Like smoked Old-Fashioneds or tiny clothespins, the cranberry sauce cocktail has a way of inducing eye rolls wherever it pops up. Yet, each November, without fail, it rears its head again.
Rather than arising as an organic trend, the cranberry sauce cocktail is a result of the insatiable content creation machine that demands timely material, especially around the holidays. Starting around Thanksgiving 2010, cranberry sauce cocktail recipes began rolling out across a variety of media outlets, beginning a seemingly unbreakable annual cycle.
Today, the internet offers a litany of cranberry sauce cocktails to choose from, whether in the form of Cranberry Sauce Bourbon Cocktails, Cranberry Sauce Whiskey Cocktails, Cranberry Sauce Margaritas, Cranberry Sauce Vodka Smashes and Cranberry Sauce Mules.
At a certain point, the trend became tradition. So, if you can’t quash it, you can at least make the best version of it. That’s where Jef Tate, a bartender at Chicago’s amaro emporium Billy Sunday, comes in.
“I think it is very easy to overthink how to implement [cranberry sauce] into a cocktail,” says Tate, who prefers a simpler approach. Having frequently worked with jelly as a cocktail ingredient, particularly while bartending at the speakeasy-style bar Janitor’s Closet, Tate turned to the sweet-tart cranberry sauce to add a red-fruit through line to his cocktail. The goal was simple: to make a cranberry sauce cocktail that anyone can make on Thanksgiving Day without having to scour the liquor store for esoteric ingredients. A Negroni riff seemed apt.
Parting with the traditional equal-parts formula, Tate dials back the bitters and vermouth to keep the sweetness in check. The honey-based Barr Hill Gin is his go-to in this recipe for adding more body and sweetness, though a traditional London dry style also works, he notes. For the all-important cranberry sauce, which is muddled with the gin directly in the mixing glass, straight-from-the-can cranberry sauce is fine, of course; homemade sauce is even better.
As for the name? Tate knowingly dubs it the Actually Good Cranberry Sauce Cocktail.