Is a lemon drop martini actually a martini? No. But, for those who love the idea of a martini, but need something more than a hint of lemon zest (or a spoonful of olive juice) to tame the flavors of their booze, this fresh, tangy vodka cocktail is for you. This drink, which was first concocted at a San Francisco fern bar in the 1970s, is actually more akin to a crusta: spirit, lemon juice, sugar, bitters, and the eponymous sugar rim encrusted around the cocktail glass. Like the martini though, the lemon drop recipe continues to evolve, and requires just a few simple ingredients and good technique to be well-balanced and delicious.
If you don’t have Cointreau, use any brand of triple sec (a type of orange liqueur) to achieve similar citrusy, floral notes. While you can use granulated sugar to make the simple syrup, know that superfine sugar will dissolve more readily with this no-heat method. You’ll end up with more than you need for just one cocktail; simply store what you don’t use in a glass jar and stash it in the refrigerator for up to one month. And as for the booze, use the highest quality vodka you can, and avoid citron vodkas, which will mess with the fresh lemon flavor that makes this cocktail sing. We prefer to garnish with just a strip of peel, instead of a lemon wedge, and to keep the rim of the glass free of frills.
A note about technique: Shake well, and shake hard. Why? First, cocktails that combine spirits and mixers (fresh citrus juice and simple syrup in this case) require more than a gentle stir to properly meld all the flavors. Secondly, water is actually an essential ingredient—albeit an unannounced one—in most cocktail recipes, and a firm shake encourages the ice cubes to dilute, ultimately bringing balance to the drink. And finally, as is true of many classic cocktails, the best lemon drops are always frosty cold. A metal shaker will help get you there—and fast. (On that note: Chill your martini glass beforehand!)
Now that you know how to make a lemon drop, graduate to another favorite cocktail, like the margarita or Cosmopolitan. Put the rest of your lemon peels to use with homemade limoncello. Or, try your hand at some true martini cocktails, like a dirty vodka martini, Vesper, 50-50, or a party-ready big batch martini.