One of the easiest ways to add a boost of fruit flavor to your next cocktail is to use a little jam or preserves to make a jam cocktail. Running out of simple syrup or flavored syrups doesn’t have to be a tragedy in the house. Simply use some jam or preserves to add that kick of sweetness and a little extra flavor to your next cocktail. You can use anything from raspberry jam to strawberry preserves or even a fig butter. Even hot and spicy jellies can make a great addition to a cocktail.
It’s a new year, so let’s jam – cocktails that is.
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What is a Jam Cocktail?
Quite simply, a jam cocktail is one where the simple syrup or some of the sweet elements are replaced with jam, preserves, fruit butters or even jelly. For balance, almost every cocktail has a sweet element in it, whether that’s a simple syrup, a vermouth, a liqueur or a sweet garnish rim. Sugar, even in small amounts, enhances flavor. In a jam cocktail, we’re using the sugar from the jam or preserves to add sweetness and the fruit ingredients to add flavor.
Jam already has a little bit of tartness to it, and adding it to a sour is a magical combination. Most cocktails with jam in them are a form of a sour, whether it’s a boozy, fruity whiskey sour, a strong, tart gimlet, or a fruit-forward, tropical tiki sour. However, adding jam to a classic cocktail like the old fashioned transforms the cocktail into a much fruitier and layered cocktail than a simple dash of sugar syrup.
For sour cocktails, working with our basic sour ratio of 2 spirit: 1 sweet: 1 sour, we’ll need to cut back a bit on the sour element because of the inherent tartness in jams and preserves. In some cocktails we’ll use much less sour, especially in a homemade blackberry or raspberry jam with a nice bit of tartness to it. In others, with a sweeter jam like strawberry, we might be able to leave the ratio very close to its origin. This requires experimentation, but you get to drink the results, so all the more fun!
When you add jam in a non-sour cocktail to replace the simple syrup, the balance can be a little trickier to achieve. Take, for example, the old fashioned (because you know I’ve made old fashioneds with jam.) In the old fashioned, the jam adds both a sour and sweet element to the cocktail. But it also adds a bright, fruity flavor. In these cases, you might add an extra pinch of sugar or brown sugar (if needed) to get the sweet/spirit ratio just right. And pick a bitters flavor to complement the jam you’re using.
While some people will add a bit of club soda to a quick cocktail like this, I find it dilutes the flavors too quickly since you’re serving over ice. Just let it sit a minute and chill in the glass and it’ll be perfect.
Matching Flavors in a Jam Cocktail
In a sour, you want to match the flavors of your favorite jam with a complementary acid/sour and complementary spirit. You might choose apricot or fig if your sour element is lemon juice and you’re using an aged spirit. Or, you might experiment with strawberry or raspberry if you’re working with lime or a more herbal spirit like gin or the agave spirits.
However, old fashioneds and other spirit-forward cocktails are more straightforward when it comes to matching flavors. I love to take an old fashioned and match the predominant flavors in the bourbon with flavors in the jam. Sometimes I look to match them, and other times to contrast.
If I’m working with a whiskey or spirit with nutty notes and maybe some sorghum or molasses notes I match that with a jam whose flavors complement – fig or apple, perhaps. Often with a whiskey with stone fruit notes, I’ll complement it with another stone fruit jam like peach preserves or apricot jam. Alternatively, if I’m working with a spicy spirit, or something with peppery notes, I might head toward a pepper jelly or preserves to highlight that pepperiness in the cocktail.
And in cases where I’m using a whiskey base spirit, I love to find a great fruit bourbon jam to use for these kinds of cocktails.
What Spirit Should I Use?
While you can use jam in any cocktail with a sweet element, the kind of base spirit you use will largely depend on the sour elements and jam flavors, as mentioned above. My two favorite spirits to use in jam cocktails are whiskies and gin. Whiskies often have fruit flavors in them, and matching or contrasting the flavors of the spirit with the jam is an exercise in creativity and loads of fun.
Gin’s also a great choice because of its fragrant herbal and medicinal notes – they get tamed a bit by the sweetness of the jam in the cocktail. Gin sours like a gimlet or even a Tom Collins blend well through sharp citrus and gin’s own solid herbaceousness.
Rum cocktails, with dark rum, tiki and otherwise, deserve a place on this list as well. Aged spirits, in general, have the complexity to stand up to and blend with the other flavor elements in the cocktail. Rum goes exceedingly well with lime, so it opens up a great set of flavor options that will suit lime over lemon citrus pairings.
How to Make a Jam Cocktail
Jam cocktails can be simple and fast. For a sour, take 2 ounces of spirit, ½ to 1 oz of sour juice, and 1.5-2 tablespoons of jam or preserves, 2-3 dashes of bitters if needed. Put them in a shaking tin with plenty of ice cubes. Shake 10-12 seconds and strain into a chilled rocks glass with ice. That’s it. For more on the sour and what it is, head here.
If you’re serving it up in a fancy glass, you may want to double strain with a Hawthorne strainer and a fine mesh strainer. But if it’s just for you at home, a single strain will likely suffice.
For a spirit, forward cocktail, you’d take 2 oz of spirit, 1-1.5 tablespoons of jam or preserves, 2-3 dashes of bitters and put them in a shaking tin with ice. Again, shake for 10-12 seconds and strain into a chilled rocks glass with ice. Voila! Because we’re using jam, we do need to shake the cocktail, rather than stir it. Getting that jam incorporated into the cocktail takes a great, fast shake rather than a stir.
How to Batch Jam Cocktails
While a jam cocktail might seem like a great candidate for batching, because it’s usually being used with citrus and sour elements that you’ve just freshly juiced, there are some tricks to batching it.
For a sour-type batched jam cocktail, plan to consume the batch within a day. If you’re having a few people over, or even a crowd, a jam cocktail, ingredients thrown in a sealable glass pitcher and shaken vigorously and chilled a few hours before the party is a great option. Cocktails with fresh citrus in them turn bitter over time, and you’ve got about 24 hours before you’ll really start to notice the bitterness. If you have a sensitive palate, it might be even sooner.
To batch a sour jam cocktail, multiply ingredients except for the bitters by the number of servings and add about ½ oz of water per serving since you’re not going to shaking it over ice. For example:
Strawberry Gin Sour:
- 2 oz gin
- 1.5 tablespoons strawberry jam
- ¾ oz fresh lime juice
- 2 dashes bitters
Shake over ice 12 seconds and strain into a rocks glass over ice.
Becomes a batch for 8 or 9 with the following cocktail recipe:
Batched Strawberry Gin Sour:
- 2 cups gin
- ¾ cup strawberry jam
- ¾ cup fresh lime juice
- 8-12 dashes bitters, start with the lower amount
- ½ cup water
Combine ingredients in a sealable pitcher, shake very well and strain into a clean, resealable picture. Refrigerate for several hours until chilled, at least 4. Shake the pitcher well before every pour as the particles from the jam will likely settle.
Hacks for Jam Cocktail Recipes
Straining Jam Cocktails Is Not Fast
Often it will take you longer to strain or double strain your cocktail than it did to make it. Since fruit jams and preserves have so much pulp and fruit mass in them, they can block the liquid straining out of the cocktail shaker. Be patient. Get what you can.
Choose Your Jam First, Then Your Base Spirit
If you’re like me, you probably have a lot more base spirits than you have jams in your fridge. Choose a fruit jam first, then match your spirit to the jam flavor. Orange works with gin, whiskey or rum. Apple butter sings with both rum and whiskey. Peach jam works well with both whiskey and gin. Think about classic drinks with that flavor. Stone fruit and spices match more with whiskeys or aged spirits. Fresh, tarty berries often work well with gin because they can hold their own against the strong nose and flavors of gin. While you can use vodka, it can become flavorless in a drink with strong fruit and bitters. Go with an aged spirit or gin instead.
Strain or Double Strain, Don’t Open Pour
If you don’t like slightly cloudy drinks, double strain and serve over ice. Because I’m always taking pictures of my cocktails, I prefer my sours double strained so they aren’t cloudy, but if it doesn’t matter to you, or you’re serving over ice anyway, a single strain is enough to get the larger bits out of the cocktail.
Jelly Doesn’t Usually Work Out in Jam Cocktails
When I was working on a peanut butter and jelly cocktail, I wanted an easy way to get the taste of concord grape jelly into my cocktail. I tried using jelly many times. Sometimes I heated it up into a liquid. Sometimes I muddled it a bit. No matter what I did I was always left with tiny jelly bits at the bottom of my glass. I ended up using concord grape juice to make my simple syrup and the result was magical. Stick to jams, preserves, or fruit butters.
Choose Bitters To Go With Your Base Spirit and Jam
Add bitters that will match the flavors of the jam and tie it to the base spirit.Think about the common and complementary flavor components of your base spirit and your jam. Pick a bitters that matches well. I love using both nut and spice bitters in jam cocktails because the flavors go so well together in food. Not all jam cocktails will need bitters, so taste test and see if the cocktail needs something to tone down the sweetness or sourness. Bitters can do both.
And if you have favorite jam cookies or jam cake recipe, think about the flavors in both the batter and the jams that work together to create the flavors you love.
In this case, with the rye and raspberry, I chose the Crude Bitters “Bitterless Marriage” with hibiscus, lavender and oak.
Now Go Make Jam Cocktails
So, now you’ve got the basics of how to create, make and batch simple jam cocktails, it’s time to go out and create. Jam cocktails taste good even when they produce unexpected results. And they’re also a great way to play with unusual flavor combinations if you find an expected jam or jelly out at a farmer’s market and wonder what to make with it.
Other Cocktails You Might Enjoy
Recommended Bar Tools
You don’t need every slick, beautiful bar tool out there, but there are several I’ll recommend. (As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. However, that does not affect the cost of the items below.) My favorite pieces:
You probably already have these, but you may need them, too:
Jam Cocktail Sour-Style Recipe Template
- 2 oz base spirit I used rye whiskey
- 1.5 tablespoons jam or preserves I used raspberry
- ¾ oz lemon juice
- 2 dashes of Crude Bitterless Marriage (hibiscus, lavender, oak flavors) hibiscus, lavender, oak flavors
- Garnish: lemon twist
- Combine base spirit, jam, lemon juice and bitters in a cocktail shaker and fill with ice. Shake for 10-12 seconds, double strain into a chilled rocks glass and garnish with a lemon twist or lemon wheel.