Sunday, November 18, 2012

Kentucky Bourbon Cranberry Sauce

Aged Kentucky bourbon, citrus and spice make this recipe a winner at our holiday table. It's my tried and true favorite holiday cranberry sauce... ruby-red, tangy and sweet. 

My uncle once ate an entire bowl full. He kept quietly spooning it onto his plate, hoping no one would notice. But of course, I did. A nurse I work with has to make a double batch because her family loves it so much. I think you'll have a hard time resisting it too.

Watery cranberry sauce is not too appealing on one's plate. So, I use cornstarch mixed with a little water to thicken it a bit. 

Bourbon Cranberry Sauce Recipe

Some notes

This is a pleasantly tart and tangy sauce. If you'd like it sweeter, add more sugar. An orange-lime combo, along with the bourbon, complements the cranberries in a deliciously festive way.

Penzey's Vietnamese Cinnamon is bold, sweet and spicy. I adore it in everything from oatmeal to baked goods. Stir the cinnamon into the simmering cranberries. Then add a little bit of it at the end of cooking to bump up the flavor. Use whatever cinnamon you like. Vietnamese cinnamon is strong and rich, so I use less of it.

I bought a nip of Jim Beam Black Label Kentucky Bourbon for this recipe. Two tablespoons of it added to the sauce gives a pleasant, but not overpowering, oakey bourbon flavor. If you'd like less of a bourbon flavor, use one tablespoon.

A cornstarch and cold water solution thickens the sauce and makes it glossy. For me, this is a necessary step as I don't like watery cranberry sauce.  An alternative, tasteless thickener is one teaspoon potato starch mixed with one teaspoon of cold water. The more of these mixtures you use, the thicker the sauce will be. It also gets thicker as it cools.

The sauce a keeps for a few days in an airtight container in the fridge. It can be frozen a week in advance too. Thaw it in the fridge. In a pinch, you can even thaw it in the microwave. A real time saver!

Double this recipe if serving more than 4 or if you want leftovers for sandwiches.

This recipe is featured on Buzz Feed guide to putting bourbon in your Thanksgiving meal. 

Happy Holidays!


1 12-ounce bag of whole cranberries, rinsed and drained

2 medium oranges, zested and juiced

1 small lime, zested and juiced

2 tablespoons of bourbon (see notes)

1 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon, divided. I use Vietnamese Cinnamon.  

1 cup of sugar 

1 cup of water

pinch of salt

1 teaspoon of cornstarch mixed with 2 tablespoons of cold water (see notes)


Place the cranberries, sugar, water, salt, orange juice, orange zest, lime zest, half of the lime juice and one teaspoon of cinnamon in a pot and bring to a gentle boil over medium to medium-high heat. Cover and cook until the cranberries have popped and formed a sauce. Keep an eye on it. Stir and adjust the heat as needed. I helps to smush some of the berries with the back of your spoon.    

Turn off the heat and add the bourbon, away from the heat source. Be careful when adding alcohol to any hot sauce. Return the pot to the stove and bring to a boil to burn off the alcohol. Keep it on a gentle boil and stir in the cornstarch/water mixture. Let it cook for an additional 1-2 minutes. Stir in the rest of the lime juice and the 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon. Enjoy!  


More Holiday Recipes From Jilly:

Easy Cranberry Sauce Spiked with Chambord Raspberry Liqueur

Thai Sweet Potato Bisque w/ Coconut Milk, Warm Spices & Lime

Natural Vanilla Sugar ~ For Gift-Giving, Baking & Coffee


  1. suppose I don't want to cook off the alcohol... can I add it last and be sure to not bring to a boil?

    1. Hi Renee, yes, sure. But the alcohol will change the taste. If your guests are okay with the taste of alcohol in the sauce then I think it will be fine. It'll be more of a boozy cranberry sauce rather than the bourbon being a background flavor. Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. Would agave work as a substitute for sugar in this recipe?

    1. Hi Julie, Yes, I think agave will work. Not sure how much you'd need to add? Also, agave tends to produce more liquid in recipes. So, you may need to bump up the cornstarch and water solution to make it thicker. Raw sugar/ turbinado will also work in this recipe, if you're looking for a more natural sweetener. I used raw sugar this year. Happy Thanksgiving!