Thanksgiving Cocktail: The Cranberry Old Fashioned

Thanksgiving Cocktail: The Cranberry Old Fashioned

Much and more has been written in political circles of the near-certainty that this year’s Thanksgiving will devolve into a spittle-flecking, legbone-sucking, gravy-spilling, pie-hoarding, cranberry-sauce-avoiding, half-drunk partisan brouhaha over Obamacare. Now that America at large has actually gotten a taste of what the law does, most of us are understandably cheesed off. But before we swallow the notion that crazy old Uncle Joe will ruin the day describing the woes of the system to which he is now lamentably beholden (along with a rundown of his ailments, interspersed with antiquated references to people of color), let us pause. Before we begin to dread Uncle Joe’s inevitable clash with That Cousin Who Moved to New York City (whose dutiful recitation of Democratic Party talking points borders on religious zeal), might we take a moment? It needn’t be so.

These people are your family, and you are for the most part stuck with them. I think the articles I’ve seen are expressing a trepidatious sort of gratitude for that. It’s a good problem to have! While it may lead to some awkward moments, most people are conscious of what a blessing it is to have a family with whom to break bread, and argue, and not be thought a complete jackass. This is especially true of those who have no immediate family, or who by fate or duty find themselves far away from home on Thanksgiving Day.

Though there are those who make it a point to distance themselves from their families over politics – sometimes publicly – they are thankfully few and far between. They are also likely to die alone and surrounded by their cats, which after a respectful few days will shrug their cat-shoulders and probably begin to eat them.

To avoid that fate, and to answer the yearning of the human heart to belong, it is especially important to remember that the bonds between family must necessarily withstand the objectionable opinions of certain of its members. You probably can’t stop an Obamacare fight from happening, but it probably won’t matter in the long run. If Uncle Joe or That Cousin start in on it, take another mouthful of turkey (or ham, if you’re that sort of people), smile, and remember that this is just part of being in a family. If you’re tempted to enter the fray, remember that nobody ever solved the world’s problems over a pie. The people at that table, no matter how annoying, are granted a measure of forbearance.

While a Thanksgiving cocktail may not seem like an ideal solution to a potentially awkward family gathering, in appropriate amounts and with a proper disposition it can help kick start those feelings of goodwill and comity we strive to maintain.

Cranberry Old-Fashioned

The Old-Fashioned is my standby cocktail. When I don’t know what I want to drink, it usually turns out I want an Old-Fashioned. It’s sweet, flavorful, and has bourbon in it. Can it possibly be improved? No, but it can certainly be tailored to an occasion. Many recipes call for muddled cherry and orange (n.b., purists eschew both), but this Thanksgiving version departs from that for an interesting and refreshing tipple. Enjoy it while watching the game, or use a round to short-circuit an argument by way of an impromptu toast. You’ll need:

  • 8 fresh cranberries (good luck finding them Thanksgiving week – I used frozen, to good effect)
  • 1 strip of orange zest
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2-3 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 2 oz of your favorite bourbon

In an Old Fashioned glass, add sugar, cranberries, and orange zest. Saturate with a few dashes of the bitters. Add a splash of flat water and muddle until the sugar is entirely dissolved. There may be some grit in the glass, but as with the example of your family my suggestion is to live with it. Add your bourbon. Fill your glass with ice.

I wouldn’t use too fine a bourbon for this, but if you determine that you need an extra bit of assistance coping with all the togetherness and love you might try a slug of Booker’s, a cask-strength 128-proof.

Those familiar with the common version of the drink will note the use of orange zest instead of a slice of fruit. This imparts subtle citrus flavor but does not add sweetness or liquid to the mix. Zesting can be a chore, but in this case it is well worth it.

The cranberries impart a vivid red color to the drink, quite unlike the standard. They also give the cocktail a surprisingly mild tartness, much less of a bite than I expected. Less sugar might give it a sharpness of tongue to complement the most disapproving of clan matriarchs.

Add ice, to your taste – a single large chunk is best, as the more diluted this drink becomes the less enjoyable it will be. I don’t usually let them sit long enough for this to be a factor.

Thanksgiving is the one day of the year when we take the time to remind ourselves of the many reasons we have to be grateful. If you’re anything like me, at some point during the dinner you’ll look around at all the people gathered there with you – even the difficult ones – and send up quiet thanks for the privilege we have to love, and be loved.

Cheers, and a happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

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Neal Dewing lives and works in Portsmouth, Virginia. He is the co-host of The Fifth Estate, a podcast examining culture and politics.
Photo by Mrs. Dewing
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