An adult version of the 19th-century lemon drop candy, the Lemon Drop Martini consists of vodka, triple sec, lemon juice, and simple syrup that’s shaken, strained, and poured into a sugar-rimmed Martini glass.
According to Gary Reagan’s 2003 book, The Joy of Mixology, it’s part of the New Orleans Sour family which are variations of a base spirit, citrus juice, and an orange-flavored liqueur. When made properly, the drink’s crunchy dose of sweetness on the rim in contrast to the tangy liquid in the glass is the perfect sweet-to-sour ratio.
So, who was responsible for the zesty concoction?
According to legend, the Lemon Drop was invented in the 1970s at San Francisco’s Henry Africa, the country’s first ‘fern bar’ (a classy singles joint decorated with plants, thus the nickname). This was during the sexual revolution when, for the first time, single women were going to bars by themselves. The motivation behind the invention was to attract more female customers with dessert drinks. As a result, frilly libations such as the Harvey Wallbanger, the Mudslide, and the Grasshopper were a smash hit. Ladies flocked to the bar, and the men followed.
Dale DeGroff, the legendary bartender aka “King Cocktail” who pioneered modern mixology since the 80s, confirmed that the Lemon Drop was born at Henry Africa’s but had no idea who created it. However, he offered an astute observation. “Cheryl Cook, the lady who invented the Cosmopolitan’s original recipe of Rose’s lime juice and triple sec, claimed it was an Absolut Citron variation on the Lemon Drop. So, in a sense, the Lemon Drop could be the spark that started the whole cocktail revival!”
Since mentions of classic cocktails abound in novels, from the Bronx cocktail in The Great Gatsby to the Brandy Alexander in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? to the Gimlet in Raymond Chandler’s 1953 novel The Long Goodbye, could there be clues elsewhere to the Lemon Drop’s creator? Books where the cocktail is mentioned, always in the context of a female character ordering one or sipping on one, include: This Fire Down in My Soul, Death, Taxes and Peach Sangria, Must Love Dogs: Fetch You Later, and Her One-Night Prince. Sadly, it seems the Lemon Drop did not have the same literary sex appeal as other drinks.
However, the citrus sipper was the recipient of the ultimate product endorsement, known as the “O” factor, in 2006. Oprah Winfrey, with guest chef Rachael Ray, made the drink on her show and proclaimed it her favorite cocktail. And if it’s good enough for Oprah, it’s worthy of some respect!
Although the history is murky (as with many cocktails) and it’s been pooh-poohed by pop culture as a ‘girly drink,’ the lemon drop candy in boozy form has stood the test of time and remains one of the world’s most beloved vodka cocktails. In honor of the anonymous bartender that made the first one, why not toast him or her with one?
- 2 oz. Vodka
- 1/2 oz. Triple Sec
- 1/2-3/4 oz. Simple Syrup
- 1 oz. Lemon Juice
Preparation: Shake ingredients with ice in a shaker, strain into a chilled, sugar-rimmed Martini glass. Garnish with a lemon wheel or lemon zest.