Lemon Drops Aren’t That Bad, You’re Just a HaterPhoto by Schezar/Creative Commons Drink Features cocktails
I remember being freshly 21 and sidling up to a bar for one of the first times in my life. The options seemed endless—what should I ask for? I knew from a few negative first experiences (via my older brother’s abandoned bottle of Kraken rum a la twelfth grade) that dark liquor wasn’t my thing. Beers, which were readily available at college house parties, seemed uninteresting. And despite my lack of booze knowledge, I correctly sensed it was inappropriate to order a glass of wine at the impossibly loud and sticky-floored bars I frequented at the time.
“What should I order?” I screamed to my friends over the unfortunate Fetty Wap remix blasting from the speakers. “A lemon drop,” one of them replied. I ordered it and took the first refreshing sip. It barely tasted like alcohol. The profile was closer to the powdered Minute Maid lemonade my mom always made on the hottest days of summer during my childhood than it was to the tequila shot I had just unceremoniously downed. It was, dare I say, good.
There’s an assumption that anyone who orders a lemon drop—a cocktail consisting of vodka, triple sec, lemon juice and simple syrup—at a bar doesn’t know what they’re doing, that they don’t have much experience with alcohol and that they prefer simple, uncomplicated flavors. Underlying this assumption is often an association with gender. In an article for Thrillist about the “worst” drinks, a bartender was quoted as saying, “It’s the quintessential bachelorette party drink… I call it the bachelorette drink because when some women get in groups, it’s all lemon drops.”
This begs the age-old question: Is the thing actually bad, or do we just hate everything that women like? I’m going to argue for the latter. If you’ve ever had a well-made lemon drop before (and admittedly, a lot of them are not well-made and end up being cloyingly sweet), then you’ve probably realized that it’s a wholly inoffensive drink. When it’s done right, there’s a balance between the sweetness of the simple syrup and the fresh zing of the lemon. The triple sec adds a fruity citrus note to the cocktail but is otherwise unremarkable. It all comes together to make an understated but overall pleasant cocktail.
Is this the most complex, interesting drink you can order at a bar? Of course not. But neither is a High Life, and yet it never seems to receive the sneer one earns when they order a lemon drop. And it’s not a particularly difficult drink for a bartender to make as is, say, a mojito. What seems most egregious about this drink order is the kind of person who tends to order it.
If you truly look deep, deep inside yourself, maybe you’re strong enough to admit that you actually like the taste of a lemon drop, that most maligned of easy-drinking cocktails. Perhaps you can admit that it does, in fact, taste better than the old-fashioned with well whiskey you ordered that your boys clapped you on the back for. And maybe, just maybe, if you were honest with yourself, you could be sipping on a refreshing alcoholic lemonade instead of choking back the cheap Manhattan you ordered and grimace at every time you take a sip.
Unfortunately, the lemon drop has met the fate of all approachable, easy-to-drink cocktails historically associated with women who don’t know how to order “properly.” The appletini, the vodka cran, the cosmo… they too have been relegated to uncool cocktail territory. But you know what? I think it’s time to reclaim the lemon drop and appreciate it for what it is: simple, refreshing and, yes, delicious in the right context. So, fuck the patriarchy. Order the lemon drop.
Samantha Maxwell is a food writer and editor based in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @samseating.