To most of us, winter cocktails mean something dark and warming. This time of year, tastes gravitate toward brown liquor and spirit-forward drinks — boozy concoctions that cut through even the bitterest of temperatures. These are all well and good, but they neglect one of the season's great treasures: citrus.
"This is the best time of the year for citrus, especially varietal citrus from California," explains Bob Maselli, senior buyer for Paragon Foods. "Meyer lemons, Cara Cara and blood oranges, clementines, Satsuma, Buddha's hands, tangelos and tangerines are at their best." Never seen a Satsuma cocktail? Because these unusual varieties are around for only a few short months (or even weeks), they tend to get bumped for readily available lemons and limes.
That's not to say you shouldn't experiment. "When working on a new recipe, I like to ask myself, ‘How is this unusual ingredient going to make my usual favorites taste?'" says Hannah Morris, of Tender Bar and Kitchen. Try adding some blood-orange juice to a margarita, for instance, or muddle kumquats into a classic smash.
In-season citrus adds more layers to a drink than bottled sour mix ever could, and the dozens of varieties can play many roles. Greta Dunn, of Meat and Potatoes, suggests using grapefruit juice to rescue a drink that's gone too sweet, or employing orange juice to smooth out lime's bitter edge. Her Sailor's Warning cocktail, which took home the top prize at last year's Pittsburgh Cocktail Week, combines orange and lime with mezcal, Yellow Chartreuse and crème de cassis.
Whether you grab exotic tangelos or everyday lemons, the most important thing is to start with fresh juice. All citrus juice will start to develop off-flavors after a day or so, so it's best to squeeze only what you'll drink right away.
So as temperatures dip into long-johns territory, put aside the Manhattans and head for the tropics — by way of the produce aisle.