A Watermelon Vodka Cocktail That’s All Grown up

Watermelon Vodka cocktail

The Dandy Lion, made with Snow Leopard vodka, is a seasonal take on the classic Cosmopolitan.

Every great host needs a perfect vodka cocktail recipe up her sleeve. Vodka is the great equalizer. As a relatively neutral canvas, it makes for cocktails that appease the masses. And so we bring you the Dandy Lion, an enviable sour made with vodka (I used Snow Leopard – more on that below), fresh pressed lime, triple sec, and fresh watermelon juice, since September is when the finest melons hit farm stands. Top all this with bubbles, and sparkling pink satisfaction is yours.

Let’s start with the vodka. I can appreciate any well-made spirit, but I truly respect Snow Leopard. I like Tito’s and its briny sweetness from the corn. I lovingly refer to Grey Goose as “my old bird” because she is my standby – great in a martini, and you always know what to expect: that peppered, malty mouthfeel.

But there’s something astonishingly different about Snow Leopard, which is distilled from spelt, an ancient, gluten-free grain. It’s smooth on the palate with a nutty aftertaste – perfect for mixing cocktails with rich texture. Plus, 15 percent of the brand’s profits go to snow leopard conservation in an effort to protect these beautiful big cats from extinction. (Finally, an interesting vodka with a nuanced richness and its heart in the right place.)

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I recently caught up with bon vivant Stephen Sparrow, creator of Snow Leopard vodka, at the the Chandler at Cliff Walk in Newport. We tested out the Dandy Lion recipe and – voila! – angels sang and seagulls cried, all with a salty breeze at our backs.

The cocktail is an updated version of the Cosmopolitan (vodka, fresh lemon or lime, triple sec, and cranberry juice) – that delicious little number you loved throwing back in the 90s (and still love now, if you’re me). I’ve had many a fling with many a cocktail, but somehow I keep returning to the sultry embrace of the Cosmo. Substitute fresh watermelon juice for cranberry, and you’ll truly understand the power of a well crafted pink drink. Fresh lime is clutch here, adding a refreshing tartness that breathes life into the base spirit. But the watermelon is truly heavenly; the light nectar rounds out all of the flavors and keeps you sipping and sipping and… Wait, did I really just drink three of those? I’m afraid so.

As Stephen and I sat, sipped, and chatted, we compared notes about growing up on a farm and talked about his days at Oxford and his love of sport, the outdoors, and the entrepreneurial spirit (both literally and figuratively). With pink drinks in hand, we toured the grounds, which overlook Easton’s Bay, enjoying the final days of summer and appreciating the Dandy Lion’s best pairing – an ocean view.

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The Dandy Lion cocktail recipe

makes 1 cocktail

2 ounces Snow Leopard vodka
1 ½ ounce fresh watermelon juice
½ ounce triple sec or dry curaçao
½ ounce fresh lime juice
sparkling wine
fresh mint, to garnish

In a bar tin, muddle six 1-inch cubes of watermelon. Add vodka, triple sec, and fresh lime. Shake vigorously with ice for 10 seconds. Strain over ice into a cocktail glass. Top with sparkling wine for effervescence and garnish with fresh mint.

To serve the Dandy Lion straight up, like a traditional Cosmopolitan, simply skip the rocks and sparkling wine, and pour into a chilled martini glass.

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Snow Leopard Vodka owner Stephen Sparrow sits to enjoy the perfect watermelon spritz.

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Photos by Kayleigh Speck. Thank you, Kayleigh, for capturing the spirit of the moment!

Willa Van Nostrand is a writer and award-winning mixologist and beverage consultant based in Providence, RI. She owns Little Bitte Artisanal Cocktails, a garden-to-glass cocktail catering company that services all of New England and New York. Visit her website for more recipes and follow her on Instagram @littlebittecocktails.

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