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Tart, vibrantly colored cranberries aren’t strangers to cocktails. While the age of the Cosmopolitan may be over, you’ll still see someone sipping a vodka-cranberry at almost any bar in the country. But now that cranberries are in season, creative bartenders across the land are using the Thanksgiving staple in ways that will get seasoned cocktail drinkers to take notice.
At Oakland, California’s intimate Hopscotch, this is the only time of year you’ll see cranberry juice. Owner Jenny Schwarz likes to keep things ultra-seasonal, so sugary bottled juices are off the menu. But she does love fresh cranberries for their food-friendly traits. “Cranberry has some of those essential qualities that you get from wine: It’s bitter and tannic. It also takes to sweetness well as well as brininess and saltiness,” she says.
For Hopscotch’s Ghost Story cocktail, she juices fresh cranberries twice a week to make a spicy cranberry syrup with bird’s eye chile and brown sugar. She mixes a half-ounce of the syrup with a half-ounce of mezcal, an ounce of St. George Terroir gin and a half-ounce of Dolin Blanc. The cocktail is stirred, strained into a Nick and Nora martini glass and garnished with a twist of lemon. “The Terroir gin works really well,” Schwarz says. “It has such a forest-y, piney quality and then the mezcal has great smokiness; it makes you feel like you’re sitting around a campfire.”
Here, more bars creating new cranberry cocktails.
The Spare Room; Los Angeles The bar’s Stalking Moon cocktail is a labor-intensive autumnal drink made with tart cranberry cordial (unsweetened, unfiltered cranberry juice mixed with an equal amount of sugar and a touch of acid phosphate), freshly squeezed lemon and orange juices, tequila and thyme smoke. To create the smoke, bartenders light sprigs of dried thyme then blow them out and let the smoke rise into an overturned cocktail tin. They incorporate it into the cocktail by clamping the smoke-filled tin onto the one filled with the mixed drink and shaking. The cocktail is strained over ice and served in an old-fashioned glass.
The Rye Bar; Washington, DC This swank whiskey bar gives the summery gin and tonic a fall twist with the easy to make at home Cranberry Gin & Tonic. First muddle a strip of orange rind with a tablespoon of fresh cranberries and a teaspoon of sugar. Add ice, three tablespoons of gin (the bar uses Tuthilltown’s fruity Half Moon) and a tablespoon of fresh orange juice. Shake, pour into a tall glass and top with tonic water.
Steel & Rye; Milton, MA The suburban craft cocktail bar and restaurant that has been luring Bostonites outside the city limits uses cranberry liqueur in the festive True Harvest cocktail. Inspired by a Champagne cocktail, the drink begins in much in the same way: Place a sugar cube in a flute and soak with a dash of Angostura bitters. Then in a mixing glass, bartenders shake three quarters of an ounce of Leopold Bros. New England Cranberry Liqueur (made with local cranberries and Leopold’s eau-de-vie) with a quarter ounce of maple syrup, a dash of Angostura bitters and ice. They pour sparkling wine into the flute, top with the strained cranberry mix and garnish with an orange swath.