If you do even a modest amount of entertaining around the holiday season, the need for a house drink becomes quickly obvious. There’s no denying that beer and wine can, when properly selected and presented, be festive, but if there’s any time of year that calls for a flashy go-to cocktail option, it’s the period of time from right about now through New Year’s Eve.
Cranberry infused vodka is your magic bullet. It’s sweet, but not deadly sweet — the tartness of the berry helps manage the sugar of this natural cordial, and when mixed with tonic (or in a more complicated cocktail recipe) it’s a lovely liquid distillation of the season’s sentiments.
The following recipe yields a modest amount of product — a more aggressive approach (i.e., what my wife and I do this time of year) is to quadruple it and then serve the finished liqueur from one of those big ol’ iced tea jars with the spigot at the bottom.
This takes a couple of weeks (at minimum) to properly steep, so get rolling on it soon and you’ll have a very merry December. And possibly January, if it lasts that long.
Cranberry Infused Vodka
Yields about 18 (¼ c) servings
2 c sugar
1 c water
1 (12-oz) package fresh or frozen (and thawed) cranberries
3 c vodka*
Combine sugar and water in a medium saucepan; cook over medium heat 5 minutes or until sugar dissolves, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, and cool completely.
Place cranberries in a food processor; process 2 minutes or until finely chopped.
Combine sugar mixture and cranberries in a large bowl; stir in vodka.
Pour the vodka mixture into a clean container; secure with lid. Let stand 3 weeks in a cool, dark place, shaking every other day.
Strain the cranberry mixture through a cheesecloth-lined sieve into a bowl, and discard solids. Carefully pour liqueur into clean container.
Note: Liqueur can be stored refrigerated or at room temperature for up to a year.
*A thrifty way to go on the vodka is to buy the cheapest vodka you can possibly find and Brita filter it, four times, with a clean filter. The resulting vodka will taste like middle-shelf stuff for several dollars less (even after paying for the filter). After four filtrations, you’re hitting diminishing returns in terms of quality.
Cranberry Vodka Tonic
The crispness of the tonic balances the sweetness of the cranberry vodka, leaving you with an eminently pleasing, easy-to-quaff holiday beverage. Adjust the mix for drinkers who like their drinks sweeter or more restrained.
Mix cranberry vodka and tonic in equal proportions in a lowball glass. Add a MirandaCube* and serve.
These custom-crafted ice cubes are so festive that they should be federally regulated. The colorful contents of each cube are mostly decorative, but if your drink picks up a bit of a minty, or citrus, or cinnamon, or licorice taste, it’s not such a bad thing.
Buy a big, four-cube silicone ice cube tray. (IKEA often has them.) Fill each cube halfway, and add 2-5 of the following:
Small pieces of stick cinnamon
Orange or lime twists
Star anise (or a small piece thereof)
Let the half-cubes freeze. Top them off with more water, and freeze them completely. Each mega-cube should be good for a full drink.