The zesty, sour lemon drop is a popular drink that can be served as a shot or stretched out into a cocktail over ice. While both the shot and the whole cocktail offer the familiar sweet-and-sour citrus taste, there are significant distinctions.
Let’s look at the background of each and their individual benefits and drawbacks to help you decide if you should take a shot or a lengthy drink of this exciting beverage.
The Tart Origins of Lemon Drops
It’s unclear where the practice of mixing lemon juice, sugar, and alcohol first began, but there are recipes for it that date back centuries. Lemons and alcohol are combined in two different liqueurs: the Italian limoncello and the French citron pressé.
The current lemon drop as we know it most likely emerged in the 1950s and 1960s, when sweet and sour drinks were all the rage. The mix of lemon, sugar, and booze proved tempting to an American public that was increasingly interested in vodka and whiskey.
Historically, lemon drops have been made by shaking together lemon juice, sugar, and liquor. Later on, it became customary to add a sugary crunch to the rim of one’s glass.
The Lemon Drop Shot
The lemon drop was originally served as a shot, mixed with ice and strained into a shot glass. It was a fast shot, often with sugar on the rim as a garnish, yet it was strong enough to be downed in one gulp.
This allowed you to taste the full, concentrated flavor of the potent combination of the sour lemon, sugary syrup, and brisk liquor. The ice shake cooled and diluted the drink.
It was a shot meant to offer some sugar and citrus brightness to an otherwise dreary day or cocktail gathering. The vodka or whiskey is balanced by the sour juice, making for a tasty shot.
The lemon drop shot became a popular drink in the United States throughout the 1960s and 1970s, especially among women. It was simple to make with pantry staples, but offered a welcome variation from the norm when it came to firing games.
Pros of the Lemon Drop Shot:
- Potent and fast-acting cocktail that delivers a concentrated flavor experience
- Allows you to taste the nuanced blend of lemon, sweetener and liquor together
- Ice shake chills and dilutes to ideal flavor and texture
- Easy to make, requiring just a few basic ingredients
- Served up, it has a beautiful clarity to appreciate the color
- Portable and easy to shoot quickly
- Flavors are intense and strong since not lengthened with ice
- Shot is gone quickly before you can fully savor it
- Easy to over-do them since they go down fast
The Lemon Drop Cocktail
The original lemon drop shot was a hit for many years, but in the ’80s and ’90s, a new take on the drink appeared: the lemon drop cocktail.
The same vodka, lemon juice, and simple syrup were used, but the cocktail was stretched out over ice for a cooler experience. The cocktail, a variation on the classic lemon drop, was presented in a martini glass with a sugared rim so that it could be savored more slowly.
The popularity of vodka and other mixed drinks caused the lemon drop to morph into a full-fledged martini. Cold, flavored martinis rose in popularity thanks in large part to the Cosmopolitan and other vodka cocktails.
Taken more leisurely than the rapid shot variant, the lemon drop cocktail quickly became a mainstay at posh cocktail lounges and martini bars. It has a reputation as a cocktail reserved for the “ladies who lunch” set.
Pros of the Lemon Drop Cocktail:
- Allows you to slowly savor the lemon drop flavors as you sip
- Ice and increased volume cools and dilutes for a smooth texture
- Looks elegant served up in a martini glass with a sugared rim
- Lower alcohol content than a straight shot
- Versatile for serving at parties, brunches or formal occasions
- Diluted with ice so flavors are less concentrated
- More time-consuming to prepare individually
- Hard to get the right dilution/chill level without precise technique
- Can become watery if over-shaken or too much ice is used
- Sugar rim partially dissolves into the cocktail
Lemon Drop Shots vs. Cocktails: Which Should You Choose?
Which is preferable, a sour tiny shake-and-shoot lemon drop or a mellow cocktail version best enjoyed slowly? The answer depends entirely on the circumstance and the drinker.
The traditional lemon drop shot is perfect for reviving your senses after a long day or as a lively party shooter. When you need a quick alcoholic pick-me-up, you can count on the concentrated flavors and strength. It’s lively and quick, and you can’t help but feel happy after drinking one.
The richer lemon drop cocktail is perfect for sipping while unwinding in a lounge or celebrating in style. As you carefully sip it, the complex sweet-and-sour flavors will reveal themselves. It is both beautiful and sophisticated.
When hosting a relaxed dinner party, lemon drop shots are a safe bet that will get the party off to a lively start. Then, to prolong the flavors and tempo, switch to aperitifs like lemon drop drinks.
Or, switch it up all night long by alternating between shots and cocktails. The lemon drop is so adaptable that it succeeds in either situation.
The lemon drop is an easy crowd-pleaser because it can be made in a variety of ways. The perfect harmony of sweet, acidic, powerful, and smooth flavors. And because it can be served as either a shot or a cocktail, it’s perfect for any event.
At first appearance, the little lemon drop appears straightforward, but it has evolved into a complicated and evergreen modern classic. The traditional sweet-tart appeal of the lemon drop makes it a perfect addition to any drinking experience, whether short or long. L’chaim and best wishes!