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Cranberry and Bourbon: Reinventing the Bardstown Sling

Bardstown Sling, photo © 2012 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.

It’s nearly Thanksgiving in the United States, and my wife commissioned me to invent a harvest-themed cocktail for our traditional family dinner. To guide my thoughts, she suggested a palette of autumn flavors that would complement her dinner: bourbon, cranberry, orange and maple. (It’s going to be a very good dinner…)

It’s a small gathering: my wife, my sister and her husband, and me. My bride is very sensitive to bitters and amari, and just plain doesn’t like sweet vermouth, so any normal recipe strategy is a non-starter from the get-go. To add richness to the puzzle, my brother-in-law doesn’t really like sweet drinks (neither do I), and my sister is a Negroni drinker, not naturally attracted to sours. So that’s interesting.

After some pleasant iterations, we set aside the maple, added some citrus interest, and ended up with two workable candidates for Thursday’s cocktail menu. It was fun to work out new recipes, and I was eager to name them and publish them here. I subscribe to the theory that there are no “new” new drinks, only variants of things already known, and these offspring should be named to reflect their heritage, the way race horses are named to suggest their lineage. I began my research to see whose family tree I was climbing. Hours of googling and page turning turned up nothing. That was exciting—I was sensing that my “new” new drink theory was crumbling to my advantage; original invention is a heady concept for a beginning cocktail designer.

Bardstown Sling, photo © 2010 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.

The Bardstown Sling

But no. Drat. Drat!

Just as I was about to end my search and declare myself Impossibly Brilliant, Eric Felten’s How’s Your Drink handed me a dose of humility in the form of:

The Bardstown Sling (Felten)

  • 1¾ oz bourbon
  • 1 oz triple sec
  • 1 oz cranberry juice cocktail
  • juice of ½ lime (or less, if too tart)

Shake with ice and strain into a rocks glass with ice. Garnish with a slice of orange and a wedge of lime.

According to Felten, the Bardstown Sling was the winner of the 2004 Kentucky Bourbon Festival’s Mixed Drink Challenge. (Alas! that he doesn’t give us the name of its maker.) I confess to a certain pride in independent invention of a drink that can garner competitive attention.

The version we came up with here at Cold Glass is slightly different in proportions, but otherwise so similar that it can’t even support a different name:

The Bardstown Sling (Cold Glass)

  • 1½ oz bourbon (McKenna, Buffalo Trace, Bulleit)
  • ¾ oz Cointreau
  • ½ oz straight cranberry juice (not cocktail)
  • ½ oz fresh lime juice

Shake with ice; strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with orange.

This version has a slightly larger proportion of bourbon (how could the Kentucky Bourbon Festival have missed that opportunity?), and uses straight cranberry juice to amp up the tart berry flavor and avoid some of the corn-syrup sweetness of “cranberry cocktail” products. That sweetness works in Cosmopolitans; it doesn’t work here.

Optionally, you can make a pleasant tall drink with this same recipe, a sort of “Bardstown Collins,” by serving in a tall glass over ice and topping up with soda.

Meanwhile, if you aren’t in the mood for a sour, you can use this same model, less the lime, for something you might call:

The Bardstown Old-Fashioned

  • 2 oz bourbon (McKenna)
  • ½–¾ oz Cointreau
  • ½–¾ oz straight cranberry juice (not cranberry cocktail)

Shake with ice; strain into a chilled rocks glass. Express with orange, rub the glass rim with the peel, and add into the drink. Ice cube optional.

I’ll grant that this plays fast and loose with the canonical Old-Fashioned. It follows the seam between Old-Fashioneds and Sours. But it works. And if you get proper cranberry juice, it’s an inspiring color of red.

So I didn’t exactly fulfill my “new cocktail” commission, but I did come up with something that the family will enjoy, and I had a lot of fun doing it.

And that is something to be thankful for.

14 Responses to “Cranberry and Bourbon: Reinventing the Bardstown Sling”

  1. The Sister

    And I, for one, cannot wait to sample each well-designed version of this harvest time drink. Looking forward to a fun day of good food and drink, thinking of family near and far, and giving thanks for all we have. Happy Thanksgiving! Your Sister

  2. Katia Clark

    Just found you online and this looked so inviting that I had to try it. Thank you. It’s delicious! I add 2 dashes of some homemade cranberry-anise bitters and whoa. Well done.

  3. davetrendler

    I’ve been looking for some great cranberry-bourbon recipes, so thanks for these ideas! Some R&D is obviously required.

  4. Ginny

    Triple sec works great! Just cut back on the lime, but don’t leave it out altogether because it adds an aftertaste of diminished tartness that is quite refreshing.


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