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Cranberry cocktails don't get much respect. Perhaps that's because they tend to be pretty boring: just sweetened juice spiked with whatever booze is handy. While cranberries are one of fall's signature flavors, a cranberry-vodka or a Sea Breeze feels a little too summery. And a bit too casual for serving at the holiday dinner table.
This cranberry cocktail is different. It's easy drinking but sophisticated and a little unusual.
I started with extra-tart 100% cranberry juice (the Knudsen's brand is pretty easy to find.) It has a pop of acidity and just a touch of sweetness—it's much more intense in flavor than anything labeled 'cranberry juice cocktail' or anything watered down with apple juice. Don't use that stuff; it'll wreck the balance of this drink and make it much too sweet.
Next, I turned to sherry, the Spanish wine that's fortified with brandy. Sherry comes in many forms—you can learn more about them here—but I wanted something rich, nutty, and sweet. Williams & Humbert 15-year Dry Sack Oloroso sherry offers flavors reminiscent of cinnamon, clove, and maple syrup: just the sorts of autumnal spices that we often use in dishes that include cranberries. A half ounce of rum contributes more spicy depth, without adding too much boozy punch or detracting from the sherry's flavor.
The sweetness of the sherry balances the drink's lip-puckering tartness, and its rich texture adds body to the drink without a ton of alcohol. At only 20% ABV, sherry helps build a cocktail that's an ideal aperitif: flavorful and complex, but not the sort of thing that will get you drunk before Thanksgiving dinner. Unless, of course, that's what you're aiming for. In that case, you might want to mix up another round.