An adult version of the 19th century lemon drop candy, the Lemon Drop (Martini) consists of vodka, triple sec (orange liqueur), lemon juice, and simple syrup that is shaken and strained into a sugar-rimmed Martini/Cocktail glass and garnished with a lemon twist. In some circles, people have begun to mix it with Citrus Vodka, i.e. Absolut Citron, but the classic way is straight vodka. Out of the Lemon Drop Martini grew the shooter version, which involves the same process of above, but is strained into a sugar-rimmed shooter glass or 2 oz shot glass with a slice of lemon on the side to bite into after taking the shot. When made correctly, the drink’s intense dose of sweetness on the rim in contrast to the tangy liquid in the glass is the perfect sweet-to-sour complement.
So, who is responsible for the origin of this citrusy concoction?
According to legend, the Lemon Drop was invented in the 1970’s at San Francisco’s Henry Africa’s, the country’s first ‘fern bar’ (a classy singles joint decorated with plants). This was during the sexual revolution when, for the first time, single women were going to bars by themselves. The intent behind the creation was to attract more female customers with dessert-type drinks. As a result, frilly libations, such as the Harvey Wallbanger, Mudslide, and the Grasshopper were a big hit. Ladies flocked to the bar and the men, of course, followed.
Since mentions of classic cocktails abound in literary novels, could there be clues to the Lemon Drop creator? There are several books where the cocktail is mentioned always in the context of a female character ordering or sipping one, but, for some reason, the Lemon Drop did not have the same literary appeal as other classic libations so that’s all we know about it.
Dale DeGroff, the legendary bartender aka “King Cocktail” who pioneered modern mixology since the 80’s, offers an observation. “Cheryl Cook, the lady who invented the original Cosmopolitan recipe in the 80’s claimed it was an Absolut Citron variation on the Lemon Drop.” Today, the Cosmo made with a citrus vodka, like Citron, is a much better cocktail. Maybe the Lemon Drop is responsible and infamous for starting the whole cocktail revolution.
Although the history is murky as with many cocktails, it has been promoted by pop culture as a ‘girly drink’, but a whole-heartedly disagree. If you like a good cocktail, then it doesn’t matter if you’re a guy, girl, or both, and can be drunk in any season. The Lemon Drop has stood the test of time and remains one of the world’s most beloved vodka cocktails.
The cocktail community and bartenders pretty much stick to the original recipe, but there are some minor adjustments made depending on who you talk to. The vodka and triple sec (although some people upgrade to a higher-end orange liqueur, like Cointreau and use Citrus vodka instead of straight vodka) is standard. The brand of vodka is up to you, but it is recommended to use a call, premium, or ultra-premium brand of vodka since it is a Martini-type drink. There are vodkas with strong citrus components that work better with the drink, like Absolut, Absolut 100, VDKA 6100, Ketel One, Grey Goose, Purity, and Crop Organic. Also, you will see variations on the amount and ratios of simple syrup/sugar to lemon juice. The recipe below is what I recommend.
The Lemon Drop
- 2 oz Purity Vodka
- ½ oz Triple Sec
- ¾ oz Simple Syrup (1:1)
- 1 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
- Lemon twist or peel
- Chilled Cocktail/Martini glass
- Sugar rim
Rim glass with sugar by wetting the rim with a lemon. Set aside. Pour all ingredients in a shaker tin. Add ice. Shake well and strain into a sugar-rimmed, chilled cocktail glass. Drop in a lemon twist or peel using a channel knife, citrus zester, or vegetable peeler. You can use a lemon wedge or slice instead, but looks too busy.