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.”