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Lemon Drop Martini Recipe

The Lemon Drop Martini is a classy citrus sipper that’s served with a frosty, sugar-studded rim. It’s also super easy to craft at home and tastes like liquid candy.

Lemon Drop Martini Close Up from Above

Could there be anything better than a cocktail that tastes like candy? Obviously, this is a rhetorical question for true lovers of both candy and cocktails. The better question is which cocktail tastes like candy without tasting too sweet or, even worse, cloying.

The answer to this non-rhetorical question is the Lemon Drop Martini.

What Is a Lemon Drop Martini?

Lemon Drop Martini with a Lemon at its base on the right
We crafted this Lemon Drop Martini with a lemon plus a few other ingredients.

The Lemon Drop Martini is more than a lemon-flavored Martini. Sure, the two cocktails have some similarities including their names and serving vessels, but they’re completely different drinks.

While the classic Martini is sophisticated and dry, the Lemon Drop Martini is simultaneously sweet and tart. Then there’s its sugar rim which propels the Lemon Drop Martini to candy cocktail status.

Discover our favorite candies is both America and Great Britain.

Lemon Drop Martini with White Background
Would a Lemon Drop Martini taste as good without a sugar rim? No, it would not.

But what exactly is a Lemon Drop Martini? In simple terms, it’s a cocktail crafted with vodka, freshly squeezed lemon juice, orange liqueur and simple syrup that’s served in a sugar-rimmed glass.

Some people consider the Lemon Drop Martini to be a ‘girly drink’ in the same category as Cosmopolitans and Pink Ladies. That categorization may be correct but who cares. Time debating this topic would be better spent crafting and imbibing Lemon Drop Martinis.

Fun Fact
Both Oprah Winfrey and Rachel Ray are Lemon Drop Martini fans.

History of the Lemon Drop Martini

Lemon Drop Martini with Black Background
After half a century, the Lemon Drop Martini is here to stay.

The Lemon Drop Martini has a firm yet fuzzy history.

While we can confirm that the citrus sipper was invented at Henry Africa’s Bar in San Francisco during the 1970s, we’re not certain of the exact year or its actual inventor. Our best guess is Norman Jay Hobday since he owned Henry Africa’s bar. But we can’t confirm that Hobday, who passed away in 2011, crafted the first Lemon Drop Martini.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter who crafted the first Lemon Drop Martini and served it at San Francisco’s first female-friendly fern bar. We’re just glad that he or she was savvy enough to sugar coat the rim.

Fun Fact
Henry Africa’s bar was called a ‘fern bar’ because it was decorated with… you guessed it… ferns.

Lemon Drop Martini Ingredients

Lemon Drop Martini Ingredients
You don’t need a lot of ingredients to craft a Lemon Drop Martini. Pictured here are all of the necessary items except ice. They include vodka, orange liqueur, simple syrup, granulated sugar and a lemon.

Despite its candy inspiration, the Lemon Drop cocktail recipe doesn’t include any candy. Instead, its ingredient list has the following candy-free ingredients:

  • Vodka
  • Orange Liqueur
  • Lemon Juice
  • Simple Syrup
  • Lemon Wedge (for rim)
  • Granulated Sugar (for rim)
  • Ice Cubes (for shaking)
  • Lemon Twist (garnish)

Pro Tip
You’ll notice that this Lemon Drop recipe includes lemon juice, a lemon wedge and a lemon twist. You can and should use one lemon for all three elements assuming that you peel the lemon twist before you cut or squeeze the lemon.

Lemon Drop Martini Liquors
These bottles of Absolut Vodka and Cointreau transformed our lemon drink into a lemon cocktail.

The original Lemon Drop Martini recipe included two liquors – orange liqueur (i.e. triple sec) and vodka. Since no specific orange liqueur or vodka is required, you can and should you use your favorites. As for us, we use Cointreau and Absolut Vodka.

Cointreau

Cointreau Bottle
Cointreau is our favorite orange liqueur for this and other cocktails.

Cointreau is our go-to orange liqueur for cocktail recipes that call for orange liqueur or triple sec as well as for some that don’t. We like Cointreau’s balanced flavor. Made in France, it has a 40% ABV.

Vodka

Abolut Vodka Bottle
You should use your favorite vodka to craft a Lemon Drop Martini. Our current favorite is produced by Absolut.

Absolut Vodka is our go-to vodka. The popular vodka is made with all-natural ingredients and tastes great. Distilled in Sweden, it also has a 40% ABV.

Buy a bottles of Cointreau and/or Absolut from Drizly or Total Wine if you live in the US.

How to Craft a Lemon Drop Martini

Lemon Drop Martini Mise en Place
Once we assembled the ingredients and tools, we were five minutes away from Lemon Drop Martini bliss.

Drop any fears of crafting a Lemon Drop Martini at home. Despite its fancy appearance and sugar rim, the citrus sipper has simple ingredients and is easy to craft with the following basic bar tools:

You can improvise if you’re missing any of these tools. For example, you can use a small angled measuring cup instead of a jigger or a paring knife instead of a peeler.

Discover 10 necessary bar tools for lazy mixologists.

The first step is to sugar coat the rim before you craft the cocktail so that the sugar rim has time to set.

Rub a lemon wedge around the rim of a martini glass and then dip the glass onto a plate topped with granulated sugar. Twirl the glass until the rim is well coated. Set the glass aside.

Measure the vodka, orange liqueur, freshly squeezed lemon juice and simple syrup. We use a Japanese Jigger to get accurate measurements and easy pours for all three of these liquid ingredients.

Pro Tip
Prepare simple syrup in advance by cooking a 1:1 ratio of sugar and water stirred over a medium fire until the mixture simmers and the sugar and water are combined. It’s an easy process that only takes five minutes in a small saucepan.

Measuring Vodka for a Lemon Drop Martini
Using a Japanese jigger makes measuring a breeze.

Pour the liquids into a shaker as you measure them. We use a Boston Shaker to craft this and other cocktails and we love it. It’s so easy to use and doesn’t make a mess.

Purchase a Boston Shaker from Amazon if you don’t have a shaker or want an inexpensive upgrade.

Pouring Vodka into a Lemon Drop Martini
It’s go-time once the liquids are in the shaker. And by go-time, we mean shake-time.

Add a handful of ice cubes to the shaker and shake vigorously until the liquids are chilled and blended. This step should take about 20 seconds.

Strain the cocktail into the sugar-coated glass.

Straining a Lemon Drop Martini
Phew! We didn’t mess up the sugar rim when we strained this Lemon Drop Martini into the glass.

The final step is to garnish the crafted Lemon Drop Martini with a lemon twist.

Lemon Drop Martini from Above with White Background
A lemon twist completes the Lemon Drop Martini.

Lemon Drop Martini Variations

Crafted Lemon Drop Martini
We took a moment to appreciate this Lemon Drop Martini’s appearance before we appreciated its flavor.

The Lemon Drop Martini should satisfy you whether you like your cocktails sweet or tart. However, if you’re feeling experimental, here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Craft a smaller Lemon Drop Shot using the same ingredients as a Lemon Drop Martini.
  • Replace the vodka with vodka citron to craft a more citrus-forward Lemon Drop Martini.
  • Replace the vodka with cognac or bourbon to craft a Side Car cocktail.
  • Replace the vodka with gin to craft a White Lady cocktail.

Lemon Drop Martini FAQs

Where was the Lemon Drop Martini invented?

The Lemon Drop Martini was invented at Henry Africa’s Bar in San Francisco.

What are the ingredients in a Lemon Drop Martini?

Vodka, Orange Liqueur, Lemon Juice, Simple Syrup, Lemon Wedge (for the rim), Granulated Sugar (for the rim), Ice Cubes (for shaking) and Lemon Twist (garnish)

What’s the best vodka to use in a Lemon Drop Martini?

You should use your favorite vodka in this cocktail recipe. We typically use Absolut but any vodka will work just fine.

What’s the best orange liqueur to use in a Lemon Drop Martini?

You should use your favorite orange liqueur in this cocktail recipe. We typically use Cointreau but any orange liqueur will work just fine.

Is the Lemon Drop Martini shaken or stirred?

The Lemon Drop Martini is shaken, not stirred.

What type of glass is best for the Lemon Drop Martini?

We like to serve this cocktail in a martini glass and you should do the same.

Lemon Drop Martini Recipe

Lemon Drop Martini with White Background

Lemon Drop Martini

Yield: 1
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes

The Lemon Drop Martini is for grown ups only despite its candy inspiration. Learn how to craft one at home in just five minutes.

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces vodka
  • 1/2 ounce orange liqueur
  • 1 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 ounce simple syrup
  • ice cubes (for shaking)
  • lemon wedge (for sugar rim)
  • granulated sugar (for sugar rim)
  • lemon peel (for garnish)

Instructions

    1. Run a lemon wedge around the rim of a martini glass and then dip the glass into sugar, twirling the glass until the rim is well coated. Set the glass aside.
    2. Pour vodka, orange liqueur, lemon juice and simple syrup into a shaker.
    3. Add a handful of ice cubes and shake until liquids are mixed and chilled.
    4. Strain into the sugar-rimmed martini glass.
    5. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Notes

  • Peel the rind for the lemon twist and cut the wedge before you squeeze the lemon.

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About the Authors

About the Authors

Daryl & Mindi Hirsch

Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.

Disclosure

We update our articles regularly. Some updates are major while others are minor link changes and spelling corrections. Let us know if you see anything that needs to be updated in this article.

Original Publication Date: December 7, 2022

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