October is cranberry harvest season, and the tart little red berry is feted with festivals, bog tours and bonfires, on Cape Cod especially, one of America’s unofficial cranberry capitals. But the cranberry is a year-round rockstar in the Cape Codder, the signature sip of Massachusetts (and your favorite bar back in college, where you probably just called it a “vodka cranberry”).
If you’re from outside of New England, you probably didn’t even know the two-ingredient drink had a proper name, but people in Massachusetts’ favorite summertime destination have been ordering what’s locally known as a “Cape Codder” for decades.
The history of the iconic cocktail can be traced to Ocean Spray. “According to our archives, we first marketed cranberry juice, vodka and lime as a cocktail called the Red Devil in the 1940s,” says Kellyanne Dignan, spokeswoman for Ocean Spray Cranberries, an agricultural cooperative based in Lakeville, Massachusetts with more than 700 member growers.”
The Cape Codder is especially popular in Cape bars and taverns, where locals and tourists come to the Cape with a “When in Rome” mentality. Still, it’s rare to find the eponymous cocktail listed on a drink menu on The Cape. Red’s Bar in Falmouth, named for legendary Celtics coach Arnold “Red” Auerbach, is one of the few local bars that actually lists the drink on its menu. “The name is really what drives the order – relaxing at Cape Cod and ordering a Cape Codder,” says bar supervisor Owen Joseph.
Regardless of what you call it, the Cape Codder earned its place as one of America’s most popular well drinks at a time when the country’s collective taste buds were in favor of sweet drinks that lacked any real flavor of booze. But as our taste in drinks has grown up with the craft cocktail movement, so have local mixologists’ takes on the classic drink.
Throughout The Cape, it’s becoming increasingly common to find muddled cranberries and/or whole berries floating as a bog-like garnish. At Ocean Edge, the signature sip is the Cranberry Mojito – made with cranberry vodka, mint, simple syrup, fresh, locally-sourced cranberries and a spritz of soda or Sprite.
Truro Vineyards in Truro is a cool spot for a fresh cranberry cocktail. The vineyard is also home to South Hollow Spirits distillery and The Hollow bar, where you can order a Cranberry Wine Sangria, made with the vineyard’s Cranberry Red Wine, which is blended with fresh Cape Cod cranberries and also features the distillery’s Twenty Boat Spiced Rum.
One of the most popular cocktails at The West End in Hyannis is the Cinnamon Maple Cape Codder, created with locally-sourced ingredients, including Osterville Vodka (Osterville is a local Cape town), cold-pressed fresh cranberry juice from The Local Juice in Hyannis, Vermont maple syrup infused with cinnamon, fresh-squeezed lime juice and a bruleed orange wedge garnish.
In a Manhattan-meets-Mass mashup, Mooncussers Tavern, a “wine, martini, tapas” restaurant and bar in Harwich serves a Cape Cod Cosmo, the “most popular martini on the list,” says bartender and general manager Damien Wiseman. The pour is made with a local Cape Cod Vodka (made in Sandwich on the Cape), as well as Ocean Spray cranberry juice, Triple Sec and Rose’s Lime.
Of course, if you prefer a Cape Codder of the original two-ingredient variety, there are no shortage of bars happy to fulfill your request. Just don’t call it a vodka cranberry.