Thanksgiving is almost here, which means holiday drinks season is in full swing! It’s always helpful to have some versatile booze and booze accessories on hand at all times this time of year, and to facilitate your ability to drink well throughout the season, here are a few ideas of things to buy now that’ll come in handy from Thanksgiving to New Year’s (plus one fun holiday gift you need to order ASAP).
Old Overholt Rye Whiskey ($17), La Quintinye Vermouth Royal Rouge ($22) and Regans’ Orange Bitters No. 6 ($6 for 5 oz.) If you’re looking for the ultimate all-purpose holiday/wintertime cocktail, the classic Manhattan is a great bet. It’s fantastic on the Thanksgiving table (really! Manhattans and turkey pair quite well), easy to make when you’re playing bartender at the office Christmas party or ideal just for sitting in front of the fire. I suggest you combine old and new for ingredients: Old Overholt is a reliably delicious (not to mention inexpensive) rye whiskey you’ll find in the well at most any decent bar, while La Quintinye is a tasty vermouth from France that’s newly imported as of this year. And though an aromatic bitters like Angostura is more traditional in a Manhattan, I like orange bitters in the winter, which gives the drink a bit of citrusy freshness. Two parts rye, one part vermouth and a few dashes of bitters; stir over ice and strain into a cocktail glass. That’s all there is to it. (You can garnish with an Amarena Fabbri cherry or two for an extra dose of luxury if you want.)
Bittermilk No. 7 Gingerbread Old Fashioned ($15) Based in Charleston, S.C., Bittermilk makes a variety of tasty mixers that are basically craft cocktails in a bottle: The complex and clever flavor combinations just require you to add booze. This year’s special holiday edition is a mix of earthy and sweet sorghum molasses with fresh ginger and orange peel, as well as gentian and chinchona bark for a bitter edge. The makers recommend mixing it with dark rum, but really any aged spirit from bourbon to cognac will work, resulting in a wonderfully holiday-flavored tipple.
Crown Royal Hand-Selected Barrel Canadian Whisky ($55) If you’ll be doing any sort of outdoor activity this holiday season, whether traipsing through the woods to cut down a Christmas tree, hitting the ski slopes or cheering from the stands at a football game, you should have a flask of something high-strength and warming close at hand. This whisky, the first-ever single-barrel from venerable Canadian distillery Crown Royal, comes in at a hefty 103-proof but has a gentle bite, with a bit of spice against a vanilla-and-oak background with a nice creamy mouthfeel. The classic Crown Royal is a blend of five different types of whisky, and Hand-Selected Barrel bottles only the most flavorful of those, made from a mashbill higher in rye content, one barrel at a time.
Fernet-Vallet ($25) Overeating and indigestion are as constant a part of the holiday season as Santa & Mrs. Claus at the mall. When you inevitably overindulge, a digestif can go a long way to making you feel better, so it’s a good idea to have a bottle on hand. While Fernet-Branca is probably the best-known spirit in the bitter-and-sweet fernet category, why not try something different? Made in Mexico since the 1860s, Vallet is a bit more earthy and woody compared to Branca’s minty, herbal bitterness.
Drinks by the Dram Advent Calendars ($127-$1,268) Get excited about each day of the holidays by rewarding yourself with an ounce of new booze every evening! These British creations will make any spirits-lover’s holiday. Each one includes 24 sample vials of spirits in a wide variety of categories, from vodka and tequila to cognac and Scotch—one for each day between December 1 and Christmas. (They’re available year-round, but you have to order before Thanksgiving for proper advent-calendar timing.) I’d recommend the gin edition, which includes at least a dozen brands not otherwise available in the U.S., or for the high rollers out there, the Old & Rare Whisky edition, which offers an array of spirits aged 30 years or more, including a 60-year-old Speyside malt that sells for more than $3000 a bottle. The only place to order one for U.S. shipping is at Master of Malt.
AND NOW, A WORD FROM SOME BARTENDERS