Looking for Robb Report UK? Click here to visit our UK site.

How to Make a Spiced Cranberry Sour, the Holiday Cocktail Yule Love

Bourbon, rum, Cognac? Use any one of your favorites in this festive drink.

Winter red hot drink with spices on a wooden background. Mulled wine with cinnamon and cranberry on vintage wooden table with red berries and green spruce branches Getty Images

Everything is everywhere all the time. You already know this. You know it because you buy apples in the springtime and eat Caprese salads in December. One of the quiet miracles of our age is that the whole idea of seasonality is essentially optional.

And yet, we as a society choose that option regularly. Some things are kept to seasonal traditions, to help us mark the time. It’s not just pumpkin spice lattes—watermelon, gingerbread, apple cider and cherries are all intrinsically delicious, and all are commanded to stay in their lane. And to our drink today, this is also true, or I suppose almost true, of cranberries, because even though cranberry “juice” is so ubiquitous that it comes out of a plastic gun behind almost every bar in this country, cranberries—whole, actual, cranberries—appear like magic in the stores a few weeks before Thanksgiving and disappear after Christmas just as swiftly. Cranberries are inherently festive. They are the fruit of the holiday season.

This presents those of us in the drink-making business with a strange dilemma. We of course want to make cranberry cocktails to satisfy the seasonal thirst, but it’s not immediately clear how to do that. Pretty much all the cranberry juice you’ve ever had is actually cranberry “juice cocktail” (some cranberry, mixed with lots of grape and apple juices) and is sweet and featureless and so ubiquitous it breeds contempt (Cosmopolitan, anyone?). On the other hand, actual 100 percent cranberry juice is punishingly bitter and tart, and is not improved by the pasteurization required before being bottled and shelved. So what to do?

The answer to great cranberry drinks is to go to the source. Fresh cranberries have precisely the flavor you seek, and they just happen to be available exactly when you’d seek them, which is to say, right now. Spend 15 minutes making a spiced cranberry syrup, and not only will you make the house smell like a Hallmark movie, but it allows you to make dead-easy, shockingly delicious holiday cocktails to share with family and friends and brighten up these dark evenings. 

Yes, it’s admittedly more work than just buying a bottle of something pre-made. But imagine perhaps that it’s 100 years ago, before airplanes and globalization could get you whatever you want whenever you want it and take the time to make the best of what you have while you have it. In other words, get into the season. Cheers.

Spiced Cranberry Sour

  • 2 oz. any aged spirit
  • 0.75 oz. lemon juice
  • 0.75 oz. spiced cranberry syrup*

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake hard for six to eight seconds. Strain over fresh ice into a rocks glass and garnish with an orange peel, a cinnamon stick or a smile.


El Dorado 8 Year Rum

Photo: courtesy El Dorado

Spirit: I personally think I like this best with an aged rum, like Plantation 5 year, Ron Zacapa or El Dorado 8, but it works great with anything aged in oak barrels, i.e., bourbon, rye, cognac, Irish whisky, you name it. Honestly it works great with vodka and gin too, but I prefer aged spirits. And the only other thing to say is that while it will taste great with spiced rum (i.e., Captain Morgan, Sailor Jerry, Canerock and others), be advised that spiced rum usually has sugar added, so you may need to increase the measure of lemon juice by 0.25 oz. to compensate. 

Lemon Juice: if you’re not doing it already, your New Year’s Resolution should be to buy something like this for like $20 to squeeze fresh citrus for your cocktails. It’s self-care. Everyone in your life thinks you’re worth it, why don’t you?

*Spiced Cranberry Syrup

  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 c. water
  • 2 – 3 oz. fresh or frozen cranberries, or if you insist, 4 oz. cranberry sauce
  • 2 cinnamon sticks, gently smashed
  • 1 tsp. allspice
  • ½ bulb nutmeg, smashed (optional)

Add all the ingredients to a sauce pan, bring to a simmer and let it bubble away on low for 15 minutes. The cranberries will begin to pop—you can put a cover on to keep splatter down but be careful of boil-over. After 15 minutes remove from heat, let cool, strain into a jar or Tupperware and store in the fridge. The recipe yields 12 oz. and will last in the fridge about one month.

More Spirits