Looking for a twist to traditional cranberry sauce? This bourbon cranberry sauce recipe brings all the expected tart and zesty flavor with notes of caramel, vanilla and oak from the bourbon.
Fresh orange, cinnamon and maple syrup round things out for a truly spectacular holiday sauce!
If we’re being honest, bourbon and I have been on a hiatus for about 5 years.
In fact, I made this coconut bourbon coffee nog right before our relationship soured.
That’s what happens when you stupidly take FULL advantage of the open bar at your husband’s work Christmas party and drink about 4 Manhattan’s too many.
Funny enough, he’s since taken a liking to bourbon whereas I can barely sniff the drinks he makes for himself without wanting to gag.
We’ve never been the kind of people to have a fully stocked bar at home, we just don’t make ourselves cocktails or entertain enough to justify it.
But, we do now have a bottle of bourbon on hand at all times.
So while after 5 years I’m still unable to have a drink with it, I have adjusted to cooking with it.
And lucky for us that means this bourbon cranberry sauce was created this year for the holidays!
Cranberry sauce is honestly one of the easiest sides in the world to make.
I even have a 5-ingredient slow cooker cranberry sauce if you’re not into the stove-top thing.
Adding bourbon to the mix thankfully doesn’t complicate the recipe at all but it brings a lovely depth of caramel, vanilla and oaky flavor to the bright and zesty sauce.
I personally choose to add the bourbon in the beginning so you get the flavor of the bourbon but none of the stringent alcohol taste.
That said, you can definitely add it in at the end once the cranberry sauce has cooked down for a more boozy approach!
INGREDIENTS TO MAKE BOURBON CRANBERRY SAUCE
- cranberries (fresh or frozen)
- maple syrup
- cinnamon stick
- orange zest
- orange juice
I always prefer using maple syrup in my cranberry sauce versus sugar as more “traditional” recipes call for. But, the choice is up to you. But, I do use it when making cranberry jam. In fact, that’s the main difference between my jam and sauce recipes if we’re being honest.
Sugar can be swapped out 1:1 for the maple syrup if desired.
The maple flavor adds much more dimension to the sauce than regular sugar and as someone who leans more tart than sweet when it comes to cranberry sauce, it’s my go to.
Also feel free to increase the amount of maple syrup to 1/2 cup if you prefer your cranberry sauce on the sweeter side.
FRESH ORANGE JUICE AND ZEST
The fresh orange juice and zest is such a lovely complement to the bourbon flavor as well.
You’ll often see bourbon drinks paired with orange, that’s no coincidence! The deep notes of oak from the bourbon are balanced out really well by the bright citrus.
Make sure to use extra zest for garnish before serving too.
If you don’t have a cinnamon stick on hand, ground cinnamon can be used in its place.
Use 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon depending on how much cinnamon flavor you want to come through.
WHAT’S THE BEST BOURBON TO USE IN CRANBERRY SAUCE?
Pick a high quality bourbon (or whiskey) to make this cranberry sauce.
Just like when cooking with wine, if you wouldn’t want to drink it straight, don’t cook with it!
HOW TO MAKE THIS BOURBON CRANBERRY SAUCE RECIPE
Combine the water, maple syrup, bourbon, cinnamon stick, orange juice, zest and a pinch of salt in a sauce pot.
Bring to a simmer and whisk together.
Once simmering, add the cranberries. Stir to combine then simmer for 15-20 minutes with a lid slightly askew on the pot.
Cook until the cranberries have popped and the mixture is quite mushy, stirring occasionally throughout.
Turn off the heat and let the cranberry sauce rest to thicken.
It will seem like a very liquid consistency but will thicken considerably as it cools.
Placing the pot in the refrigerator to cool will help speed up this process.
Discard the cinnamon stick and garnish with orange zest before serving.
HOW LONG WILL THE CRANBERRY SAUCE LAST?
Cranberry sauce lasts awhile under refrigeration. You can store the sauce in an air-tight container for up to 1-2 weeks in the fridge.
As it sits under refrigeration, the sauce may thicken up considerably. If you want to thin it out a little before serving, simply add a little water or orange juice and stir.
It can be served warm, room temperature or cold depending on preference.
WHAT TO SERVE WITH CRANBERRY ORANGE BOURBON SAUCE
Maybe we should ask what not to serve with this sauce because it goes well with almost any holiday dish you can imagine!
I love pairing tart cranberries (or any berry) with meats this time of year.
If you’re choosing to do a roast for the holidays like this balsamic dijon crusted beef tenderloin, the bourbon cranberry sauce is perfect for that too.
And don’t forget, this sauce can still easily be served outside of the holidays with simpler meals like sheet pan chicken and sweet potatoes or venison backstrap (perfect since venison season and cranberry season are one in the same!).
Air fryer cornish hens are an easy recipe that can either be dressed up for a holiday meal or enjoyed on a regular Sunday. Either way, they’re also improved with a spoonful of bourbon infused cranberry sauce on the side!
Any recipe you would pair with pickled cranberries, you can also pair with this maple bourbon cranberry sauce.
The former will have a more vinegar tanginess whereas this cranberry sauce is a more balanced zesty and sweet taste.
WHISKEY CRANBERRY SAUCE VS. BOURBON CRANBERRY SAUCE
Whiskey is a spirit made from distilling grains like corn and rye in a wooden barrel.
Bourbon is a type of whiskey.
To be labeled as bourbon, there are strict rules around the distillation process and what types of barrels are used, etc.
While using whiskey in cranberry sauce isn’t exactly the same as using bourbon, the two can be interchanged with very similar outcomes in taste.
Since the recipe only calls for one ounce of bourbon and it’s being cooked off for 15 minutes in the pot, there won’t be a hugely noticeable difference in taste if you choose whiskey in this cranberry sauce recipe.
MORE CRANBERRY RECIPES FOR THE SEASON:
Bourbon Cranberry Sauce
- 12 ounces fresh cranberries
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/3 cup maple syrup
- 1 ounce bourbon
- zest of 1/2 an orange plus more for garnish
- juice of 1/2 an orange
- 1 cinnamon stick
- pinch of salt
- Combine water, maple syrup, bourbon, orange zest, orange juice, cinnamon stick and salt in a sauce pot over medium heat.
- Whisk together and bring to a simmer.
- Add cranberries and stir to combine.
- Cover the pot with a lid slightly askew. Simmer until cranberries have popped and completely softened, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Turn off heat and let rest until sauce has thickened. The sauce can be placed in the refrigerator to speed up cooling time.
- Transfer to a dish and discard cinnamon stick before serving. Garnish with additional orange zest.
This website provides approximate nutrition information for convenience and as a courtesy only. Nutrition information can vary for a variety of reasons. For the most precise nutritional data use your preferred nutrition calculator based on the actual ingredients you used in the recipe.
Gina Matsoukas is the writer, founder, photographer and recipe developer of Running to the Kitchen — a food website focused on providing healthy, wholesome recipes using fresh and seasonal ingredients as much as possible. Her work has been featured in numerous media outlets both digital and print, including MSN, Huffington post, Buzzfeed, Women’s Health and Food Network.