Skip to Content

Is Cosmopolitan made of vodka?

This is a common question that many people have about the popular Cosmopolitan cocktail. The short answer is no, Cosmopolitan is not made entirely of vodka. While vodka is a key ingredient, the cocktail also contains other liquors and mixers.

What is in a Cosmopolitan?

A classic Cosmopolitan contains the following ingredients:

  • Vodka – The base spirit that provides the bulk of the alcohol content. A citrus vodka is often used to complement the other flavors.
  • Cointreau – An orange flavored triple sec liqueur that provides sweetness.
  • Fresh lime juice – Provides tartness and complements the orange flavor.
  • Cranberry juice – Gives the drink its signature pink hue and slightly tart, fruity flavor.

In the most basic and traditional recipe, a Cosmopolitan combines 2 parts vodka, 1 part Cointreau, 1 part fresh lime juice, and 3 parts cranberry juice. The ingredients are combined in a cocktail shaker with ice, then shaken and strained into a chilled martini glass.

The Origin and History of the Cosmopolitan

The Cosmopolitan is a relatively recent classic cocktail, rising to popularity in the late 1980s and 1990s. Its creation is generally credited to Toby Cecchini, a bartender at the Odeon restaurant in New York City. The story goes that in 1988, Cecchini added a splash of cranberry juice to a Kamikaze cocktail and the Cosmopolitan was born. It quickly became a staple of Manhattan brunch spots and cocktails bars.

The Cosmopolitan gained national attention after being featured as a favorite drink of the characters on the HBO series Sex and the City in the late 90s. As the show grew in popularity, so did the trendy pink drink. It became strongly associated with the single urban women portrayed on the show. The Cosmopolitan remains a staple cocktail on bar menus today, especially for ladies’ nights and brunches.

Is All of the Alcohol in a Cosmopolitan From the Vodka?

While vodka is the base spirit, part of the alcohol content in a Cosmopolitan comes from the Cointreau triple sec liqueur. Depending on the recipe ratios, Cointreau can make up anywhere from 20-33% of the total alcohol. So vodka provides most but not all of the alcoholic strength of the cocktail. The alcohol percentage of each ingredient is as follows:

  • Vodka – Typically 80 proof, or 40% alcohol by volume
  • Cointreau – 80 proof, or 40% alcohol by volume
  • Cranberry juice – Non-alcoholic
  • Lime juice – Non-alcoholic

For example, in a common Cosmopolitan ratio of 2 parts vodka, 1 part Cointreau, and 3 parts cranberry juice, the alcohol breaks down as:

  • 2 parts vodka = 80 proof vodka = 40% ABV
  • 1 part Cointreau = 80 proof triple sec = 40% ABV
  • 3 parts cranberry juice = 0% ABV

Total ABV = (2 * 0.4) + (1 * 0.4) = 0.8 + 0.4 = 1.2
So the vodka makes up 2/3 = 67% of the alcohol and the Cointreau makes up 1/3 = 33% of the alcohol.

How Does the Flavor Profile Break Down?

In addition to alcohol, each ingredient contributes its own flavor notes, resulting in a balanced, fruity cocktail:

  • Vodka – The neutral spirit provides a clean alcoholic base as well as body and mouthfeel.
  • Cointreau – The orange liqueur provides a sweetness and depth of citrus flavor.
  • Lime juice – Brightens up the flavor with tartness and citric bite.
  • Cranberry juice – Tart cranberry flavor and gorgeous pink color.

The combination of sweet orange, tart citrus, vanilla notes from the vodka, and bright berry create an intriguing and balanced flavor profile. The lime and cranberry juices help to cut the sweetness of the Cointreau, while the Cointreau helps mellow the tartness of the juices.

How Much Alcohol is in a Typical Cosmopolitan?

The amount of alcohol in a Cosmopolitan can vary based on the recipe, but a standard version containing 2 oz vodka, 1 oz Cointreau, 1 oz lime juice, and 3 oz cranberry juice would have roughly:

  • 2 oz vodka at 40% ABV = 0.8 oz pure alcohol
  • 1 oz Cointreau at 40% ABV = 0.4 oz pure alcohol

For a total of 1.2 ounces of alcohol. Since a standard drink is defined as 0.6 oz pure alcohol, a Cosmopolitan made with this recipe would contain approximately 2 standard drinks.

How Does the Strength Compare to Other Cocktails?

At around 2 standard drinks per cocktail, the Cosmopolitan is right in the middle compared to other common cocktails in terms of alcoholic strength:

Cocktail Typical Alcohol Content
Cosmopolitan 1.2 oz pure alcohol
Margarita 1.3 oz
Mojito 1.3 oz
Martini 2.25 oz
Long Island Iced Tea 3.0 oz

Cocktails like a Margarita or Mojito are comparable, while a Martini or Long Island Iced Tea contain significantly more alcohol per drink. The Cosmopolitan provides a nice medium-strength cocktail.

Tips for Adjusting the Strength

If you like your drinks a bit stronger or lighter, you can easily adjust the proportions:

  • Use less cranberry juice and more liquor for a stronger Cosmo
  • Add a splash of club soda to dilute it down
  • Use vodka with a higher proof (like 100 proof) for more alcoholic punch
  • Use lower ABV ingredients like a liqueur instead of Cointreau

The great thing about making cocktails at home is that you can tweak them to your personal taste!

Other Variations

There are lots of creative riffs on the classic Cosmopolitan incorporating additional flavorings:

  • Cosmopolitan Martini – Uses gin instead of vodka for a floral twist
  • Dirty Cosmo – Adds a splash of olive brine for a savory, salty edge
  • Green Cosmo – Uses green apple instead of lime for a sweeter, fruitier flavor
  • Cosmopolitan Cider – Replaces cranberry with apple cider for a Fall twist

The basic template is very adaptable by switching up the fruit flavors and base spirit while keeping the iconic color and sweet-tart balance.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a Cosmopolitan basically just a vodka cranberry?

While the Cosmo does contain vodka and cranberry juice, the inclusion of lime juice and Cointreau make it much more complex in flavor than a vodka cranberry. The lime and orange liqueur provide citrus notes that balance out the sweetness of the cranberry.

Do you shake or stir a Cosmo?

Cosmopolitans are nearly always shaken rather than stirred in order to properly integrate the flavors and chill the drink. Dry shaking without ice first helps create the characteristic froth on the top of the cocktail.

What glass should you use to serve a Cosmopolitan?

A Cosmo is ideally served in a chilled martini glass or coupe. The conical shape helps prevent dilution and preserves the frothy topping. For a fun twist, serve in a sugar-rimmed glass for extra sweetness.

What vodka is best for Cosmopolitans?

A high quality triple distilled vodka with hints of vanilla and citrus pairs nicely with the other Cosmopolitan ingredients. Top choices include Absolut Citron, Ketel One, Belvedere, or Chopin.

Can you make a Cosmo without cranberry juice?

You can substitute another juice but it won’t have the quintessential pink hue. White grapefruit, blood orange, pomegranate, or ruby red grapefruit juice make nice alternatives while retaining more color.


While the Cosmopolitan cocktail certainly contains a healthy pour of vodka, it gets its signature flavor, color, and balance from the inclusion of citrus juices and orange liqueur. The next time you order a round of Cosmos with your crew, you can describe exactly what’s in those pretty pink drinks!