By Carey Jones and John D. McCarthy
Updated December 19, 2016
header image cocktails
Credit: © Carey Jones

The best holiday cocktails are not only festive — they’re easy. (Who wants to spend a holiday party mixing the drinks rather than, well, drinking them?) This time of year, we’re cluing you in to one of our secret cocktail weapons — cranberry juice. Not Ocean Spray Cran-whatever; real, 100 percent cranberry juice, so tart it makes your face squish up if you drink it straight. (The only listed ingredients should be cranberries and water. No sugar or other fruit juices, please.)

Why is cranberry so great in drinks? Most cocktails rely on a balance of elements: boozy, sweet, bitter, and sour. Lemon or lime often delivers that sour kick, but cranberry can, too — and unlike lemon or lime, you can buy great cranberry juice at the store, no juicing required.

Easy: Cranberry Sparkler

© Carey Jones

Take cranberry, add sparkling wine, and you’ve got a super-refreshing, super-dry pre-dinner cocktail that comes together in about three seconds — ten seconds if you bother with a garnish (which you should).

Instructions: Combine 1 ounce of 100% cranberry juice, 1/4 ounce of simple syrup, and 1 dash of orange bitters in a flute or coupe. Give a quick stir and top with 3 ounces of sparkling wine. Garnish with a thin lemon peel and a cranberry or two.

Intermediate: Cranberry Ginger

© Carey Jones

Since we’re all about the simple drinks today, we’re pulling out another all-star cocktail powerhouse: good ginger beer (we like Fever Tree). Tons of ginger flavor, no actual ginger required. It’s a great pair for cranberry and white rum. Make a single drink with this recipe, or multiply all the ingredients by and stir over ice for an easy holiday punch.

Instructions: In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine 1 1/2 ounces of white rum, 3/4 ounce 100% cranberry juice, 1/4 ounce fresh lemon juice, and 1/2 an ounce of simple syrup. Shake all that up well, and strain into a tall glass with fresh ice. Top with 2 ounces of ginger beer and garnish with a few cranberries.

Advanced: Cranberry & Rye

© Carey Jones

Looking for something a little boozier? Try stirring cranberry into this Manhattan variation, the traditional backbone of rye and sweet vermouth enlivened with that sour hit. Nothing says “festive” like the classics.

Instructions: In a mixing glass with ice, combine 2 ounces of rye (we’re using Redemption Rye here), 1/2 an ounce 100% cranberry juice, and 1/2 an ounce sweet vermouth. Add a 1/4 ounce of simple syrup, a dash of orange bitters, and a dash of Angostura. Stir until well-chilled, then strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with a thin lemon peel and a cranberry.