Upgraded Lemon Drop Recipe

High-quality ingredients in perfect balance give the lemon drop the glory it's long deserved.

A glass of lemon drop cocktail, garnished with lemon peel. A lemon is in the background.

Serious Eats / JL Studios

Why It Works

  • High-quality store-bought citrus vodka is a good start, but infusing your own vodka with fresh citrus, such as sweet Meyer lemons, will make the cocktail even better.
  • Fresh lemon juice and superfine sugar let your homemade infusion shine and produce a drink that is bright, clean, and refreshing.

The lemon drop was one of the most popular cocktails in the US in the later part of the 20th century. It should follow a simple formula of spirit, lemon, and sweetener, but sadly, in many bars the drink disintegrated into a candied mess. It's time to give the lemon drop the glory it deserves.

As with much of cocktail history, the origin story of the lemon drop is murky at best. Rumor has it that the drink was created sometime in the 1970s at a bar called Henry's Africa in San Francisco, and that their goal was to popularize so-called "girly drinks." But there's no reason to banish this simple cocktail to the dark days of drinking history.

Cocktail geeks often criticize vodka for being flavorless, but in my opinion, this is not its greatest weakness...it's the spirit's greatest strength. A clean, well-made vodka can serve as a true blank canvas, enhancing other flavors and allowing them to shine. This is clearly evident when the lemon drop is properly constructed.

High-quality store-bought citrus vodka such as Stolichnaya will suffice in this cocktail, but the drink gets even better with an added homemade touch. Try infusing your own vodka with sweet Meyer lemons if you can find them. Then proceed with fresh lemon juice and superfine sugar to let your homemade infusion shine. This drink's beauty is in its simplicity, and the end result is bright, clean, and refreshing.

You can also consider the lemon drop as a starting point for experimentation. Consider swapping out some of the sugar for a touch of cream limoncello, which turns the cocktail into a tart (and alcoholic) lemon meringue pie.

April 2013

Recipe Facts

Active: 5 mins
Total: 5 mins
Serves: 1 serving

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  • 2 ounces citrus vodka

  • 3/4 ounces fresh juice from 1 lemon

  • 1 teaspoon superfine sugar

  • Lemon twist, for garnish


  1. Combine vodka, lemon juice, and sugar in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake vigorously until well chilled, about 20 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon twist.

Special Equipment

Cocktail shaker, cocktail strainer

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Nutrition Facts (per serving)
153 Calories
0g Fat
7g Carbs
0g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 1
Amount per serving
Calories 153
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 0g 0%
Saturated Fat 0g 0%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 1mg 0%
Total Carbohydrate 7g 2%
Dietary Fiber 1g 3%
Total Sugars 5g
Protein 0g
Vitamin C 17mg 83%
Calcium 9mg 1%
Iron 0mg 0%
Potassium 34mg 1%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)