The lemon drop cocktail is a great gateway drink for budding home mixologists! Fully loaded with citrus-laced liqueur, tart lemon juice and a touch of sweet, it’s an easy one to shake up. You’ll transport yourself in a cool minute to a swanky big-city bar, without ever leaving your own kitchen!
The origins of the lemon drop cocktail
The lemon drop is not a martini. A martini is a savory drink of gin, vermouth and olive brine. Not a pucker-inducing sweet sipper of vodka, orange liqueur and lemon juice. The only similarity between a martini and a lemon drop is the serving vessel, and perhaps a lemon peel garnish.
This intoxicant hails, like avocados and Metallica, from California. Cocktail historians (nice job, RIGHT?) place its origins in San Francisco, in the 1970s. Inspired by lemon drop candy, this cocktail is a perfect marriage of tart and sweet lemony scintillation.
Choose your ingredients wisely
As I’m always writing about cooking, ingredients matter. This holds true for cocktails, too. The better the liquor and liqueur, and the fresher the juices and syrups, the better the drink.
Choosing your vodka. While a nice 750mL of vodka can bust the budget, you don’t need an entire bottle for a couple drinks. I tend to reach for a small count of minis if it’s not a liquor I drink on a regular basis.
Choosing the orange liqueur. Triple sec is typically the go-to orange liqueur for bartenders and home mixologists, alike. And for good reason – it’s an acceptable, economical choice, if not worth jumping up and down over. For a lemon drop and authentic margarita, I love Cointreau. It’s sweet and wonderfully orange, steeped in historical good times, and a bit more refined than triple sec. Blue curoçao is another fun orange liqueur to try.
Fresh juice is best. With the exception of cold-pressed juice brands, I find bottled lemon and lime juice fall flat. For a pure, fresh cocktail of any kind, pick up the real deal. Most liquor stores stock fresh citrus, so you can be back home and shaking lickity-split.
Procuring simple syrup. Because this cocktail mixer is so incredibly easy to create at home, I rarely buy it. But if you don’t want to mess with the heating and cooling, this is the one time I condone a processed product. Just be sure the bottle you reach for is made with pure cane sugar, and not high fructose corn syrup.
Three ways to make a lemon drop cocktail
At swanky bars across the world the lemon drop is served as a shaken cocktail in a sugar-rimmed martini glass. At your neighborhood watering hole and many a college bar, it’s often taken down from a shot glass.
Classic Lemon Drop
No drink is perhaps more popular for bachelorette parties and ladies’ night than the classic lemon drop. This classy clinker hits all the right spots: sweet, tart, and sour.
Ingredients for Cocktail
- 2 parts citrus vodka
- 1 part fresh-squeezed lemon juice
- 1 part simple syrup
- ½ part orange liqueur, such as Triple Sec or Cointreau
Lemon Drop Shot
When you want to make quick work of this lemony, zesty, sweet drink. The shot version of a lemon drop is simply the same ingredients, minus the orange liqueur. The amounts of the vodka, lemon juice and simple syrup are paired down in volume to fit into a shot glass.
Ingredients for Shot
A typical shot glass is one and half ounces, and with that, the ingredients for a single lemon drop shot would be:
- ⅔ ounce citrus/lemon vodka
- ½ ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice
- ½ simple syrup
Looking for a more serious shooter? Using a double-shot glass, add back in a relative measure of orange liqueur, about half the amount of the vodka.
Turning it into a spritzer
I personally enjoy the texture of tiny carbonation in my adult beverages. And also, I can’t hold my liquor. So to soften the throat-burning and inevitable inebriation, I splash a bit of club soda or sparkling water on my cocktails. NOT acceptable in serious cocktail circles. But it’s your kitchen, you’re the boss. Don’t knock it ’till you try it.
Tweaking the cocktail to your liking
And now to my next point. Armed with the formula for a classic lemon drop, the options are endless.
Like an easier drinking, sweeter cocktail? Cut back to one shot (one ounce) of vodka, and increase the measure of lemon juice and simple syrup by a half ounce each.
Enjoy a truly sparkling and lusciously lemon cocktail? Pick up a beautiful bottle of limoncello, and make my limoncello cocktail. For snappier drink, add a half shot (or more) of citrus vodka.
A lemon drop for a low-carb diet
Low-carb or Keto Lemon Drop. If you eat a ketogenic diet, or try to keep low-carb, leave the simple syrup out of this one. The Cointreau itself comes with seven grams of sugar, so there will still be plenty of sweetness. For an even lower sugar count, ditch the Cointreau and splash in a shot of fresh-squeezed or cold-pressed orange juice.
How to make a Virgin or Mocktail Lemon Drop
If you’re an expecting mom, or just avoid alcohol (like the rest of us should most of the time), here’s how to turn a lemon drop virgin.
Combine the following, all chilled, in a sugar-rimmed martini or rocks glass.
- 2 ounces fresh-squeezed lemon juice (or lemonade)
- 1 ounces fresh-squeezed orange juice
- 1 tablespoon/½ ounce lemon simple syrup (recipe below)
- splash of club soda or lemon sparkling water such as La Croix or Spindrift (or even plain mineral water)
- garnish with lemon peel
Let everyone know your favorite way top shake up a lemon cocktail in the comments. Only your first name is published, and your email isn’t shared or added to my subscriber list. Although I’d love to have you!
Yours in lemony libations,
More Cocktails, Wine + Drinks
- Three ways to enjoy a Lemon Drop cocktail + why it’s not a martini
- Three great bourbons, two mint juleps and the Kentucky Derby
- Three classic Kahlúa cocktails + the truth about mudslides
- The truth about setting absinthe on fire + how to properly enjoy this notorious green elixir
Whether sipped from a martini glass, straight up as a shot or spritzed up with a little club soda, the lemon drop is the quintessential cocktail. Easy for the home mixologist and perfect for when wine or beer just won’t do!
For Lemon Drop Cocktail + Spritzer
- 2 ounces/double shot citrus vodka
- ½ ounce/1 tablespoon orange liqueur, such as Triple Sec or Cointreau
- 1 ounce/shot fresh-squeezed lemon juice
- 1 ounce/shot lemon simple syrup (recipe below)
- For Spritzer: splash of club soda or brut sparkling water
For Lemon Drop Shot
- ⅔ ounce/shot lemon/citrus vodka
- ½ ounce/1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice
- ¼ ounce/ scant teaspoon simple syrup
For Lemon Simple Syrup
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup water
- peel of one lemon, white pith removed
- lemon or granulated sugar, for rimming glasses
- thin strips of lemon peel, white pith removed
For Lemon Simple Syrup
- In a small pot, combine lemon peel, sugar and water and bring just to a boil.
- Turn of heat and let cool to room temperature.
- Remove lemon peel, store chilled
For Lemon Sugar
- Super simple! Combine about a half cup of sugar in a small baggie or container with several strips of lemon peel.
- Shake vigorously to allow the peel’s oils to release. Store the sugar with the peel for a more intense flavor over time.
- Pour enough granulated or lemon sugar onto a small plate to rim glasses. Run a lemon wedge around the rim of the glasses, then dip into the sugar.
- Using two high ball glasses or a cocktail shaker, combine all drink ingredients and a good helping of ice.
- Seal and shake until the glasses or shaker frost over.
- Pour into martini or shot glass. For a spritzer, top with a couple splashes of club soda or even brut sparkling wine.
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