I grew up drinking what my grandmother called wassail every Christmas. It was a combination of cranberry and apples juices with sugar, cloves, and cinnamon. After moving away during college and deciding to stay put I’ve started making it for myself. Unfortunately, most cranberry juice has high fructose corn syrup in the ingredient list and I’ve been cutting that out of my diet. Last year I had a leftover bag of fresh cranberries that I couldn’t decide what to do with, so I ended up tossing them in a pot with some apple juice, cinnamon, and cloves and cooking it down. After pressing it through a sieve I ended up with a new version of my grandmother’s drink that starting this year is replacing the old recipe. I like the extra thickness the cranberry pulp adds to this hot drink.

The other drink is a more grown up addition to the holiday options that was inspired by a family tradition and a whiskey I tried recently. The whiskey is a rye whiskey produced in Iowa called Templeton Rye. I’d heard about it a while ago, but hadn’t gotten around to trying it, that is until I had the chance at a friend’s house. The other tradition in my family is producing our own apple cider (which in the U.S. means an unfermented, unpasteurized pressed apple juice).

We have an old juice press that we use each year to process several bushels of apples into one of my favorite drinks. We shred the apples with a food processor and then dump the pulp into the press, which is a round drum with a plate that you screw down to press on the apple solids. We usually drink some right away and try to freeze some to enjoy at either Thanksgiving or Christmas (it takes a lot of apples to produce cider so we never make a lot). This is by far the best apple cider around, but some orchards do produce some high quality flash pasteurized ciders that are still good. I usually break down and buy a gallon or two of these each year to supplement the good stuff we make. The cocktail combines the whiskey and the cider and unites them with some cinnamon to make a tasty beverage. I know I’ll enjoy both through out this holiday season.


1 bag fresh cranberries (12 ounces)
64 ounces apple juice (this can be cheap supermarket apple juice – using real cider would be waste here)
3 cinnamon sticks
a few whole cloves

Bring the juice to a simmer in a large pot that has a lid. Add the cinnamon sticks and cloves. Let boil for about 5 minutes, uncovered. Add the cranberries and cover – the cranberries will “pop” as they heat up and you don’t want hot liquids flying around. Let simmer covered for at least 20 minutes. When the cranberries are broken down and the apple juice is a bright red uncover and let simmer until the liquid is reduced by about half. This will take about 15-30 more minutes. Turn off the heat and the let the mixture cool for a  few minutes.

Place a fine sieve over a large bowl and pour the mixture into the sieve. Press on the solids and force as much as you can through the sieve; discard the remaining solids. Mix the juice well and serve hot.

Hard Cider Martini

3 ounces fresh apple cider
3 ounces of cinnamon-infused rye whiskey (direction below)

Shake with ice and strain into a martini glass.

Cinnamon-infused rye whiskey

For each drink you’re wanting to make place three ounces whiskey in a mason jar with two broken sticks of cinnamon. I used a mix of regular cinnamon and a few Vietnamese cinnamon pieces that I had. Let infuse for at least one day.