Tangy Cranberry–Black Pepper Shrub Cocktail Recipe

This autumnal cocktail gets its sweet-tart flavor from a shrub made with cranberries and spiced with black pepper.

A glass of cranberry–black pepper shrub cocktail next to a bottle of homemade shrub.

Serious Eats / Elana Lepkowski

Why It Works

  • The shrub's tangy flavor works well to counterbalance a celebratory meal's richer flavors.
  • The drink is great for parties, since it can be prepped in advance.

My favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal is the cranberry sauce. I love eating bits of turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing...as long as they're all covered in cranberry sauce. That sweet and savory combination just speaks to me.

But even if you're not as jazzed about cranberry sauce as I am, and you'd rather not indulge in a jiggly spoonful straight up, I think you'll love this drink.

It's based on a black pepper–spiced cranberry shrub that's sweet, savory, and tart. As you might recall, shrub syrups were a way for folks to preserve fruit back in colonial days, before refrigeration. That preservative power means you can mix up your shrub base way in advance of the party—it keeps just fine for at least a month in the fridge.

Ingredients for cranberry–black pepper shrub on the table.

Serious Eats / Elana Lepkowski

And, unlike many holiday entertaining recipes, the shrub mix is easy and quick. You'll combine the fruit with peppercorns, vinegar, sugar, and water, then give the ingredients a little heat, which helps the cranberries pop open and maximizes the earthy flavor you're getting from the pepper. A little straining will make sure there aren't any seeds or hard spices in the drink.

Mixed with fruity sparkling wine and citrusy bitters, the drink works wonderfully to lighten a meal packed with sweet potatoes, stuffing, turkey, and more. But those who aren't drinking booze can still partake, gently stirring the flavorful shrub into chilled sparkling water.

November 2015

Recipe Facts

Active: 15 mins
Total: 8 hrs
Serves: 12 servings

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For the Cranberry-Black Pepper Shrub:

  • 2 cups (approximately 10 ounces by weight) cranberries

  • 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns, lightly crushed

  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar

  • 1/2 cup sugar

  • 1/2 cup water

For the Cocktails:

  • 36 ounces chilled sparkling wine (from 2 bottles)

  • 20 dashes orange bitters

  • 12 ounces chilled cranberry-black pepper shrub

  • Cranberries, for garnish


  1. For the Cranberry-Black Pepper Shrub: In a nonreactive saucepan, combine cranberries, peppercorns, apple cider vinegar, sugar, and water. Stir to combine. Cover and place over medium-high heat. Cook, opening the lid and stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves and some of the cranberries begin popping open, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, uncover, and allow to cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Pour entire mixture into an airtight, nonreactive container. Refrigerate at least 8 and up to 12 hours. Strain mixture twice through a fine-mesh strainer, transfer to an airtight container, and refrigerate for up to 1 month.

  2. For the Cocktails: Slowly pour chilled sparkling wine into a pitcher. Add bitters and chilled cranberry-black pepper shrub. Stir very gently to mix. Serve immediately. Individual glasses can be garnished with cranberries.

Special Equipment

Medium saucepan, fine-mesh strainer, airtight containers, pitcher


For a non-alcoholic alternative, combine 1 ounce of the cranberry-black pepper shrub, 1/4 ounce simple syrup, and 3 ounces club soda in a wine glass. (Add 2 dashes of orange bitters, if desired—they contain a tiny amount of alcohol.) Garnish with cranberries and serve.

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Nutrition Facts (per serving)
128 Calories
0g Fat
15g Carbs
0g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 12
Amount per serving
Calories 128
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 0g 0%
Saturated Fat 0g 0%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 7mg 0%
Total Carbohydrate 15g 6%
Dietary Fiber 1g 5%
Total Sugars 11g
Protein 0g
Vitamin C 5mg 23%
Calcium 15mg 1%
Iron 0mg 2%
Potassium 112mg 2%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)