I’m not the mixologist in our family by any stretch of the imagination but Friday morning I realized I wanted to make some seasonal cocktails for you to help get your holiday party season started. I followed the recipes exactly, which I hardly ever do while cooking, and pleasantly surprised myself. Everything turned out fabulously well. What they lacked in Charlie’s special magic was made up for in ease. I want to give some encouragement to those of you who, like me, are reluctant to pick up the shaker. If you can cook, you can mix, it’s just not that difficult.
First step for Cranberry G & T’s is to make a cranberry simple syrup. You can use bottled cranberry juice in a pinch, but the whole point of making seasonal cocktails is to use local, fresh ingredients. This year I’ve been buying organic cranberries at Whole Foods grown by the Coquille tribe in Oregon. We’ve also discovered an excellent small batch dry gin called Voyager distilled by Pacific Distillery in Woodinville, WA. It’s loaded with all sorts of traditional botanicals — juniper, coriander, licorice root, cardamom and more. Somehow, even with all these ingredients, they’ve managed to get the balance of flavors just right so if you’re using it for a martini, I’d be tempted to say, use just the slightest whiff of vermouth. While Kathy Casey infuses Voyager with a freshly picked Douglas fir branch, I’d love to try that using a spirit that’s less interesting on its own, like Gordon’s.
Cranberry Simple Syrup Recipe
Ingredients: 1 12 oz. bag of fresh cranberries/ 3/4 cup superfine sugar/ 2 1/2 cups water ( 1 T chopped fresh rosemary is an excellent addition for making our Cranmary Simple Syrup – especially if you’re making a Cranberry Mocktail)
Directions: Put all ingredients in a small saucepan/ Bring to a boil/ Turn heat down and simmer for 20 – 30 minutes on low/ Strain through a fine sieve, pressing the berries with a wooden spoon to release any remaining juice.
Cranberry Gin & Tonic Recipe
Ingredients for 1 drink: 2 ounces dry gin/ 1 ounce cranberry simple syrup/ 1 ounce lemon juice/ tonic water
Directions: Put gin, simple syrup and lemon juice into shaker/ Put ice in shaker and shake vigorously/ Strain into ice-filled glass, filling about 3/4 of the glass/ Top off with tonic/ Stir all together with a long-handled spoon (an iced-tea spoon is perfect if you have one)/ Garnish with a sprig of douglas fir or rosemary.
You can skip the shaker if you don’t have one and mix it right in the glass. In that case, refrigerate your simple syrup and keep the gin in the freezer so it will be icy cold.
If you want to leave the booze out, for whatever reason, use the same proportion of simple syrup to lemon juice and just add more tonic. Adding 1 T chopped rosemary when making the simple syrup can replace some of the woodsy flavor of the gin and is also a great idea if you substitute vodka for the gin. Any way you mix it, this is a festive drink with fizz and brilliant color.
If you’re looking for a cocktail that’s more subdued and elegant but equally as interesting in flavor, one of my all-time favorite winter cocktails is Jerry Traunfeld’s Sage Rush from his book The Herbal Kitchen. I followed his recipe word for word. Given my limited experience mixing, I think it’d be hard to improve upon this mixture of fresh grapefruit juice and muddled sage.
Jerry Traunfeld’s Sage Rush Cocktail Recipe
Ingredients for 2 drinks: 6 medium sage leaves/ 1/4 large lemon, cut into 2 wedges/ 2 t sugar (I used demerara sugar)/ 4 oz. gin/ 4 oz. fresh grapefruit juice/ twist of grapefruit peel for garnish.
Directions: Put sage leaves, lemon wedges and sugar in a cocktail shaker/ Crush together with about a dozen determined strokes of a cocktail muddler or the end of a slender rolling pin or wooden spoon/ Add gin, grapefruit juice and a large scoop of ice cubes/ Cap and shake vigorously/ Strain into 2 glasses and garnish with grapefruit peel twists.
If there is a Santa out there, this is what I’d like to be drinking for Christmas morning brunch… hint, hint.
If you really get on a roll and want to keep mixing, here’s our recipe for a Christmas Cosmo using the cranberry simple syrup above. Charlie will resume his position of master mixologist on Christmas Eve. Here’s his recipe for Old-Fashioned’s.