Where have all the cranberries gone?

By / Wine + Drinks / November 5th, 2015 / 4

Although they’re now something of a rare sighting these days, I can remember a time when it was harder to find a cocktail menu without cranberry juice. We had Cape Cods and Sea Breezes, both of which gave way to the omnipresent and super-popular Cosmopolitan that handily ruled the late 1990s and early millennium years — peak cranberry.

But it wasn’t too big to fail. Sick of the Cosmo, one New York bartender (Sasha Petraske at Milk & Honey) refused to stock the juice. One by one, bartenders followed suit until we came to this current state of affairs, where a cranberry cocktail is nearly extinct — at least at craft cocktail bars.

I wondered, though, given my love for tart and bitter ingredients (not to mention a splash of pink in my drink), if there was any way to reclaim the cranberry, without necessarily having to go back to the days of overly-sweet vodka drinks. For advice, I turned to Shane Beehan of Halifax, who runs the bar program at Field Guide, a restaurant so devoted to seasonal that it flips its entire food and drink program every month to make the most of fresh, local produce.

“The cranberry is such a weird little ingredient,” says Beehan. “The colour is so deep, and it’s so tart and sour. There’s an awesome flavour in there but, other than just making it into juice, how do you turn it into a cocktail ingredient without muting its distinct flavour?”

Beehan, who has plenty of experience delving into antiquated preservation techniques given his restaurant’s commitment to seasonality, answered his own question with a shrub — a vinegar-based fruit cordial that was commonly used to make the most of the short shelf life of berries before the advent of refrigeration.

To make a cranberry shrub, Beehan roasts one pound of cranberries in the oven at 350°F until they start popping. He then removes from heat and adds a few stalks of fresh rosemary, a cup of sugar and three tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to a Mason jar, letting it cool overnight (giving it a rigorous shake periodically). In the morning, he strains out the solids and, voila: cranberry shrub. “The reason I like it so much is the complex flavour profile you get,” says Beehan. “There are waves of flavours in even just the smallest dosage of shrub.” Beehan adds a small dose to orange liqueur and Prosecco for his signature cranberry drink, Heart of the City — a spot-on perfect way to bring back the cranberry cocktail.

heart of the city
1 oz Grand Marnier
1/2 oz cranberry shrub
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
2 dashes Angostura bitters
3 oz Prosecco

Stir all ingredients except Prosecco over ice. Strain into chilled coupe. Top with Prosecco.


Christine Sismondo is a National Magazine Award-Winning drinks columnist and the author of Mondo Cocktail: A Shaken and Stirred History as well as America Walks into a Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops.

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