Layers of muddled fresh mint, juicy tart cranberries, and sparkling ginger beer make this Candied Cranberry Rye Whiskey Smash a lovely cocktail fit for any winter occasion or holiday party. Pair with some quality High West Double Rye! Whiskey for a truly delicious experience.
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Just in time for the holidays, I present to you my latest cocktail obsession: The Candied Cranberry Rye Whiskey Smash.
I love a good whiskey smash, and while they are best known as a summer drink (full of fresh berries), this cranberry version with spicy rye whiskey is utterly perfect for the winter months.
The key is a batch of candied cranberries, and if you have any concerns, let me assure you that they are incredibly easy to whip up. All you need is a saucepan, sugar, water, and a bag of cranberries. Less than ten minutes later, you’ll have a batch of candied cranberries and a jar of cranberry-scented simple syrup. Muddle that with a little fresh mint, a little lime, and a delicious rye whiskey – like the High West Double Rye! Whiskey pictured here – and you have my absolute favorite cocktail of the season. Full of vibrant red and green, it even looks the part!
High West Double Rye! Whiskey
My passion for whiskey is well-documented on this blog. Whether it’s a Sweet Cherry Bourbon Smash, a Cinnamon Spiced Old Fashioned, a Jalapeno Peach Whiskey Glaze, or enough Whiskey Sours to feed your entire family, I’m always coming up with more uses for the plethora of whiskey types I’ve accumulated in the house.
One of my latest favorites is a Double Rye! Whiskey coming out of Utah’s High West Distillery. We did a tasting of their full line of spirits back in July while Sam and I were visiting family near their Park City distillery. While on the lower end price-wise, the Double Rye! Whiskey was both of our favorites, followed closely by their American Prairie Bourbon. Reviews have echoed these sentiments, so I know it’s not just our personal taste.
It’s called a Double Rye because it is a blend of two different straight ryes – a two-year old rye full of warm spices and green notes reminiscent of gin, and an older rye with an aged, caramel smoothness. The resulting spirit is complex and spicy, with notes of cinnamon, clove, herbs, and a touch of vanilla. Best of all, High West’s Double Rye goes down smooth, with little burn. It even comes in a lovely bottle with the look of hand-blown glass.
When I came back to Delaware, I was on a hunt for some High West of my own. Luckily for me, my local liquor store – Concord Pike Liquors – was kind enough to make an order for me. If you’re in the area, they now carry four varieties of High West Whiskey, plus a lot of great other stuff for a small shop. I definitely recommend you check it out.
High West Distillery & Saloon
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Distillery and Saloon we visited in Park City, Utah. It was a crazy day – the town was a buzz with a local street faire that made parking a nightmare. The Distillery and attached Saloon, however, lived up to its good reviews.
Founded in 2006, High West became Utah’s first legal distillery since 1870, and the one and only distillery you can ski into from the mountain. The tour of the historic stable-turned-distillery (and restaurant) was entertaining and informative. Distribution is nationwide, and High West’s is known for its innovative blends and new recipes, receiving Whisky Advocate’s Distiller of the Year Award in 2016.
After the tasting, I was most looking forward to trying out the restaurant and bar, where they feature cocktails using the line of locally blended spirits.
I tried two myself – The first was the “Loira”, a complicated concoction made with the Double Rye!, cahaca, dark rum, vermouth, lime, blackberry, and coconut. The server warned me that it might take a bit longer – the ice is crushed by hand for each drink – and I assured her it was no issue. Overall the drink was beautiful and enjoyable, reminding me of a tropical drink with a twist. I found myself wishing it was sweeter though. Despite all the interesting components, it was hard to pull out each one. The flavors blend together in a tart but very boozy cocktail.
The second drink was the “Old Fashioned Old Fashioned”, which came recommended by both our distillery tour guide and our server. I loved the strong scent of the muddled orange peel in the drink, which hit my nose as soon as I raised the glass for sip. Otherwise, it was classically simple, and it let the whiskey shine.
As for food, the Grilled Pork Tomahawk with fresh summer corn, huckleberry barbeque sauce, and whole grain mustard potato salad was delicious, hearty fare suitable for any upscale gastropub. My trips out west have taught me one very important thing – This east coast girl needs more huckleberries in her life.
Candied Cranberry Rye Whiskey Smash
Now to the recipe at hand. This Candied Cranberry Rye Whiskey Smash is my ideal kind of cocktail. It’s a quintessential fall and winter drink, both in taste and color. Layers of muddled fresh mint and juicy cranberries are topped with sparkling ginger beer and sweetened with simple syrup. It’s tart and spicy flavors compliment rather than mask the dry spice of the rye whiskey, allowing the warming spirit to take center stage. If there is one cocktail I insist you try at your next dinner party, this is it.
If you haven’t had candied cranberries before, you are in for a treat. As noted above, the process to make them is simple, and the pink-hued syrup that remains is the perfect compliment to a nice cocktail. My only note of caution is to not let the candied cranberries simmer for too long. You want the fruit to soften, but not burst and loose their shape. Pop ‘em in the fridge to chill for thirty minutes, and you’ll be all set to enjoy this incredible Rye Whiskey Smash.
I have every intention to make glasses of Candied Cranberry Rye Whiskey Smash as long as cranberries are in season, and I wholeheartedly recommend you do the same. Cheers!
Candied Cranberry Rye Whiskey Smash
- ¼ cup candied cranberries
- ½ ounce cranberry syrup
- ½ ounce lime juice
- 3 mint leaves
- 1 ½ ounce rye whiskey
- Ginger beer, to taste
- 2-3 candied cranberries rolled in sugar, to garnish
- Ice cubes
Candied Cranberries & Simple Syrup (Makes about 1.5 cups)
- 1 cup granulated sugar, plus 1 tablespoon (divided)
- 1 cup water
- 2 cups (8 ounces) fresh cranberries
To make the cocktail:
- Combine candied cranberries, cranberry syrup, lime juice, and mint leaves in the bottom of a rocks glass. Use a muddler to crush the berries until the juices are released. Add the rye whiskey, 1-2 ice cubes, and top with ginger beer to taste. Garnish with whole candied cranberries rolled in sugar.
To make the candied cranberries and syrup:
- Bring one cup sugar and one cup water to a simmer over medium high heat in a medium sauce pan. Add cranberries and simmer for 2-3 minutes, until the berries are softened but still have their shape. Remove the berries with a slotted spoon and spread on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
- Continue heating the cranberry-scented syrup for another 5 minutes, bringing it to a boil and allowing it to thicken. Remove from heat. Once the syrup is cool, transfer to a sterile jar or bottle and store in the fridge for 3-4 weeks.
- Once the cranberries are chilled, transfer them to a lidded container. To make the garnish, roll a few cranberries in a tablespoon of sugar to give them a sparkling finish and slip a few onto toothpicks. These will keep for a few days in the fridge.