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.
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).
Speaking of bags of fresh cranberries, since they’re everywhere this time of year, and often on sale, why not stock up and store them in the freezer for whenever you next want them? There are lots of great things to make with them other than cranberry sauce, and of course they can be incorporated into drinks in their fresh form, simply muddled into cocktails, or perhaps turned into a sour shrub.
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 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. Ginger and rosemary infuse extra flavor into these beautiful jellied cranberry molds. Get the 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 recipe.
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 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 recipe.
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 recipe.
For something a bit simpler, try this leftover cranberry sauce Greek yogurt coffee cake, but if you’re looking for a dessert that can carry you through the whole holiday season, this cranberry sauce bundt cake will do wonderfully—and using a booze-infused cranberry sauce for the ruby ribbon in the middle is totally optional (but if you do, consider adding a splash to the icing too). Get the 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 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 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 particular amazing appetizer for all your holiday parties. Get the recipe.