Words by Simon Difford
Cranberry juice is very bitter so when a cocktail recipe calls for "cranberry juice" it typically means a packaged sweetened blend of cranberry juice, water and sugar sold as "cranberry juice drink" or "cranberry juice cocktail". And depending on the quality of the brand with a greater or lesser proportion of cranberry to other ingredients that may include colouring, flavouring and preservatives.
Cranberries are native to North America and are grown in rich acid peat bogs. The fields are flooded during harvesting when large machines, fondly known as egg beaters, release the berries from the vines. Air pockets in the fruit allow them to bob to the surface to create a stunning crimson carpet. You can tell when a cranberry is good enough to eat because it bounces – all part of the quality test.
Cranberries are rich in unique antioxidants which help protect you inside and are best known as a natural remedy for a number of infections, or in our world of cocktails as a key ingredient in a Cosmopolitan.
When the Cosmo Cocktail was at its height in the 1990s cranberry juice was still relatively rare in countries like France. So much so that when I was tasked with setting up a cocktail bar at a trade show in France I included half a pallet of cranberry juice in the lorry sent from the UK with the exhibition stand to keep the bar stocked. Predictably, while parked overnight outside the show the lorry was broken into. Fortunately, most of the expensive liquor was already on the stand and the little left was untouched. However, all our precious cranberry juice was gone and so no more Cosmos, or even Rude Cosmos were served.
The emergence of white cranberry juice led to the inevitable creation of the White Cosmopolitan (circa 2002). Not as interesting as the Negroni inspiring the White Negroni and its quick demise was ensured as the Cosmo itself waned in popularity.
Not all packaged cranberry juices are created equal and you should look for brands with 25% or more cranberry juice/cranberry pulp. Some are also overly sweet – even sweetened juice should retain some of the cranberry's natural bitterness. Look for juices sweetened with fruit sugars.
And just because you've selected your juice from the chilled rather than the ambient shelf in the supermarket doesn't mean it's of a higher quality. Indeed, not all the packed juices merchandised on chilled shelves to command a premium price even need refrigerating before opening.
I use Eager Cranberry Juice Drink, not only due to its high fruit content and full flavour but also for its deep rich colour. And, prior to opening, it can have as much as six months shelf life without the need for refrigeration. (Once opened, refrigerate and drink within five days.) As they would say on the BBC, "other cranberry juice brands are available" but as with the other ingredients in your cocktails, exercise discernment when selecting your brand of cranberry juice.