I recently started reading Garrett Oliver’s The Brewmaster’s Table, and it’s transformed the way I look at beer and they way I think about eating and drinking. Oliver is the brewmaster at the Brooklyn Brewery and a highly regarded authority on the beers of the world in general. In this book, he explains the history of beer, how it’s made, by whom, where, and why. And he advances the notion that perhaps beer can be a more versatile–and less expensive–beverage to pair food with than wine.
This got me thinking. What will my family do for Thanksgiving? Should I push a French Bière de Garde instead of our usual dry Riesling? Cider? Mead? What sort of cocktails will I make? Old Fashioneds and Jack Roses?
I decided to poll some of my contacts in the spirits industry to see what they were drinking (and eating) for the holiday. None of them are overthinking it, focusing more on the enjoyment of family, friends, and good food and drink. Here are ten dinner plans and a few recipes from a wide assortment of folks.
Distiller and Brand Ambassador, Hudson Whiskey, Gardiner, NY
2 parts Hudson Four Grain
1 part half-and-half
3/4 part vanilla extract
1 part simple syrup
Mix all contents and garnish with a cinnamon stick.
I’ll be drinking Hudson Rye whiskey before dinner, a great local hard cider called Kettleborough with dinner, and Hudson Milk Punch with dessert, served hot. Mmmmm.
Head Bartender, Marvel Bar, Minneapolis, Minn.
My parents don’t drink much, so I might have a glass of wine with dinner but no real drinking traditions to speak of during the holidays.
But I usually find a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle has found its way into my backpack after they go to bed…
Master Distiller, Four Roses, Lawrenceburg, Ken.
I’ll probably have a Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon (neat) prior to dinner. During the meal we’ll have a red and a white wine available.
After dinner another Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon (or two) with an ice cube, while relaxing and enjoy traditional football games on TV.
Writer and Spirits Editor, Wine Enthusiast, New York
Thanksgivukkah is at my house this year. In addition to the turkey, my mom is making latkes. Most of my extended family doesn’t drink alcohol, so it’s going to be sparkling grape juice at the table. But I fully intend to sneak a few slugs of Armagnac in the kitchen while I cook! I’ve been sipping at a bottle of Delord 25-year-old Armagnac, which was given to me as a gift. There are some great value-priced Armagnacs out there—you can get great quality for a lot less than you pay for comparable Cognac. And it’s a lovely digestif.
For fine dining, a skillful pairing adds to the overall experience. That’s why I love restaurants—a great wine selection can really elevate a meal. At home, I tend to stick with an aperitif before dinner rather than attempting to pair. Besides, I like to give full attention to my drink. Lately, any Negroni variation. I’ve been playing with equal parts Meletti Amaro, gin, and sweet vermouth and really enjoying it.
Kara Newman’s photo by Daryl-Ann Saunders.
West Coast Brand Ambassador, Suntory Whisky, San Francisco
Since my wife and I have been together, we have come to realize that our version of Thanksgiving has very little to do the meal at the table and much more about the time in the kitchen. We are lucky to have a fairly big one (which is the way I grew up as well) and we literally spend all day in it together and usually with friends and some family. There is a significant amount of nibbling and drinking going during this day-long session so that by the time we get the bird carved and on the table, we are usually close to being wiped out and are definitely not starved.
So, pretty anti-climatic really. At least until dessert. My wife is a pastry cook and our pie situation is completely over-the-top. The one obligatory, yet completely true, Japanese Whisky plug comes here. She is very free wheeling with Yamazaki 18 as an addition to her caramel and fruit sauces. Especially when raisins or dried cranberries are getting some play. I believe I heard something about poached quinces and cheesecake this year and I am fairly confident she will be asking for a bottle on Wednesday night when the poaching finishes.
There are very few rules or musts for us on the drinking front. On the bar next to all my sample bottles right now are:
1. A bottle of Louis Royer Force 53 Cognac (B & B’s in the works!)
2. St. George Aqua Perfecta Pear eau de vie
3. Four bottles of Sutton Cellars hard cider (this is probably where I am going to spend most of my time)
4. Two bottles of La Gitana Manzanilla
5. A bunch of Pinot Noir I don’t recognize
6. Two bottles of dry Hungarian Tokai (more on this later)
7. A very small pinch of Yamazaki 25 left over from a dinner at Michael Mina a few weeks ago (this is just going to evaporate if we don’t drink it…right?)
I suspect there will be a beer run around noon when we realize we need lower alcohol if we are going to make to sunset. There is only one rule and it is big one for me: the Hungarian wine I listed above. The full name of the grape in Magyar (I think anyway) is
Tokaji Furmint and the style is sec, or dry. I have only ever had one producer (Királyudvar) so I don’t know how typical or representative my idea of this wine actually is, but with turkey and herb gravy it is just a total rock star. I will have two glasses going at the table. Pinot for all the accoutrement and the Tokai just for the turkey. I doubt that any of our guests have ever been as passionate about this as I am and I don’t evangelize it too loudly anymore, I just love it.
The whisky we save to the end until the dishes are at least organized and the boxes for leftovers are made up and good to go. My wife usually has some chocolates and toffees to sort of ‘fill in the corners’ while we sit on the couch and cajole the each other into taking the dog out for one last walk.
Now, I know this whole thing may not sound like what you would expect from a guy who makes his living working with Japanese Whisky. Where are the highballs and ice spheres made from water smuggled from Shinto temples? However, the way I look at this scenario, the whisky holds the same role that it first held historically. It isn’t some trophy or culinary achievement. It isn’t a party promoter or social lubricant. It is medicine, pure and simple. Digestif and ameliorative to an abused and over-worked stomach. Fortunately, my profession allows me access to some delicious medicine.
Co-Founder, New York Distilling Co., Brooklyn, NY
We’re having turkey with oyster stuffing, grilled and smoked duck, and pan-roasted rabbit.
For drinks, we’ll have Syrah from Figge Cellars in California and punch with Chief Gowanus New-Netherland Gin:
1-750ml bottle of Chief Gowanus New-Netherland Gin
4 lemons, peeled and juiced (avoid the pith)
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup fresh lemon juice
4oz Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
24oz chilled club soda
In a punch bowl, muddle the lemon peels with the sugar and let stand for 30 minutes. Add fresh lemon juice and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Add Chief Gowanus, Maraschino Liqueur and stir. Add 2-3 large blocks of ice and then add chilled club soda. Serve in punch or juice glasses.
Co-Owner, Bachelor Farmer and Marvel Bar, Minneapolis, Minn.
My wife and I are hosting Thanksgiving lunch in Minneapolis for both of our families. Very classic spread: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, green beans, cranberry sauce, apple pie, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, vanilla ice cream. Oh, and Pillsbury crescent rolls, which are a family tradition.
We have a few non-drinkers in our families, plus little kids, so there’s always Martinelli’s sparkling apple cider. And then we’ll probably start with Champagne when folks arrive. With the food, the wines need to be versatile, so a dry Riesling and then probably a fuller-bodied Burgundy for the red. For after lunch, our bartenders at Marvel have recently introduced me to High West Campfire Whiskey, and it’s all I’ve been drinking lately. So I’m going to make Old Fashioneds with that. It tastes like the holidays in Minnesota to me.
This is a meal where pairings take a backseat to family and conversation and trying to keep stress low, so I just want to serve things that I like and that will make people happy. No one wants to hear about how I selected the wine at Thanksgiving lunch; I’d probably get booed by my own family!
Principal of an Agency Representing Spirits Brands, The Baddish Group, New York
I am usually in charge of the cocktails. This year I want to use a spiced pear juice that I found so it will either have Four Roses Bourbon or Templeton Rye as a base.
As far as food pairings in general go, I don’t have a white-wine-with-fish attitude so it’s wide open for me. There are some classics though that I wouldn’t change—like oysters with a pinot gris or lamb with a bold red from Australia.
Co-Founder, Easy & Oskey Bitters, Minneapolis, Minn.
My family enjoys the classics: turkey, dressing, potatoes, etc… lotsa brown-looking food. I’m responsible for the turkey, which I’ve been doing in a braise/roast method with great results the past few years. The bird rests on a huge pile of chopped vegetables and white wine in a roasting pan, so that the legs are partially submerged (braise) and the top portion of the bird is exposed (roast). Side benefit is that the legs braising in the wine/veg essentially make a stock. Which of course I use in the following night’s turkey risotto (just like the Pilgrims used to make).
You know what another killer Friday dish is? Thanksgiving-cakes. Think crab cake, except with turkey, dressing, potato, veg, etc. Throw a little egg in there to bind it, coat it with panko breadcrumbs, crisp them up in butter, make a white wine pan sauce with a little dijon…Yes, please.
We’ll be drinking wine. My dad likes red, my mom and sister like white, and I enjoy both. White is definitely an easier “match” with traditional Thanksgiving food stuffs, but I enjoy drinking a bottle of red with my dad. So, I do. Plus I don’t believe in obsessing about “pairing” every morsel of food you eat to a beverage. Drink what you like with people that you like, and you’re doing it right.
Founder, Gamle Ode Aquavit, Minneapolis, Minn.
I’ve been blessed to still have my mom around to host Thanksgiving and she is still in the home I grew up in. As many of the family as possible—my three sisters and their husbands and all our grown children/grandchildren—gather for as much of the four-day weekend as we can. The food is usually classic Thanksgiving fare: the biggest turkey my mom could find, stuffing both inside the bird and in a separate container, both sweet potatoes and baked/mashed potatoes, green beans usually in a mushroom cream sauce and slivered almonds, cranberry sauce usually from the can, a fruit salad made from sliced grapes, diced apples, banana slices, and whipped cream (I’m trying to recall it all by picturing the craziness in the kitchen), dinner rolls, and I can’t leave out a selection of jellos–green lime with pineapples or pears, orange with mandarin oranges, red berry with raspberries. Then finish the meal with pumpkin and apple pies.
Drinking is evolving now. When I was a small child and my grandparents were still around, these holiday get-togethers would be one of the rare days when we could drink soda pop. My grandpa would buy assorted flavored sodas—root beer, cream soda, strawberry, lemon-lime. Mainly we were good milk drinkers. And the parents would be drinking Old Style beer and drinking Manhattans or Old Fashioneds. Now in the past couple years we have my aquavits, but also some wines are popular with ladies and beers with the guys.
Brand Ambassador, Reyka Vodka, New York
My typical Thanksgiving routine usually involves bouncing around to the houses of my friends who are chefs. My most memorable recent experience was spending a Thanksgivng with the chefs from Jose Andres’s restaurant Jaleo. Each of the chefs prepared a dish and one was a Spanish version of tur-duck-in: chicken wrapped in Iberico de Bellota (pork from the famous black footed pigs who are fed a diet of only acorns) wrapped in duck. I still dream of that dish. Regardless, wherever I do go I know that food will be taken care of.
The holidays are all about sharing so I’ll be making a punch. Warm punches are great around the holidays but since the hosts at my Thanksgiving events are always in a hot kitchen for the majority of the day I typically make a chilled punch, including ingredients that are traditional for the wintertime. This year I’m going to be making one of my favorites, the Spiced Haymaker Punch: Reyka Vodka, Raspberry Gum Syrup, Lemon Juice, English Breakfast Tea (chilled), Cinnamon, and Nutmeg. The Reyka works perfectly here as it has a full-body and gentle spice on the palate, which really pairs well with the supporting ingredients.