Beautifully bright red and a little tangy, this cranberry margarita packs a secret punch: homemade cranberry syrup infused with habanero pepper. Perfect for a cold Christmas, a fiery Valentine’s Day or just a fancy Friday drink after work.
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Ingredients and Substitutions for a Spicy Cranberry Margarita
Cranberry margaritas are a popular twist on the classic, usually prepared with unsweetened cranberry juice. For this version, though we’re going to skip the store-bought cranberry juice.
Instead, let’s take things up a notch by preparing our own fiery cranberry habanero drink syrup! It sounds and looks fancy, making it perfect for entertaining, but it’s actually surprisingly easy.
Here are the basic ingredients for any margarita and some substitutions to make it to your taste or budget:
- Tequila. Try going for a premium or at least mid-range tequila, as the taste will be loads better if you skip the bottom-shelf stuff. Check out the differences between the different kinds of tequila and mezcal.
- Orange liqueur. Popular more expensive brands are Cointreau and Gran Marnier. Less expensive popular types are Triple Sec and Gran Gala.
- Lime juice. I guess bottled would work in a pinch, but fresh is definitely going to enhance the flavor.
For the spicy cranberry margarita, you will need a spicy cranberry syrup. Check out the recipe below to make your own.
Aside from these ingredients, all you’ll need is a nice margarita glass, some salt for the rim and ice. Extra lime wedges and/or some cranberries would make a perfect garnish.
Homemade Cranberry Hot Pepper Syrup
I know it sounds like a bit of a hassle to make a drink syrup from scratch rather than just using cranberry juice for our cocktail, but it’s totally worth it. This detailed ”how-to” post on making your own drink syrups will help, but basically you only need four ingredients:
- Sugar. The base for any syrup! White yields the nicest syrup color.
- Cranberries. Fresh or just frozen, it doesn’t really matter.
- Habanero pepper. The amount you use depends on how fiery you like your spicy cocktails: one for medium, two for hot. I haven’t tried three, but if you’re a veteran spicy lover, go for it. If you’re worried, you can of course also use a milder pepper like serrano. Check a Scoville scale if you’re not sure about the spiciness of a pepper.
- Water. Just to dissolve the sugar in.
All we’ll do to make the syrup is heat the sugar and water together over medium-high heat until the sugar dissolves. Add the cranberries and habaneros, and simmer simmer for 10-20 minutes to pop the cranberries and infuse the syrup with spice.
That’s it: let the syrup cool, strain it and then you can use it in your cocktails.
What Else Can I Use Cranberry Habanero Syrup For?
Don’t worry about being stuck with a bottle of cranberry habanero drink syrup that’ll just sit in the fridge until it goes off.
This one doesn’t just work fantastically for a spicy cranberry margarita, but it’s also delicious with dry sparkly wines like prosecco or cava.
Or try it with a non-alcoholic Italian soda. This is a great drink syrup to get creative with.
More Great Drinks with Tequila
- Mexican Christmas punch (Ponche Navideño)
- Sangritas with a Tequila Flight
- Skinny Moscow Mule with Tequila
Recipe for Spicy Cranberry Margarita
Spicy cranberry margarita
- 1 small saucepan
- 1 mesh strainer
- 1 bottle or mason jar
- 4 margarita glasses or regular low tumblers
For the Syrup
- 12 Ounce cranberries fresh or frozen
- 1-2 habanero peppers Cut in half or quarters to expose the membrane and seeds
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup sugar white, granulated works well
For the Cocktail
- 6 oz premium tequila
- 3 oz lime juice fresh would be best
- 3 oz orange liqueur
- kosher salt
For the Spicy Cranberry Syrup
- To make your cranberry habanero drink syrup, start by cutting the habaneros in halves or quarters. If you want to remove some of the heat, take out the seeds and scrape the membrane out a bit. That’s where most of the heat is.Wear gloves to prevent spicy fingers that might be used to rub your eyes accidently.1-2 habanero peppers
- Add water and sugar to a saucepan and heat over medium-high until sugar is dissolved.1 cup water, 1 cup sugar
- Add in cranberries and the habanero pepper pieces. Turn down the heat and let the mixture simmer for 10-20 minutes or until cranberries have popped.Taste and decide if it is spicy enough for you. If you want it more spicy, turn off the heat and let the habaneros sit in the juice longer before straining.1-2 habanero peppers, 12 Ounce cranberries
- Let the mixture cool for a bit and then strain into your bottle or mason jar. Drink syrup done.
For the Cocktail
- Use some lime juice or a lime wedge to moisten the rim of the glasses and then dip glass rims into some kosher salt spread out on a plate.kosher salt
- Combine the tequila, 6 oz of the cranberry syrup, lime juice and orange liqueur in a shaker with ice. Shake rather vigorously for about 10 seconds.6 oz premium tequila, 3 oz lime juice, 3 oz orange liqueur
- Strain into ice-filled margarita glasses or tumblers. Garnish with lime or some cranberries on a cocktail stick. Drink responsibly & enjoy!
- Most of the heat of hot peppers is in the seeds and the inner membranes. If you want the flavor of the particular pepper, but not as much heat, remove the seeds and membranes before infusing.
- After straining the syrup, you could pick the habanero pieces from the cranberries and place them in the bottle or jar with the syrup. This way, they can continue to infuse and add more spice.
- Don’t throw away the cranberries. They make a great spicy jam or compôte! Maybe to accompany a cheese platter?
- The syrup will last for at least a month in the fridge. It can also be frozen just fine.
Wednesday 7th of December 2022
Just don’t know how you get enuf cranberry syrup if you only add 8OZ of water to the beginning of the recipe. The cranberries absorb a good deal of the cup of water and it is hard to “squeeze” out liquid from the strained cranberries. As a result I added another 10+ OZ of water to the mixture after cooking. The result was a fine tasting syrup, but when adding a couple ounces to the cocktail shaker, it was very weak and dominated by the fresh lime juice. But, I loved the leftover cranberry compote—sweet, spicy and flavorful jam. I’d love suggestions!!
Wednesday 7th of December 2022
Thanks for letting me know Peter. We make the syrup in large batches with a piece of Swedish equipment called a Meha Liusa that essential acts like a double boiler and collects the juice from the cranberries so it is pretty concentrated. It’s difficult to translate that down to a single bottle in the home kitchen. I’ll go back to the drawing board on that one.