My Cranberry Apple Bourbon Cocktail is the perfect way to get your jolly on! Hard cider and bourbon, infused with cranberries and apples, come together in this smooth, colorful cocktail guaranteed to warm you all the way to your toes.

Cranberry Apple Bourbon Cocktail

For me, the holidays are all about sleigh bells ringing and glasses clinking, and a festive, cocktail, full of fall and winter flavors, is a great way to get the merry-making started! You can mix up a few of these highballs for some close friends or make punchbowls-full for a big get-together. It’s sweet and tart, a perfect balance on your palette, with spiced bourbon in the background to warm up your cheeks and brighten your spirits.

The origin of the word “cocktail” is about as muddy as a white Russian, but one of the more believable stories is that it actually has to do with horses, not rooster’s tails. At some point in our history, non-thoroughbred horses customarily had their tails docked, referred to at that point as cocktailed horses or cocktails. Those simple or highly crafted drinks we enjoy in pretty glasses are essentially diluted (not pure) spirits of one kind or another.  Whether you’re diluting with water, fruit juice, or some other mixer, it’s hard to turn down a great cocktail, and this Cranberry Apple Bourbon beverage is going to be a hit at your house this season.

This is a bourbon-based drink, and if you’re not a big bourbon drinker, you may be a little confused about the differences between whiskey and bourbon. Whiskey is a combination of fermented grains (wheat, barley, corn, rye). Bourbon is an American-made whiskey, and it’s made using a higher percentage of corn. It also has smoky undertones because of the types of barrels it’s aged in. In the spiced variety we’ll be using in this recipe, the bourbon is infused with cinnamon or other spices and range from a subtle, lingering burn to a spicy kick similar to red hots, depending on the brand. Cinnamon is obviously a classic holiday spice, and it really plays well with the apple flavors in this cocktail, so I definitely recommend using it over just a plain bourbon or whiskey.

The next ingredient is cranberry sauce. Yes, you can use the stuff directly out of the can, but you can also use leftovers from your Thanksgiving dinner (best use of leftovers EVER!!). If you have a particularly chunky variety, though, just muddle it really well with the bourbon or even use an immersion blender to eliminate any giant pieces before you mix the cocktail.

To finish off this simple recipe, you’ll pour the bourbon mixture over ice and top it off with hard cider (an alcoholic beverage made from apples). There are so many cider options on the market these days ranging from really dry and crisp to heavy and sweet. Any of them will work in this recipe, though, so just pick what you like to drink or what you already have on hand. I usually make this with hard apple cider, but a pear cider would work really well too.

Cranberry Apple Bourbon Cocktail

Garnish this delicious drink with just a few deep red cranberries and crunchy apple pieces (you can use pear pieces if you go the pear cider route). You can use either red or green apple varieties, but I think the green adds a nice contrasting color to the red hue of this drink. Simple but sophisticated flavors make this a real crowd pleaser, and it’s light enough for a pre-meal starter (save that infamous eggnog for AFTER supper). Cheers!

Recipe Notes:

Big Batch – This recipe easily multiplies for a crowd. For a single serving, you’ll be using about 3 parts cider to 1 part bourbon, so just keep that in mind when you’re calculating for a pitcher or punch bowl. I’d just recommend mixing the bourbon and cranberry sauce ahead of time but waiting to add the cider until the last minute so it doesn’t lose all the happy bubbles.

Spicy Bourbon from Scratch – If you don’t have spiced bourbon on hand, you can make your own. For every two cups of bourbon, add any combination of the following: a cinnamon stick, two or three cloves, vanilla bean (insides and out), some dried plums or other complimentary fruit, orange zest, or even a pod or two of cardamom.  Steep the bourbon with these aromatics for a few days and up to two weeks. Strain it and enjoy! By the way, this is also an A++ gift giving idea! Just pour into some decorative mason jars, then put them into a basket with this recipe. You can even add a couple of hard ciders for an instant cocktail kit!

Check out This Cocktail

The Craiger Cocktail – Deliciousness of flavors coming together in a lovely, subtle, melodic sort of way!