I’m willing to bet that Thanksgiving is the day when Americans care more about food than any other holiday. On this day, even the most dedicated drinkers of Soylent crave grandma’s turkey and gravy, uncle Danny’s cornbread dressing or aunt Betty’s apple cobbler.
So why don’t we spend the same level of attention and effort on what we drink on the big day? Sure, you might find a nice bottle of Beaujolais on a few tables, but for some reason the drinking delights at Thanksgiving just don’t carry the same import as the edible ones.
From high-proof, high-priced bourbon to an obscure bitter liqueur from France to a tasty caffeinated cocktail, I asked top bartenders and drink experts to share what they’d be drinking this Thanksgiving.
HOLIDAY COCKTAIL LOUNGE & CHURCH BAR, NEW YORK & THE THREE CLUBS, LOS ANGELES
Coconut Irish Cream Liqueur: “Thanksgiving is an all-day holiday for me, and half of the fun is in the early parts of the preparation,” says bicoastal barman Michael Neff, who’s currently splitting his time between three great bars in Brooklyn, Manhattan’s East Village and the heart of Hollywood. Neff starts the morning’s cooking with a caffé correto, a shot of espresso “corrected” with a shot of a rich coconut Irish cream liqueur he makes himself. “I like the caffe corretto because I can sip on it in the early morning and not feel bad that it’s so delicious and I end up drinking it all day,” he says. Make a big batch of the liqueur and you can find all sorts of uses for it, from dessert cocktails to Christmas Eggnog.
Coconut Irish Cream Liqueur
• 6 oz. Tullamore Dew Irish whiskey
• 2 oz. Kalani Coconut Liqueur
• 2 oz. Ghirardelli Chocolate Syrup
• 1 Vanilla bean
• 1 (14-oz.) can Sweetened condensed milk
• 8 oz. Heavy cream
Add all the ingredients except the heavy cream to a blender and blend on high speed for 20 seconds. Add the heavy cream and blend on low until well combined, about 30 seconds. Bottle and store in the refrigerator. —Michael Neff
610 MAGNOLIA & MILKWOOD, LOUISVILLE
Angel’s Envy Bourbon ($47): Okay — Edward Lee isn’t technically a bartender. But the Brooklyn-born chef fell so in love with Kentucky and its signature booze—bourbon—that he moved to Louisville more than a decade ago, opening a pair of James Beard-nominated restaurants and building one of the world’s finest personal collections of American whiskey. So bourbon is an obvious choice, but the way Lee likes to enjoy it on Thanksgiving is rather unusual: A mug of roasted barley tea with a shot of bourbon, a teaspoon of maple syrup and a thin slice of raw ginger. “It’s not too alcoholic, so I can drink it all day long,” he says. “It’s warm and comforting and helps with digestion while I am tasting all the sides while they’re cooking.” Lee’s current brand of choice is Angel’s Envy, a Lousiville-made bourbon that’s finished in port barrels for an extra fruity finish.
Wolfberger Amer Fleur de Joie ($38 for 1 L): In high-profile gigs running the cocktail programs at two of Chicago’s most innovative bars, The Aviary and GreenRiver, Julia Momose has combined her passion for hospitality with her love of obscure spirits from around the world. “I am very much in love with amer at the moment,” she says, extolling the virtues of the French bitter liqueur, a cousin of Italian amaro. This particular bottling is a lovely version from Alsace, with lots of spice and citrus notes as well as intriguing hoppy notes, thanks to the inclusion of alcohol distilled from beer. It’s traditionally mixed into a tall glass of lager, but Momose says it’s great either before or after a big meal served neat or on the rocks, or in the Moon’s Age, a complex cocktail she created for GreenRiver. “This is a great digestive cocktail, and a reminder to give thanks for the bitterness in life,” she says. “May it always be in your glass!”
• 1.5 oz. Hibiki Harmony Japanese Whisky
• 1.5 oz. Wolfberger Amer Fleur de Joie
• .5 oz. Cocchi Vermouth di Torino
• .25 oz. Suze
• .25 oz. Fernet Branca
• Garnish: Lemon twist
• Glass: Rocks
Add all the ingredients to a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir, and strain into a rocks glass filled with a large ice cube. Garnish with a lemon twist. —Julia Momose
NICO, SAN FRANCISCO
Gourdito: To make a cocktail that pairs well with Thanksgiving dinner, maybe the best strategy is to use the same ingredients as Thanksgiving dinner. That’s the idea behind Maz Naba’s Gourdito, a Whiskey Sour variation that includes a lemon-butternut syrup made by running raw squash through a juicer. (Naba says one large gourd yields about a quart of juice.) Also a wine expert (Wine Enthusiast named him one of its 40 under 40 tastemakers this year), Naba runs a unique low-proof cocktail program at Nico that uses sake fortified with grain alcohol to create lower-octane “base spirits” that get around the restaurant’s beer-and-wine-only liquor license. You have a choice for the base spirit, Naba says: “Bourbon and rye both pair really well with the sweet gourd and squash flavors, and adding a hint of cinnamon spice gives it subtle complexity.”
• 1.5 oz. Bourbon or rye whiskey
• 1 Egg white (about 1 oz.)
• 1 oz. Squash-Lemon Syrup (see below)
• Glass: Wine
• Garnish: Nutmeg
Add all the ingredients to shaker and shake hard (without ice). Open the shaker, fill with ice, and shake again. Double-strain into a large wine glass filled with a large ice cube. Garnish with grated nutmeg.
• 12 oz. Water
• 1.5 cups Sugar
• 1 tsp. Grated cinnamon
• 16 oz. Butternut squash juice (run about half a peeled, seeded and chopped butternut through a juicer)
• 4 oz. Lemon juice
Add the water, sugar and cinnamon to a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves completely. Remove from the heat and stir in the butternut and lemon juices. Store in the refrigerator. —Maz Naba
SATURN, BIRMINGHAM, ALA.
Ardbeg Corryvreckan Single Malt Scotch Whisky ($90): When you have a bartender in the family, Thanksgiving drinking tends to be a bit more sophisticated. Eric Bennett—who’s run several of Birmingham’s top bars and is currently pulling shifts at music-venue-cum-craft-cocktail-bar Saturn while working on opening his own place—typically teams up with his dad to create the family Thanksgiving drinks. It starts with aperitif cocktails, moves into wine during the meal and includes a shot of fernet before dessert. But it’s after the meal that Bennett breaks out the really good stuff. “After all that’s said and done, and eaten, for the past few years, my dad and I have broken out new, weird, or interesting whiskies for the family to try,” he says. And Ardbeg’s Corryvreckan certainly fits all three categories. Named for a whirlpool near the remote Scottish island of Islay where Ardbeg is based, Corryvreckan is the distillery’s most intensely peaty whisky, with huge smoke and pepper notes over a background of burnt sugar and chocolate. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it is a great end to an epic meal. And, Bennett says, “watching drinkers new to the world of Scotch taste it is a memory I will never forget.”
THE BROKEN SHAKER, LOS ANGELES
Espresso Martini: Sometimes, it’s best to turn to a functional cocktail after the big meal. That’s the strategy of Christine Wiseman, who created high-volume craft-cocktail magic for LA’s high-energy Break Room 86, but just left to open the forthcoming L.A. edition of award-winning Miami and Chicago bar The Broken Shaker. “I love finishing off my Thanksgiving dinner with an Espresso Martini and my homemade pecan pie,” she says. “That way you don’t pass out right away and can still enjoy your time with family and friends.” Wiseman’s caffeinated recipe is simple but fancy, combining the high-end Absolut Elyx Vodka with a New Orleans-inspired coffee-and-chicory liqueur and a shot of espresso.
• 1.5 oz. Absolut Elyx Vodka
• .5 oz. Bittermens New Orleans Coffee Liqueur
• 1 shot Espresso
• 1 tsp. Simple syrup (1 part sugar, 1 part water)
• Glass: Martini
• Garnish: Espresso beans
Add all the ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake, and double-strain into a Martini glass. Garnish with 3 espresso beans. —Christine Wiseman
ARNAUD’S FRENCH 75 BAR, NEW ORLEANS
Parker’s Heritage Collection Bourbon ($250), Elijah Craig 23-Year-Old Single Barrel Bourbon ($200) or Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon ($100): Every fall, many of the big-name bourbon distilleries release special limited editions. These bottles can be especially long-aged, made using experimental techniques and ingredients or simply extremely tasty single-barrels, but they’re all highly sought-after, fairly expensive and typically disappear before the year is over. Which is why illustrious New Orleans bartender Chris Hannah, the force behind the French Quarter’s historic French 75 Bar for more than a decade, says to snag one if you can. “If you can find one, it’s worth enjoying after a big friends and family party, or just to stock your flask with as you get around town,” he says. The 2016 Parker’s Heritage is a rich 24-year-old bourbon, while the Elijah Craig (made at the same distillery) offers surprising fruit and spice for such an old whiskey. And the Four Roses Limited Edition is entirely different from the brand’s standard Small Batch: It’s a mix of three bourbons aged between 12 and 16 years and bottled at cask strength, with powerful notes of citrus, honey and mint.