Drink Up December:
Christmas Cranberry Old Fashioned
December 9, 2021
Send 2021 out with a bang by enjoying Drink Up December! Five Thursdays, five cocktails perfect for chilly weather, the holiday season, and spending time with loved ones. This week, we’re getting festive with a super Christmassy Cranberry Old Fashioned.
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What makes something Christmas flavored? When I started thinking about this cocktail, I knew that the goal was to end up with a Christmas-themed old fashioned, but still have it be true to the classic and drinkable, without being overly sweet. I started by brainstorming some of my favorite Christmas flavors.
Cranberry and orange felt like the natural solutions. Orange is already included in many old fashioned recipes, either by using orange bitters or garnishing with an orange peel. Cranberry felt like an easy replacement for cherry, since both have similar sweet-tart qualities.
What You Need to Get Started
You can easily find all of the ingredients for this Christmas cranberry old fashioned at your grocery store:
- Produce: Orange, Cranberries, Rosemary
- Pantry: Sugar, Sugar cubes, Dried cranberries
- From the Bar: Aromatic bitters, Cardamom bitters, Bourbon
- Equipment: Saucepan, Mesh strainer, Jar, Muddler, Rocks glass, Giant ice cube tray, Bar spoon
How to Make Cranberry Orange Syrup
Orange isn’t really a favorite flavor of mine, but for some reason when it’s combined with tart cranberries and some bourbon, I tend to like it better. I have always thought of it as a Christmas flavor though, thanks to a storybook we read as kids that featured an orange in your stocking.
In this cocktail, I recommend using fresh squeezed orange juice, and then you can use the peel for garnish. So that’s where we’ll get started. Halve your orange and squeeze out all that yummy juice, leaving any seeds and pulp behind.
Once you are done, use a paring knife to carefully scrape out the peel, and then cut it into pieces for garnish. This syrup recipe makes enough for four cocktails, and a half orange is the perfect size for four orange twists.
Combine the juice in a small saucepan with some fresh cranberries, water, and sugar. We’ll be cooking this down to make a syrup. If needed, you can use frozen cranberries, but be sure they are thawed first.
Stir everything in the saucepan together, and heat over medium until the liquid begins to bubble, and the berries start to burst out of their skins. This means they are starting to get softened.
Meanwhile, spiral up those piece of orange peel from before, and use a toothpick to hold them in their shape. This will help you get a nice curl out of them later. Thinner pieces will hold the curl better.
Once the syrup is bubbling, use a wooden spoon to smash all the berries against the bottom or sides of the pot. They won’t all soften at exactly the same rate, so it can take a few minutes.
Once they are all smashed and the syrup is slightly thickened, turn off the heat. Pour the orange cranberry syrup through a mesh strainer and into a jar or other heatproof container. Set this aside, loosely covered, until you are making the cocktails.
If needed, you can make the syrup in advance. Allow it to cool to room temperature, then cover the jar tightly and store it in the fridge for a couple days. It can be added to the cocktail cold.
Let’s Make a Christmas Cranberry Old Fashioned
Now that we’ve got the syrup, it’s time for the extra fun part: mixology! This is a drink that is built right in the glass, so be sure you have your muddler and a bar spoon ready, but no shaker required. You’ll also want some way of measuring the liquids, like a jigger or measuring cup.
Place two sugar cubes in the bottom of a heavy-bottomed rocks or double old fashioned glass. Saturate the sugar with the cranberry orange syrup you made earlier, and then muddle until combined.
If you are making more than one of these at a time, I suggest doing it batch-style. So begin by doing this step for each glass, before moving onto the next. This can be easier than building each one at a time.
Add a couple dashes of both aromatic and cardamom bitters. Both of these are old-style bitters, and the aromatic is what’s used in a traditional old fashioned. I like the little extra spice the cardamom adds here, just some more Christmas flavor.
Gently place a giant ice cube into the glass. I like to work with the large cubes, but a giant sphere will work as well. Using one large cube allows the ice to cool the drink, but melt into it slower. That means you can sip for longer without diluting it.
Top the glass with bourbon, and stir to combine everything together. I like a sweet and smooth bourbon in an old fashioned, so I used Woodford Reserve here. However, we also tried this recipe with Maker’s Mark, which was still delicious but with more bite.
Build your garnishes using fresh rosemary, the orange peel you curled earlier, and some dried cranberries. I used cocktail skewers to hold the orange peel in kind of a twisted cradle shape, and then added some berries on the tip. Then, you can place the rosemary inside the orange peel.
However, you can do whatever you want with the garnish here. Try floating some fresh berries, or using thinner pieces of orange peel for something a little different. The rosemary adds a little bit of that herby Christmas aroma with every sip.
This cranberry old fashioned tastes best enjoyed immediately. I suggest preparing each to serve just before it will be enjoyed.
Feeling festive? You definitely will with this drink in your hand. It’s a cranberry old fashioned, that is full of that Christmas feeling!
How to Serve a Cranberry Old Fashioned
The best place to serve any festive holiday cocktail? Christmas dinner or brunch of course! Start dinner with an hors d’oeuvre of cranberry sauce pear flatbread. Or for brunch, have my family’s traditional favorite, apple kuchen.
I also love sipping on an old fashioned as a nightcap along with a munchy dessert, like some Christmas cookies. Why not host a cookie exchange, and make one of these tasty recipes to share: lemon curd sandwich cookies, persimmon thumbprints, or bourbon brown sugar cutouts with buttercream.
More Festive Drinks to Try
Christmas Cranberry Old Fashion
Cranberry Orange Syrup (makes 2 oz)
- ¼ Cup Orange Juice fresh squeezed if possible, about half a large orange
- ¼ Cup Water
- ⅓ Cup Fresh Cranberries
- 1 Tbsp Sugar
Christmas Old Fashioned
- ½ oz Cranberry Orange Syrup
- 2 Sugar Cubes
- 3-4 dashes Angostura Bitters
- 1-2 dashes Cardamom Bitters
- 1 Giant Ice Cube
- 1 ½ oz Bourbon good quality sipping bourbon is best
- 3-4 Dried Cranberries optional, for garnish
- 1 piece Orange Peel optional, for garnish
- 1 sprig Rosemary optional, for garnish
Cranberry Orange Syrup (2 oz)
- In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, orange juice, water, and cranberries. Heat until bubbling and the berries begin to pop, stirring frequently.
- Once bubbling, use a wooden spoon to smash all the berries as they soften. Then turn off the heat. Pour through a mesh strainer into a jar, and set aside loosely covered.
Cranberry Old Fashioned
- In the bottom of a heavy-bottomed rocks or double old fashioned glass, saturate the sugar cubes with the syrup, and then muddle until combined.
- Add the bitters and gently place a giant ice cube in the glass. Top with the bourbon, and stir to combine.
- Garnish with fresh rosemary, orange peel, and dried cranberries. Serve immediately.
- Make ahead tips:
- Allow the syrup to cool, then cover tightly and store in the fridge for 1-2 days.
- The cocktail tastes best enjoyed immediately, so prepare each to serve.
- Bourbon: I like a sweet and smooth bourbon in an old fashioned. I used Woodford Reserve here, but also tried this recipe with Maker's Mark, which was delicious but with more bite.
- Fresh produce: I recommend using fresh squeezed orange juice, and then you can use the peel for garnish. The rosemary garnish should also be fresh. If needed, you can make the syrup with thawed frozen cranberries.