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Vintage Cocktails: From the Rangoon Ruby to the Nantucket Cosmopolitan

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Last weekend, during the nor'easter that dumped premature snow on Boston, we headed to the beach for the season's last clam roll and warm weather cocktail. Logical, right? We ended up at Hemisphere in Sandwich, Massachusetts, first town over the Sagamore Bridge. The waterfront restaurant rattled in the wind. Patio chairs flew by the windows. On recommendation, I ordered a Nantucket Cosmo. It was summer a few hours longer.

There are so many variations on the cosmopolitan these days that the Sex and the City beverage of choice seems a vintage drink in comparison. What started as a simple drink in a sophisticated glass — Absolut Citron, a splash of Triple Sec or Cointreau, a drop of lime juice and just enough cranberry to make it pink — comes in many flavors and bears little resemblance to the original cocktail other than the martini glass.

Heavy on the cranberry, the Nantucket Cosmo is an ironic transformation of the Cosmo which is itself a relative of the ye olde Cape Codder. And here I was — on Cape Cod.

The original Cape Codder dates back to somewhere in the early 1960s, probably originating at Trader Vic's. Then the cranberry and vodka cooler was called a Rangoon Ruby, and to this day it is on the Trader Vic's strong drink menu made for "Pirates, Buccaneers and Beachcombers." As advertised, it is "no sissy drink." Do you hear that, Carrie and Co.?

By 1965 Ocean Spray saw a business opportunity and put Cape Codder drink recipes on its juice labels calling for vodka or rum and Ocean Spray Cranberry Cocktail. The beverage then spent a brief time as a "Harpoon" which introduced fresh lime instead of Rose's lime juice. The Harpoon is how vodka and cranberry appears in the exhaustively detailed Mad Men minutiae. Fans of the show may remember the Harpoon cocktails daughter Sally made Don Draper – 90% vodka, 10% cranberry. The name Harpoon is probably in reference to the arrow-through-the-head feeling Don Draper experienced the morning after.

Vodka and cranberry is back to being a Cape Codder now, and a drink with much more vodka than cranberry is a cosmo. Sally Draper was so much ahead of her time.

Hemisphere's Nantucket Cosmo

  • 3 oz.Triple 8 cranberry vodka
  • 1 oz. triple sec
  • Splash of cranberry
  • Fresh lime slice as garnish

The Nantucket Cosmo is marked by its vodka, Triple 8 Cranberry Vodka, distilled on Nantucket. I applaud the use of local product, but in this particular drink, the cranberry vodka was redundant. It may be sacrilegious to say this while on the Cape, but there was just too much cranberry!

I moved inland one mile, away from the 30 mph winds, to the Belfry, a former Catholic church renovated into a gorgeous restaurant, also in Sandwich. It was a busy bar, filled by Cape Cod's Restaurant Week. I managed to find a seat and ordered a pomegranate cosmo continuing with the theme of the night. Or was it described as a pomegranate martini? Who knows? When so far off the beaten cocktail path, does it matter if it is called a cosmo or a martini? In my biased paradigm, a drink containing vodka, lime juice, and triple sec with a splash of cranberry is a cosmopolitan.

The Belfry's Pomegranate Martini/Cosmopolitan

  • 3 oz. Clear Pomegranate Vodka
  • 1 oz. Triple Sec
  • 1 oz. Pomegranate Liqueur
  • Splash of cranberry
  • Fresh lime juice

Chris Wilson is the meticulous visionary/owner of the Belfry and its neighbor The Painted Lady. As crowded as his restaurant was, he still had time to come to the bar and ask me how my drink was. How often does that happen? Restaurant owners will frequently stop by a table and inquire after a meal, but to ask about a drink? Such a gesture makes me, as Patti Page sang, fall in love with Old Cape Cod.

Chris, the cocktail was refreshing. The pianist played "Autumn Leaves." The fireplace warmed up the storm outside. Everything was perfect.

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About Kate Shea Kennon

  • http://www.joannehuspek.wordpress.com Joanne Huspek

    Thanks for the recipe. Sounds refreshing!

  • Kate

    Yes, refreshing…in a very alcoholic way!