Cranberry sauce, whether homemade or canned, is an absolute must on many people’s Thanksgiving menu. There are also lots of folks who rely on alcohol to help get them through the holiday (whether because they have to endure Uncle Jerry’s political rants at the table or are simply harried from the stress of traveling). If you fall into both camps—or if you just enjoy a little seasonal nip during fall festivities in general—consider pairing your cranberries with booze.
Adding a little liquor to home-cooked cranberry sauce is nothing new, but it is delicious, whatever kind of alcohol you opt for, from the classic port to more unconventional beer (in which case you get to call it cranbeery sauce, a clear advantage if you adore puns). Taking the opposite tack and adding cranberry sauce to your cocktail is also a great move, although the more well-known route is adding cranberry juice.
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Cranberry Cocktails: Older Than You Think
Cosmopolitans are probably the most famous (or infamous) example, but an earlier iteration comprised solely of cranberry juice and vodka was the Red Devil, concocted by Ocean Spray in 1945 to promote their tart red nectar to a wider market—and one that could make use of their product all year round.
The name of the drink eventually changed to The Cape Codder, probably because Cape Cod dominated the cranberry trade in the 1960s.
There are lots of other variations on the basic drink, but the Cosmo didn’t come along with its Cointreau and lime juice additions until the late 1980s, and wasn’t so maligned until “Sex and the City” boosted its popularity into the stratosphere. The resulting backlash against the Cosmo helped kick off the craft cocktail revival.
Of course, cranberries were probably enjoyed in liquid form much farther back. Like pumpkins and squash, cranberries are a New World crop, and were introduced to colonial settlers by Native Americans, who not only ate cranberries, but used the fruit’s juice as a dye and medicinal poultice. The colonists began consuming cranberries too, and most likely made their own booze from them. They were a resourceful bunch, after all, as this poem from the 1630s attests:
“If barley be wanting to make into malt,
We must be content and think it no fault.
For we can make liquor to sweeten our lips,
Of pumpkins, and parsnips, and walnut-tree chips.”
If you’re so inclined, you can make your own cranberry wine or cranberry liqueur at home today, but it takes a lot more time than whipping up a boozy batch of cranberry sauce (let alone just opening a can or using fresh, raw cranberries straight from the bag).
New Ways to Combine Cranberries and Booze
If you go the cooked route, though, leftover cranberry sauce (boozy or sober) is not only great stirred into a cocktail, but makes a great compote for day-after-Thanksgiving pancakes or waffles, and can be served over ice cream or baked into breads and crumbles if you’ve got enough.
Canned cranberry sauce can certainly be muddled into cocktails (not to mention made into gummy candy), but even if you’re a diehard jellied-sauce lover, homemade cranberry sauce tends to be a more interesting choice for making drinks and desserts, in both texture and taste.
Here are some recipes to get you started on your booze and cranberry pairing adventures:
You can put pretty much any kind of alcohol in your cranberry sauce (port is a classic, but Cognac is also good, and even beer will work), but this one features spiced rum, along with fresh orange juice and brown sugar. If you’re worried about serving it to the kids, open up a can for them. Get the Drunken Cranberry Sauce recipe.
If you’re a fan of the can, you can still achieve smooth, jiggly texture at home, and in this case, you can have ruby Port and Grand Marnier too—plus ginger and rosemary. Make it in molds for a more festive appearance. Get the Boozy Jellied Cranberry Sauce recipe.
A slushy twist on the classic, this frozen Cosmopolitan uses cranberry sauce for a much more interesting flavor than cranberry juice could impart—and if your sauce already has booze in it, even better. Take note: these can easily be scaled up for brunch. Get the Cranberry Sauce Frozen Cosmo recipe.
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You can experiment with cranberries and cranberry sauce in all sorts of cocktails (like mojitos and thyme gin and tonics), but it’s a no-brainer with bourbon, which seems particularly suited to the cooler months. Ginger beer and lemon juice add extra kick to this simple, seasonal cocktail. Get the Cranberry Sauce Bourbon Cocktail recipe.
If you’re more of a wine drinker, this slow cooker mulled wine with cranberries, cinnamon, cloves, brandy, and orange is a fantastic libation for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and pretty much all of fall and winter in general. Get the Cranberry Orange Slow Cooker Mulled Wine recipe.
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These sweet-tart little gems soaked in maple-finished whiskey and rolled in sparkling sugar would be great set out as cocktail nibbles or included on a cheese plate, but also mighty impressive spilling out of this stunner of a cake. Naturally, they’d make a great garnish for any cranberry cocktails too, and you could always try soaking them in whatever liquor you like best. Get the Boozy Sparkling Cranberries recipe.
Looking for a stunning but simple dessert that can carry you through the whole holiday season? This upside down cranberry cake is a winner. You simply toss whole cranberries with orange zest, sugar, and cinnamon before topping them with a butter cake batter and baking. But you can add a couple tablespoons of booze to the ruby cranberry mixture if you want a little kick. Get our Cranberry Upside Down Cake recipe.
If you’re in need of dessert ASAP, these brownies combine boxed mix and leftover cranberry sauce, but the recipe featured here uses dried cranberries soaked in red wine, mixed into a rich, fudgy, homemade batter. Get the Red Wine Brownies with Drunken Cranberries recipe.
Ice cream isn’t just for summer. This seasonal variation adds a tart cranberry-Cointreau swirl and candied pistachios. Bonus: the coconut milk base requires no ice cream machine, and it’s vegan. Get the No-Churn Cranberry Cointreau Coconut Ice Cream recipe.
For a quick bread with great fall flavor, try this ginger cranberry sauce loaf. Perfect with a warming mug of coffee or tea in the mornings (and mid-afternoons). Get the Ginger Cranberry Sauce Bread recipe.
This whole-berry cranberry sauce includes ripe figs and rum and is made in the slow cooker. It makes a great side dish on its own, but served over a nutty, creamy wheel of baked brie, it’s a particularly amazing appetizer for all your holiday parties. Get the Baked Brie with Rum Soaked Fig Cranberry Sauce recipe.
Related Video: How to Make Leftover Cranberry Sauce Sangria
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