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What Is a Lemon Drop Martini?

By Misty Amber Brighton
Updated May 16, 2024
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A lemon drop martini is a cocktail typically made with vodka, triple sec, lemon juice, and sugar. Different bartenders tend to use slightly different proportions of these ingredients depending on their clientele as well as their own style, and both substitutions and additions are common, as well. The drinks typically earn the “martini” name based on their presentation; most of the time, they are served in a stemmed, triangular martini glass. Most purists don’t consider them to be “true” martinis, though. Martinis are generally made of gin and vermouth, though most experts will recognize a vodka variant. The first lemon-flavored entry is believed to have originated at a popular San Francisco bar in the mid-1970s, ostensibly to attract more women as patrons. The drink’s sweet-tart taste soon became quite popular, and is a drink known today by bartenders throughout the United States and the world.

Basic Recipe

A basic lemon drop martini recipe typically starts with 1 and 1/2 shots (3 ounces or about 89 mL) of vodka, along with 1/2 shot (0.75 ounces or about 22 mL) of triple sec, which is an orange liqueur. Most bartenders recommend using a good-quality vodka rather than a generic or unknown brand, though any sort will do. Other brands and various qualities of orange liquor can be used in place of triple sec, too; this is usually a matter of preference more than anything.

Sugar is added next, along with lemon juice for a sweet-tart kick. Most experts don’t recommend using ordinary granulated sugar, since it doesn’t usually dissolve very quickly and can leave a sludge at the bottom of the glass. Most recipes for this cocktail ask for a super-fine, or confectioner's, sugar, which is dissolves almost instantly in liquids. Simple syrup, which is sugar boiled in water, is another option. In most cases just a squeeze or pinch is all that’s needed; the main idea is to add a bit of sweet without overpowering the drink. It’s also common to dip the rim of the glass in a crystallized sugar for effect.

Freshly-squeezed lemon juice comes next, usually about a shot’s worth. If fresh lemons are not available, the drink can usually be made with bottled lemon juice. Lemon peel or a slice of lemon can also be added to the finished drink as a garnish, if desired. The finished lemon drop martini will often look like lemonade, and will likely have a fresh, lemony smell to it as well.

Understanding Martinis Generally

The so-called “classic” martini is usually thought to be a cocktail made of dry gin and dry vermouth combined at a ratio of 2:1. No sugars or fruit juices typically make their way into classic recipes; the only garnish is usually either an olive and a splash or brine or a single citrus peel. Cocktail purists tend to have a number of rules about ideal temperature, serving styles, and ingredient modifications. Despite this, a whole crop of new iterations have been popular in bars for decades; the lemon drop is one of these.

Innovation and Early Popularity

According to popular lore, the lemon drop martini was first served in the 1970s at a single's bar called Henry Africa's in downtown San Francisco. This bar was famous, in its day, for serving very sweet alcoholic beverages in order to attract female customers. It is thought that this drink was named after a popular lemon-flavored candy. The club long ago closed its doors, but patrons who had sampled this martini during the club's heyday helped to tell others about it, and it wasn’t long before other local bars had put it on their menu, too. Today it is commonly taught in bartending schools and is well known across the world.

Health Considerations

This drink can have a higher concentration of alcohol than many people realize, in part because of its sweetness. The sweetness may also cause some people to consume them faster than they normally would, which can lead to much faster inebriation and potentially even illness. Like all alcoholic drinks, these should be consumed in moderation; the fact they may contain small amounts of fruit juice does not make them “healthy” or “natural.”

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Discussion Comments
By chivebasil — On Jun 16, 2012

A friend of mine recently served me a raspberry lemon drop martini. He is always tinkering with new drink recipes and he insisted that this was one of the best that he had tried in months.

He was right. The lemon and the raspberry go great together without being overpowering. You might be expecting the drink to be as syrupy sweet as a daiquiri but it was not at all. I think James Bond would even drink one.

By backdraft — On Jun 16, 2012

What ingredients do I need to make lemon drop vodka martinis? I have the vodka but that is it.

Also, how do you guys feel about serving martinis not in a martini glass? I know that some people find this completely unacceptable but I think this is just useless snobbery. The drink tastes the same even if you put it in a little Dixie cup.

By jonrss — On Jun 15, 2012
It used to be that you could not get a martini with anything except vodka or gin, vermouth and olives. They were good but pretty boring. I know that a lot of people have criticized the boom in flavored martinis over the last few years as just a silly by product of a Sex and the City culture but I think they are really interesting and refreshing.

My favorite is definitely the lemon drop martinis. I love the flavor of lemon but so many cocktails use it in an intrusive or unappetizing way. The lemon drop martini is more subtle. It utilizes the lemon without sacrificing the class and sophistication of the traditional martini.

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