became much more opaque. So I wanted it to be not that bright red, but a very pale, pale pink. To get back to your question, I think that it is important that it happened at The Odeon. As I saw this sort of diaspora of the drink throughout downtown New York over the next ensuing year, year and a half, two years, and then on up through all of New York, it became the drink that ate us alive. I met other bartenders who would be like, “You f*cking jerk.” I was like, “What?” My friend told me, “You’re the guy who invented that f*cking drink.” I would just deny it. It was a thing that I just denied for years and years. There were nights when I was making 250 Cosmopolitans in a night. And I just thought, kill me with this drink. Can anybody drink anything else? This is just horrifying. Like we were chained to a Cosmopolitan machine.
T: Why is that frustrating? Is it just the monotony? Because you’re going to make 200 drinks anyway.
TC: Yeah, it’s monotonous. This is stupid. You feel like an automaton. You just feel like, “OK, I’m now just in a boot blacking factory.” If you’re making 300 drinks a night, that’s a really tough night. But it’s varied, and you’re dealing with people. Yeah, you can have eight Cosmos and a dagger stare.
T: But there is that fun as well. I only know it from the kitchen side, but that’s the fun of service when you’re locked in and you have three different things or a couple of checks going on and feel like you’re on top of it, you’re busy, you’re on top of it. When you’re in that moment, it’s a lot of fun.
TC: You’re flying, and you’re categorizing things in your brain. OK, I can do those first because they’re quicker. That’s the fun of it.
T: That is the fun of it. But I think it’s worth noting that as well because it’s something I thought about before. I wanted to ask you a question, too, because I know things change over time. Bartending and cocktail culture have changed over time. When you come up with a Cosmo, how much interaction is there between different bars and different bartenders? Like, this is a drink that we’re doing here. We’ve got this cool new thing. Compared to what you mentioned earlier, Joaquin Simo comes up with the Naked & Famous. That drink spread, like, 15 years later. What’s the difference between those two eras?
TC: Massive. It’s so massive you can’t even comprehend it. We didn’t have phones. We didn’t have the internet. We had nothing. You didn’t know what the bartenders down the street were doing, much less the bartenders across town or uptown, much less the bartenders in London or Paris. I’m actually really jealous of people working now because they can just read about everything going on throughout the entire world. They can go to Tales or Bar Convent Berlin or whatever, and become wildly and actively engaged with all kinds of people in this industry throughout the world and feel like they’re a part of the thing. Whereas we felt like we were part of nothing, and the job didn’t have much cachet to it. When I first started bartending, I was sort of embarrassed and ashamed about it. I’m going to be doing something with my life eventually, but for now, I’m doing this. That’s changed remarkably and has changed for the better. People now know about cocktails that people are making. You can read a spec from somebody anywhere in Portland, in, Naples, in whatever, and you say, “Oh, that sounds amazing,” or “That sounds disgusting,” or “I would take that.” It’s mind-boggling how much information you can take in and how much connectivity you can have now. And I literally am ferociously jealous of young bartenders because of it.
T: The Naked & Famous era that I mentioned there or Phil Ward there with the Oaxaca Old Fashioned, I’m just talking about a couple of what we might call modern classics. They’ve got those titles. How did those ones spread? Was that interaction between bartenders, maybe early internet times? Forums?
TC: Look at that, things like Phil’s Oaxaca Old Fashioned and the Naked & Famous or Sammy’s Paper Planes. You look at all those drinks and they are from an iconic bar. Or even Dick Bradsell’s Bramble and Espresso Martini, those are all from things that happened in hubs of cocktail culture — in London, in New York, in the places where it was happening at the time. So I always say this, I made up the Cosmopolitan. I’ve since made thousands, tens of thousands, of cocktails since then because that’s what we do every night. We just make things up for people who want certain things. But if you’re living in Des Moines or Kansas or whatever and you’re a great bartender and you’re making cocktails all the time, nobody’s talking about your drinks because there’s no way for that to get out into the public. But if you were working at Death & Co during the Yankees era with Phil and Joaquin and Alex Day and Thomas Wall, it was literally a Yankees lineup. It was murderer’s row. Those drinks became super famous because that place was a super, super hot hub of what was going on in the cocktail world. Equally, Sasha’s places like Milk & Honey. You’ve got Sammy making both the Paper Planes and the Penicillin coming out of that. I mean, those were just super- hot scenes, as were the bars that Dick Bradsell was working in like Fred’s in Soho and Oliver Peyton’s bars in London. So it very much depends on the scene that it’s coming out of.
T: I’m just pulling this out of thin air. But hearing you talk about that, you make thousands of drinks a night. I’m sure you would admit that you’ve probably made a thousand drinks that you enjoy better than the Cosmo.
T: In that era, do you think those drinks become the “modern classics” because they were made in that era, too? They’re all fantastic drinks, but you can make a fantastic drink and it doesn’t become a modern classic. Do you think that speaks to, it was the eye of the storm at that time? That was the era. That was when it was going on.
TC: There was a moment of the cocktail renaissance.
T: The second golden age, if you will.
TC: Yeah, the cocktail renaissance. I think from 2000 on through 2012, that’s the cocktail renaissance. Everybody was rediscovering cocktails, and it had huge momentum and people were becoming superstars and whatnot. Everything was a speakeasy. It may be for the best that all that happened. Part of it is eye-rollable and cringe.
T: But that was the era, right?
TC: That was certainly the era. You could posit that some of those drinks are very simple. They’re just four-ingredient cocktails.
T: They’re based off classic formulas that already exist.
T: Last Word riffs.
TC: Yeah. It’s not brain surgery. But some of those are very, very clever drinks. It takes a great deal of knowledge.
T: It’s tending bar. It’s not an ER.
TC: Tending bar still requires a great deal of knowledge and experience to do things well, but you can also pick it up pretty quickly and understand that there are certain templates and formats that you follow that will guide the way. There are bartenders all around the world who make brilliant drinks. Oh, I’ve got this amazing drink and I’ve had many of them. I’m like, “Why is there not a clarion call for this amazing cocktail?” Well, because there are 50 billion cocktails in the world.
“Sex and the City” and the Cosmo
T: It’s not a phenomenon that’s unique to drinks culture or cocktails or whatever. But I think it’s worth pointing out that your drink was one of the ones that broke through before that era. So what happens next? That drink starts spreading around NYC. You’re getting a lot of backlash from other bartenders if you are having those interactions. What happens next, and what do you believe ultimately causes the demise of the Cosmo later on? And how long does that take?
TC: Like everything in NYC, it has its reign for a short period of time. It’s super hot. It becomes the New York drink for a hot second. A hot second is a year and a half, two years maybe. And then there’s a violent backlash. We’re like, “Are you kidding? You’re drinking Cosmo’s, really?” Is it a year and a half ago? There’s just a withering backlash. And all of that happens somewhat quickly in the sort of social sphere. Then, “Sex and the City” comes. But people are like, “Oh, and then “Sex and the City” took it up.” “Sex and the City” came out 10 years after I developed the Cosmopolitan. It was issued in 1998. And so all of a sudden, I’m tending bar, and suddenly there’s this huge boom.
T: That was the real renaissance happening right there.
TC: I didn’t have a TV or anything, so I just was like, “What the hell’s going on?” Somebody is like, “Oh, there’s this show. You don’t know? There’s this show where these chicks are all drinking Cosmos all the time. You should definitely not watch it. It’s really, really dreadful.” And so to this day, I’ve never seen an episode of “Sex and the City.”
T: Is that just the stance that you’re holding? You’re just holding that line?
TC: I guess I could go on YouTube now and watch one. I probably should do that. One of my friends was like, “You really probably shouldn’t.”
T: Don’t watch the reboot. That’s all I would say, for sure.
TC: I’m fairly sure I would kind of hate it.
T: Yeah, but there’s a nostalgia to it. I think that fits into this current era that we’re in right now. There’s a nostalgia, and I’m not quite sure why. There were a lot of bad things about the ’90s. I don’t get the whole ’90s fashion thing, but maybe I don’t know. People aren’t looking to me for fashion advice. But there is that nostalgia to it. And there’s probably nostalgia if you watch “Sex and the City” now. But it’s an important point. How many other drinks out there have been taken around the world? I think that that helps spread it around the world as well. How many others are there out there?
TC: Well, that became a weird thing. So as I said, I used to adamantly deny that I was the author of the Cosmopolitan because it was sort of embarrassing and weird and kitschy until the real cocktail renaissance started around 2000. People started putting in some real cash and were like, “Let’s look at our forebears.” The cocktails that came out of the ’50s, cocktails came out of the ’60s, and the Cosmopolitan remains the only cocktails that entered the lexicon from the ’80s. People were like, “Who really invented this drink?” Then people started coming out of the woodwork. All these freaks started coming out of the woodwork. “I invented the Cosmo,” “I invented the Cosmo,” “I invented the Cosmo.” I mean, this may be my albatross, but it is at least my albatross. Who are these freaks? And I had to start actually owning up. At that time, Pernod Ricard bought Absolut from the Swedish government. The Swedish government developed Absolut as a product and decided it wanted to privatize and just sell it off. And so Pernod Ricard bought Absolut. When they did that, Absolut was like, “We need to get to the bottom of this because this contains one of our products. And we need to promote the Cosmopolitan. We need to know who actually invented it.”
T: I thought you were going to say, “We need to go to this person and give them a ton of money,” but we’ll get into that later.
TC: I wish that had happened, but that wasn’t exactly it. They just wanted to confirm the authorship. So they took down all these names of people. They contacted me and they’re like, “You claim to be the inventor of the Cosmopolitan.” And I’m like, “Yes, I do.” They’re like, “Would you mind if we sent a journalist around to take your story in great detail and note all the dates?” I was like, “Yeah, sure, no problem.” And so they said, “We’re sending a journalist all around to interview all these people who maintain that they invented this drink.” At the end of which, a couple of months later, they were like, “So guess what? Your story is the only one that checks out.” What a shocking surprise. Because I, in fact, invented that drink. All the dates work and all that. Everyone else seems to be telling fibs. And I’m like, “Well, yeah, people do that.” So it was this thing where, as a result of the cocktail renaissance and all this scrutiny on cocktails, I had to finally own up to it. Yeah, no, this is my drink. I developed this cocktail. What more do you want to know about it? Did I become rich from it? No, I did not.
T: So I think that’s an important part to bring up now because this is a facet of bartending in this conversation that we’re having about these modern classics. There’s only one in there that I believe the author of that drink is quite litigious when it comes to its use. But otherwise, the fact of the matter is that you don’t make any money off of a cocktail that you invent. And then spirits, brands, and conglomerates are free to go out there. I mean, with the RTD boom right now I’ve tasted five, six, seven Cosmo’s at least. Sarah Jessica Parker has a Cosmo out now.
TC: I’ve seen that.
T: Have you had it? I hear they’re doing the launch event at your bar.
TC: No, they’re not.
T: How does that feel?
TC: It’s a little bit of a punch in the solar plexus, God willing, there was some way to patent a cocktail. I would love to be a millionaire from the Cosmopolitan, but it never happened. You can’t do it. It’s just out there. You just released it and the world can use it. There was actually a moment years ago where one of the reps from Absolut said to me, “What would you say to us developing an RTD of the Cosmopolitan with your name on it and you doing the recipe and it would be all signed off on by you?” I was like, “Yes, I’ll sign that today. Let’s do it today. I’ll sign that right now. I’ll sign that this minute.” They’re like, “Well, it’s just an idea we’re having, not really.” And then that just went to nothing. And now, of course, everyone’s doing it after the pandemic. Of course, it makes sense. Everyone wants to do RTDs. And that makes great sense. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted an RTD, because why would I? I’m a bartender. I don’t need ready-to-drink canned cocktails. That’s just anathema to everything in my entire being. But lots and lots and lots and lots of people want to go to the supermarket and just buy a cocktail. They’re like, “I’m not buying all that expensive stuff to put that together. Somebody’s done it already. Let’s do that.”
TC: It makes great sense. How do you do that properly?
T: You definitely need that help, right? I think individuals have gone about and done it now and pulled the pieces together. You get the flavor company, the packaging, and the different ingredients. But I’m sure, at that time, you needed the spirits brand and the drinks produced it to do that.
TC: You need to understand that they’re, across the board, pretty dreadful. I can understand why. You can do a cocktail that is something very inert, like an Old Fashioned or Manhattan where you have base spirits blended together. And that’s going to be fine in a can. The problem comes in when you have to incorporate citrus and citrus oxidizes and citrus reacts with metal and all kinds of things that become ghastly when you then try to put it in a can and make it shelf stable. So you have to figure out all those things. I’m sure there are ways to figure those out. You can use citric salt and citric acid, and there’s all this trickery that you can get up to. But you need to really, really, really dial it in. And that’s not saying that some people can’t dial it in. There are huge corporations that can do that. And there’s an entire arm of Cornell College that helps people do that. I mean, there are ways and means, and I’m sure somebody is going to crack it, but I understand it’s somewhat difficult.
T: And it’s never quite the same as fresh citrus. To move us on slightly here, it’s funny because before I’d ever spoken to you or met you, I was writing a fun little story. And this was before the pandemic, so it feels like a different time now. I thought it was fun. I was writing for VinePair here, where we figured, what if in one night we went to every bar that features in “Sex and the City” in New York that you can go to and we’ll have a Cosmo, and we will rank them. I tried to get in contact with you through a brand that had worked with you before, and no one ever connected us. I was like, we could actually do this with the drink’s creator — or I don’t know whether you would have done it. But long story short, during that night, we started at The Odeon and it was probably the first Cosmo I’d had in 10 years, or God knows how long. I was like, “This is a good drink. In its essence. This is a good drink. For all the fanfare, for all the ‘Sex and the City’ and the story and whatnot, the reputation that maybe it got, it’s a great drink at its core.” Do you agree with that?
TC: First I want to say that I would have done that bar crawl in a hot second had I actually gotten your message. I don’t know. Did it go to spam? I don’t remember that.
T: I’ll tell you, it was a fun night.
The Ingredients Used in the Cosmopolitan
TC: This is the weird thing about the actual Cosmo, the way I made it. It’s actually an adult drink. It’s a kind of brutal sour. It’s very, very tart. When people come up and they’re like, “Can I have a Cosmo actually made by the master creator?” I say, “Yeah, you might be a little surprised. It’s going to be quite tart.” It’s not sweet if you’re used to what you think of a Cosmopolitan. My palate skews very dry and severely tart.
T: Much like your humor.
TC: Much like my entire being. That’s more bitter and sour. So as a drink, it’s just a sour.
TC: The actual spec on it is 2-1-1-1. So that’s two parts of vodka to one full part of lime juice, one full part of Cointreau, and one full part of Ocean Spray cranberry juice cocktail. So it’s that full ounce or, three quarters of an ounce, of lime juice in there that most people don’t get right. They’ll be like, “Oh, use a half-ounce, use a quarter-ounce of lime juice.” No, use a full portion. If those are ounces, that’s a full ounce. But really, in the proper spec right now, it’s one-and-a-half Absolut Citron to three quarters each of Cointreau, lime juice, and cranberry.
T: And why is that? So that it’s a smaller mix?
TC: Yeah, so that it fits in a modern coupe.
T: And you were doing it in Martini glasses?
TC: Those gigantic aquarium glasses, that’s like a 17-ounce cocktail.
T: I think they’re still doing it that way at The Odeon. I would need to check my photos, but I believe they are.
TC: Yeah, that’s nice. The Odeon just apparently changed. They were doing it with Combier for a long time, and I’m like, “Why are they doing this?” I developed this cocktail, here, with Cointreau. Now apparently, they’ve changed it.
T: That’s right. I remember asking the spec at the bar and being like, “This is crazy.” We also had a “Sex and the City” tour guide with us on that day. It was a wonderful piece. We’ll do it again. We’ll bring it back. We’ll do another one.
TC: I will do that if you get Sarah Jessica Parker to sign on for it.
T: I think we have her people’s number.
How To Make Toby Cecchini’s Cosmopolitan
T: Let’s do it. Of course, this show is about going beyond the recipe, dialing in on the details. You’ve given us the spec there. We’re talking about this drink being made by the master creator. Are there any tips you would give for people making this at home if you’re approaching it today, making it for us here? What would you be doing? Take us through it step by step.
TC: OK. Making it at home, make sure to first chill your glass.
T: Making it at home or making it in a bar. We have bartenders listening to this, too. This is a wide audience.
TC: Let’s be fair. This is all bartenders listening, and then four people from the United States of America who are lay listeners. So obviously, chill your stemware first. You want a stemmed coupe of some kind. Chill your glass. And then you simply need ice and a shaker and a strainer. And you need Absolut Citron Vodka.
T: It has to be?
TC: Well, that’s what I developed the drink with. You can just make it with vodka, and it isn’t quite the same. I think Citron is slightly sweetened and it’s got a heavier mouthfeel and profile to it. I’ve made them side by side with both and I’m like, “Wow, I’ll be damned.”
T: There’s probably some glycerin in there.
TC: They swear there’s not, but there is a perceptible difference. I have to say, it’s slightly better with Absolut Citron. I really think it’s true. And I really also insist on Cointreau. I think Cointreau is the best triple sec out there. It’s brutally expensive, it makes me crazy. It literally is the most expensive thing in the drink. But you also have to use an Ocean Spray cranberry juice cocktail. You can’t use organic cranberry juice. That’s what the original spec is, and that works best in it. And fresh lime juice strained. The ratio is 2-1-1-1. And the breakdown is one-and-a-half ounces of Absolut Citron to three-quarters of an ounce each of Cointreau, lime juice, and cranberry. And you put that in the shaker with plenty of ice and shake it madly for 25 seconds until the outside of the shaker is rimmed with ice. And then you strain it into the chilled cocktail coupe. And it’s lime juice, but with a lemon twist.
T: Lime juice. Lemon twist.
TC: Yeah, that’s the way I invented it. Jim Meehan maintains that he uses an orange peel. Dale DeGroff does the flamed orange peel with it. That became very popular for a while. Jim uses an orange peel, and he’s like, “No, because there’s Cointreau in there.” You know, that makes sense. I use a lemon twist because Absolut Citron has lemon and it also has lime. Either is valid. If you prefer an orange twist, that’s fine.
T: Lemon is also daintier here, let’s be honest. You can make a smaller orange peel, but it tends to come out the peeler bigger.
TC: Yeah, I just like the grab of a lemon a little better there. I love orange for certain things, but I just still like a lemon twist for a Cosmo.
T: And what’s your preferred shaker? Just out of interest, are you a Boston guy or the old cobbler?
TC: Oh, I don’t use the cobbler shake. I use a tin-on-tin and what we call an 18-28. So it’s an 18-ounce smaller tin to a 28-ounce larger tin. I got mine from barproducts.com. You can get great tins from Cocktail Kingdom, they have excellent tins. They have 28-18 combos that are spectacular.
T: There’s the ratio there that you want, or is that just a standard?
TC: That’s just the standard. But it gives you a lot of throws. I like a lot of room to throw the ice in the drinks. It breaks the ice up a great deal. It dilutes down.
T: The aeration is also probably going to soften some of the bitterness of the cranberry juice there.
TC: I mean…
TC: It depends on how much of that you believe.
T: Shake a Negroni.
TC: I mean, you can get some variation there certainly. Oxidation has some play in there. I really think that dilution does all of that. The dilution is so undervalued in drink making.
TC: I want enormous dilution in mine because I like a soft palate, and I think that that opens up the aromatics and everything that’s in the drink. I think 26 percent dilution is right exactly where I want it.
T: Phenomenal. And are you double straining or single or just Hawthorne strainer here? Do you want some chips of ice in there?
TC: That’s a very funny point that people are constantly debating with the Cosmopolitan. Because, of course, when I started bartending and was making this drink, nobody was double straining. It didn’t exist. So of course I made it with chips of ice floating on the surface. And now, everyone double strains. Should we remain true to history? Or should we make it the way one makes cocktails now?
T: In which case, should we not be using Kold Draft ice? Sorry to interject.
TC: I don’t use Kold Draft ice. I like pillow ice. Maybe I would double strain. I sort of do and I don’t. It depends on my mood. But I think with this drink, there’s nothing wrong with not double straining because that’s the way it was originally made. You can wear Hammer pants while you’re doing it.
T: Popular again, as I said, it’s this ’90s fashion. For people out there like myself who might not be familiar with pillow ice or what’s the difference, I know Kold Draft is a machine and a lot of people favor that in the bar world. But what’s a pillow? Is that a standard ice machine?
TC: Yeah, it’s what bartenders like to call sh*t ice. Kold Draft are roughly one-by-one inch cubes. Whereas pillow ice is just the ice that comes out that looks like little pillows. And I actually like that because it gives me more dilution. You have more surface area going on there. Kold Draft is amazing-looking in a highball, I’ll give you that. It’s fine to shake with, but Kold Draft machines are notorious for breaking down constantly.
T: I hear that. Do most people lease them?
TC: Most people should lease them. I think most people buy them, but I would lease them if I were going to do it.
T: Because I believe the service contract might be written there. I’m not sure.
TC: Yeah, you should.
T: Interesting. Are we missing anything else here in the Cosmopolitan conversation? Do you have anything else to add relating to this conversation or the drink itself?
TC: In the modern area of RTDs and intellectual properties, if there are any really savvy lawyers out there who want to connect me with a way to become a multimillionaire through my long- maligned cocktail, I’m all ears. You can contact me through VinePair.
T: I do have his contact details now, so we are able to break through. What a shame. It would have been a different world. Who knows what would have happened? Toby, it’s been a lot of fun. It is always a lot of fun. Here’s the exciting part today.
TC: We’re not finished?
Getting To Know Toby Cecchini
T: We’re not finished. And you know what? We’ve already done the final five questions. So for the listeners and for myself, we have something fun here, which is a new set of five questions that we’ve developed for repeat guests.
TC: Oh, fun. Wow. Great.
T: And I don’t believe you’ve read over these beforehand, even though I sent them to you.
TC: Yeah. Why would I do that? I’m not going to open the attachment that you sent me.
T: Well, you know. I’m hoping some of these don’t put you on the spot too much. We’ll see.
TC: All right.
T: Question No. 1, as is customary: Which spirits category are you currently most excited about from a personal and/or professional perspective?
TC: Hmm. That seems easy. I’ve been on this soapbox for, what, 15, 20 years? I swear, someday it’s going to come to fruition like mezcal did when I was screaming in the wilderness about mezcal. Now people get mezcal. Aquavit. Aquavit is so amazing. And no one gets it. No one’s into it. When I taste people on it, they’re like, “Hmm, that’s weird.” Well, that’s what you would say about gin, too. Aquavit is effectively gin, but with the juniper replaced by caraway. But the problem with aquavit is that people haven’t tasted really great ones yet. Most of the aquavit in the world are made in Norway by one company, Arcus SA. Arcus used to be the national brand. It was the arm of the government that created spirits post-repeal of their Prohibition. They only privatized it some years back. But Arcus, at one point, made over 100 different brands of aquavit, some of which are spectacular. And exactly one of which gets exported to this country and it’s Linie. and Linie’s fine, but it’s middle of the road. It’s fine, but it’s nowhere near any of their spectacular things like Simmers Taffel. They have these incredible things that no one’s heard of. And I’m like, “Why don’t you send some of those things here?” It would blow bartenders’ minds and blow this category wide open. Finally, Christian Krogstad at House Spirits was the only person making domestic aquavit for years and years and years. And now there are some others, some of which are really quite good. There is a little bit of traction-gaining, but I think it’s the next thing that’s going to blow open. But it still could be five years from now.
T: And if someone listening goes out and buys a good bar or does some research, what’s a quick and easy or a delicious way that you would say to deploy that? Not easy, because this show’s about going above. But are we talking about a Martini-style cocktail because you had the gin there? You got your aquavit and this is how you try it.
TC: Yeah. I mean, aquavit is a funny thing. I really like drinking it by itself. I’ve had spectacular cocktails made with it, and it’s going to be a thing that is incorporated in cocktails the way every other base spirit is. In the places where it’s made, in Scandinavia and northern Germany, it’s just had as a schnapps. We think of it as frozen. But in Norway, it’s all room temp and you have it with beer, with food. In Japan, you have sake alongside beer with meals. That’s the way they take sake for the most part. And it’s very much the same with aquavit and it’s spectacular.
T: Nice. Definitely need to go out and stock up on a bottle for me. Don’t think that is one that I have on the old bar cart at home.
TC: Brennevin from Iceland. Opie Anderson from Sweden. There are some great ones.
T: Very nice. Question No. 2 here. What was the last — ideally alcoholic — drink that you had that wowed you?
TC: The last?
T: Most recent.
TC: Most recent. Actually, last night. Last night I had a super-interesting wine that somebody just put in my purview. You know it’s good when a wine purveyor, a wine rep that I’m good friends with, told me about this wine. But it’s not his wine. It’s a different company. He was like, “Check this out. Go check this out from these guys.” I inquired about it and I got a bottle last night. It’s a pure varietal Cinsault from Chile, from this guy, Pedro Parra, who is apparently this superhuman. He’s an enologist and a wine consultant throughout the world. But he also has his own brands in Chile as well. He’s a geologist with a Ph.D. in agronomy. So he is really, really into the geological factor. He plants only on a specific kind of white granite. I mean, the whole thing’s a little bit nutty. But he’s doing these single-variety Cinsaults. You think of Cinsault as just an afterthought in Rhône varietals.
T: Not typically a varietal grape.
TC: No. And who’s ever had it by itself? It’s sort of similar to Pinot Noir. It’s the very, very light-bodied, really aromatic thing that’s sort of chalky and slightly opaque and really open. It was really beautiful and really intriguing. And I was like, “Wow, this is a super-interesting wine.” I’m a little bit sticky about wines from Chile anyway. I just think of Mendoza and these huge, huge exports. I know that in every wine region around the world, there are spectacular small vintners that you never are going to get. You’re never going to hear from them. And this is one of them. It just happened to fall into my sphere of knowledge.
T: That’s why importers are good people to know as well.
TC: This wine was called “Imaginador.”
T: OK, very nice. Question No. 3 is here for you. What’s one book you would recommend that every alcohol and cocktail enthusiast should own a copy of?
TC: Oh, let’s see. Embry, maybe? David Embry. It’s kind of dated, but it’s sort of cranky and funny. Charles Baker’s, “Jigger, Beaker and Glass: Drinking Around the World.”
T: I’m not good with names. I know what you’re talking about.
TC: There are two volumes. One is the world and one in South America. But Baker’s books are amazing. I’m not going to plug my own book.
T: I’ll plug it for you. It should be in your collection, folks.
TC: “The Hour.” Do you know that book by Bernard Devoto? He was an old New Yorker writer, I think, and he wrote this slim volume with the Martini.
T: Very, very in my wheelhouse. It’s great.
TC: It’s kind of great.
T: I never finished a copy of The New Yorker. I’ve tried. I’ve nearly got there once. No, I’m joking.
T: I like cartoons. They’re very good. Here’s one you’re going to wish you’d prepared for, but we’ll see what you got off the top of your head. Question No. 4 here: If you could appear in one movie scene where alcohol plays a prominent role, which one would it be, and who would you like to play?
TC: Two things come to mind immediately. William Powell in the first “The Thin Man,” when you first see him shaking a Martini. He talks about how you shake a Manhattan to two-thirds time and you shake a Bronx to this time, but you always shake a Martini to waltz time. I’m like, “Wait, no, you don’t shake a Martini at all.” But it’s such a great scene. Who wouldn’t want to do that scene?
T: That’s a good one.
TC: And then “It’s a Wonderful Life” where you’ve got Nick at Martinis. When he turns mean, when everything goes bad and he brings the angel back into Nick’s and he’s like, “All right, you two pixies. We serve drinks in here for men who want to get drunk fast, and we don’t need characters around.” And he has them thrown out in the snow. I would like to play Nick in that.
T: That doesn’t surprise me, for some reason.
TC: I mean, I do play him nightly.
TC: Is that all our questions?
T: Final question for you. Very interesting for today’s show, and I forgot that this is the question that I’d written down. Which modern classic cocktail do you think is deserving of more recognition than it gets?
TC: That’s an interesting question because lots of them get more recognition than they deserve.
T: Feel free to name that one. No, we’re positive here on “Cocktail College.” We’re not trying to do anyone down. We’re lifting people up.
TC: No haters here. You mentioned it earlier, but I would definitely say Joaquin Simo’s Naked & Famous. I mean, I don’t think a ton of people know that drink. I would have said Sammy’s Paper Plane because I think that’s an amazing cocktail. But I think that cocktail has huge adherence and lots and lots of people who love it. But Joaquin’s riff on that, which is an equal-parts cocktail.
T: Interesting that they both follow the Last Word’s formula.
TC: They’re Last Word riffs, and so they’re equal-parts cocktails that are four ingredients, three quarters of an ounce each of Chichicapa mezcal, yellow chartreuse, lime juice, and Aperol. That’s a tremendous drink with a great name. I think a great name is very important for cocktails.
T: Yeah. Well, Toby…
TC: I have one thing to add.
T: You do?
T: Tell me.
TC: You asked me last time I was on here, what piece of…
T: What is the most undervalued piece of equipment in a bartender’s arsenal?
TC: And I told you the OXO Good grips oyster knife, which remains true.
T: It does not remain true because as I found out, and we bought one for the office, this thing can’t open a damn box.
TC: Let’s put an asterisk on this. Don’t mistake it for a box cutter. Just buy a box cutter. Because a box cutter, in fact, can open up boxes because it has a razor blade on it. The oyster knife is dull, it has a point, and it’s good for everything else on the planet. I’m not going to belabor that. Because the other thing that I was thinking about today, as I was using it for the umpteen millionth time, is the Global serrated six-inch utility knife that I’ve used as a bar knife for a decade, easily. And they’re amazing. It’s the best knife behind the bar.
T: So it’s a tomato knife.
TC: It’s spectacular for fruit. It’s spectacular for tomatoes. Did I say tomato in an accent because you said that?
T: You did.
TC: It’s great for tomatoes also. Because it’s serrated, it’s great for anything with thin skin. But that also includes citrus. It really is spectacular for citrus.
TC: And that’s what we did behind the bar.
TC: That’s my plug for Global.
T: Other brands are available. Toby, thanks for coming back. Is this the second podcast you’ve ever done?
TC: Yes. Second and last.
T: We’ll see about that.
TC: Thanks for having me.
T: Thanks for joining us. Let’s go drink some Chichicapa.
TC: Let’s do it.
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Now, for the credits. “Cocktail College” is recorded and produced in New York City by myself and Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director and all-around podcast guru. Of course, I want to give a huge shout-out to everyone on the VinePair team. Too many awesome people to mention. They know who they are. I want to give some credit here to Danielle Grinberg, art director at VinePair, for designing the awesome show logo. And listen to that music. That’s a Darbi Cicci original. Finally, thank you, listener, for making it this far and for giving this whole thing a purpose. Until next time.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.