Sweetwater Social’s (643 Broadway, 212-253-7467) Nola Woodall had something different in mind while she was creating a seasonal autumn cocktail this year. While apples make appearances in all manner of libations during the fall months, Woodall chose to focus on an ingredient that lasts well into December — cranberries, which serve as the base of her “Empire State Sour.”
Since cranberries are naturally tart, Woodall put them to work in a simple syrup made with demerara sugar, which makes for a richer, sweeter syrup than refined white cane sugar. She then added spices like nutmeg, clove, and cinnamon to the equation, and though the resulting flavor was exactly what she was looking for, finding the ideal alcoholic component was the next step.
First, Woodall tried her mix with an orange-based scotch, but the liquor didn’t have much of a “wow” factor. Instead, she put her faith in cognac, a spirit she didn’t have as much experience with — it proved to be the perfect cranberry complement.
“Cognac stood out. Cognac has the sweetness to it,” Woodall says. The layers of sour-sweetness from the syrup and brandy were both distinct and delicious. Woodall added Angostura amaro to help boost the warm, spicy notes, imperative in a drink that needs to stand up to the winter chill. “It’s not overly spirited,” she says. “It’s got a lot of mouthfeel. It’s very rich, very complex — the cognac, the coffee qualities, the bitterness.”
It might seem easier to simply mix a cranberry-and-vodka at home, but making your own spiced syrup is much more festive.
Empire State Sour by Nola Woodall
1 1/2 ounces cognac
3/4 ounce spiced cranberry demerara syrup*
1/2 ounce Angostura amaro
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
Add ingredients into a shaker with ice, shake and strain, pour into a glass and garnish as you see fit.
*To make the syrup, combine a 12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries with 1 cup demerara sugar and chill overnight (the sugar will draw out the juices). Put the berries in a small saucepan and add 1 cup water, one or two lime peels, nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove. Bring to a simmer and cook 10 minutes. Strain. Store refrigerated.