You know what I love most about Thanksgiving? Getting together with the family and listening to their thoughts on politics.

HA! I could barely even write that with a straight face.

So if you’re like me and aren’t looking forward to reliving the election on Turkey Day, here’s an original cocktail that’ll keep you feeling mellow until the tryptophan kicks in. Granted, a stiff pour of whiskey might have the same effect, but the Homecoming is designed to complement the flavors of the holiday:

  • 2 ounces vodka infused with apple, pear, cinnamon, clove, and fresh ginger (recipe below)
  • 1 ounce cranberry juice
  • ½ ounce maple syrup
  • 3 dashes orange bitters
  • 4 to 5 fresh cranberries

Shake everything, except the cranberries, with ice. Strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with the cranberries.

The Infusion

In a glass jar with a lid (I used a 3½-cup mason jar), add one sliced apple, one sliced pear, one cinnamon stick, 10 whole cloves, and two to three slices of fresh ginger.

Pour in enough high-quality vodka to cover the ingredients. Let the combination sit for three to five days, gently shaking the jar on occasion.

Using a strainer and cheesecloth, strain the mixture into a new jar (you can re-use the original jar, but rinse it to get rid of any fruit flecks). Discard the fruit, but return the spices to the vodka.

Let the spices continue to infuse for four to five days, or until your nose or palate tells you they’re done. Repeat the straining process described above, and strain it several times – you want to be sure any flakes of fruit or spice are completely out of there.

You’re left with a dark brown vodka with the rich aroma of autumn fruit and baking spices.

The Ghosts of Infusions Past

Here’s what happens every time I infuse vodka: I choose a fruit that I’m really excited to try in a cocktail – plum, peach, a combination of berries, etc. I assemble the components, excitedly wait a few days or a week until its done, sample it, pronounce it delightful, and try it out in a drink.

Then the infusion sits at the back of my liquor cabinet for about eight months or so, at which point I try to recall what it is, come to terms with the fact that I have no use for it, and dump it down the drain. A few months later I’ll get inspired all over again about tinkering with ingredients, and the cycle repeats.

Not this time.

Here were the three flaws in my approach:

  • I rarely drink vodka, so I have little occasion to deploy my infusions.
  • I get blinded by the novelty of a particular flavor without any regard for what kind of cocktail I’ll make with it. Strawberry-basil vodka? YES! Then what? Strawberry-basil Moscow Mule? Better on paper than in the glass.
  • I always use the lowest-quality vodka in my possession – and this might be the biggest mistake of all. My logic here is that if the infusion doesn’t work out and I have to dump it, I won’t want to have wasted a top-shelf vodka. Which is pretty ironic, given point #1. So I use a crappy-tasting vodka that, after the infusion, becomes a crappy-tasting vodka with additional flavors.

This time, I came up with a cocktail idea first and then chose seasonal fruits and spices to bring it to life. I also used an excellent vodka – Ketel One, which had been sitting unopened in my liquor cabinet for two years (again, see point #1). I admit I felt uneasy as I started pouring a good product into a jar, but the risk paid off.

The Fly in the Ointment

I realize that I’m suggesting this cocktail for Thanksgiving, which is just a few days away. Yet the vodka infusion can take up to 10 days to mature.

Not to worry – if you actually do want to try this in time for the holiday, keep in mind that the fruit only needs three to four days to infuse. The spices take a little longer, but the vodka should still taste great after only a few days. I’d say remove the fruit and keep the spices in there, making sure you don’t pour a clove into anyone’s glass (if you do, just tell them it’s a garnish).

Plus, this isn’t so much a Thanksgiving drink as it is a seasonal drink. Cranberry, maple, and all those spices are the flavors of fall and winter in New England, so you can enjoy this cocktail throughout the holidays.

That said, have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and thanks for reading.

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