How Our Favorite Drinkers Do Thanksgiving

From cranberry-spiked Whiskey Sours to liqueurs of all types, a few of our favorite people share their Thanksgiving drinking traditions.

After this kind of year, it sometimes feels harder to recall those things we have to be thankful for. But then, someone drops a bottle of sherry on our desks, and our memories are refreshed: There’s booze. Pink pét-nat; Spanish cider; all the amari. New Orleans, in general. And, of course, the smart drinkers we get to hang out with every day because of all of that. We rounded up a few of them to tell us what they’re planning to throw back this Thanksgiving.

As the annus horriblis of 2016 comes to a close (R.I.P Prince, Bowie, Phife Dawg, Leonard Cohen, the experiment formerly known as American democracy), I’m struggling to feel particularly festive or thankful this holiday season. On the other hand, this makes drinking all the more necessary. Over the course of the year, I tend to amass bottles of the world’s iconic, if somewhat unfashionable, sweet wines (i.e., Port, sauternes, tokaji), which I never seem to find the right occasion to drink. As these wines naturally lend themselves to large gatherings, the holidays offer the perfect excuse. Plus, it’s never a bad idea to have a bottle of old Madeira on the table, for instance, when it’s time for pumpkin pie.

EBEN FREEMAN | Beverage Director, AvroKO
My father’s two favorite things this time of the year are Whiskey Sours and cranberry sauce. (He makes his own sauce, and a dish of it can be found in his refrigerator for the next two months.) I have combined both of those loves in a Cranberry Sour. And if you are expecting a crowd for the holidays, larger format is the way to go; a punch, like this Cornucopia Punch, will keep everyone happy while you are stuck in the kitchen.

I’m a goofball at heart, so claiming I’d rather drink the turkey than eat it still makes me laugh. I’ll usually have Wild Turkey in hand by the afternoon—their flagship 101 on ice if I’m really getting after it; or something pricier, like Russell’s Reserve 1998, if the familial esprit de corps is riding high and I want to impress. Earlier in the day will be all about beer, however. This year I’ll be relaxing with a lot of Hardywood’s Gingerbread Stout, a seasonal offering which tastes just as it sounds (it’s made with fresh ginger and local honey). I’ll usually opt for wine during the meal, though rarely one of my choosing, because they never let the guy who’s been drinking all day pick the wine.

LANCE WINTERS | Master Distiller, St. George Spirits
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays: I have license to be in the kitchen all day, which I love. Sipping Bruto and soda while cooking will not only satisfy and refresh, it’s light enough to ensure that dinner will get to the table when it should. When we sit down to eat, we’ll toast with Billecart rosé. It’s what Ellie and I poured at our wedding and really helps tie together the concept of thankfulness for us. Throughout the rest of the meal, we’ll pass around a few different pinots. For the grand finale, I’m Team Pecan all the way. A monster slice with a glass of our cinnamon- and clove-spiked Spiced Pear Liqueur is where it’s at for me. And the morning after? Black coffee with whipped cream.

JON BONNÉ | Senior Contributing Editor, PUNCH
This year I’m defying the default freakout position on Thanksgiving (the Thanksgiving-wine column is the Bieber of wine writing) and going back to my default: gamay noir. But not the usual gamay stance, which is a well-aged magnum of cru Beaujolais and maybe a bit of the American stuff. And dear God, not nouveau. This year, I advocate gamay in pink, fizzy form—tbh, any fizzy pink wine will do. A bit of sugar? No problem. Thanksgiving was built for sweet teeth. Also: brown liquor, which is my other Thanksgiving tradition. Since we’ve started celebrating in Paris each year, the 2016 edition will be fueled by a bottle of Michel Couvreur rather than bourbon, although some Domaine des Hautes Glaces would also work. And Chartreuse after, to burn a hole through that meal.

JEFF “BEACHBUM” BERRY | Owner, Latitude 29
My go-to Thanksgiving drink this year is the new Hamilton Pimento Dram. Unlike other pimento (allspice) liqueurs on the current market, it’s super-aromatic and light-bodied, so you can drink it neat before or after dinner. With its wintry spice bouquet of nutmeg, clove and cinnamon, it’s basically the holiday season in a glass.

DAN PUCCI | Cider Director, Wassail
We have all made the mistake of bringing something too precious, boozy and rare to a holiday meal that ends empty before the dinner is even ready. I want something that can keep up from the moment the family walks in the door and still be there after the post-feasting nap. Cider fits the bill: low ABV, delicate tannins and cleansing acidity. It never gives up. My holiday cider picks:

  • Eve’s Cidery Autumn’s Gold 2015: My favorite vintage to date from the cider masters of the southern Finger Lakes. This cider has all of the brilliant acidity, accompanied by a ton of savory and animalistic aromas and texture.
  • Tilted Shed Lost Orchard 2014: This is a truly unique cider, coming from an orchard of cider varieties planted in the 1980s in Russian River Valley. Earthy, savory, rich and full, while maintaining the fruit at its core.
  • EZ Orchards Cidre 2012: This Oregon cidre is one of the few “French-style” ciders made in the USA; it’s naturally sweet and sparkling while capturing a ton of tertiary aromas and flavors.

JUSTIN VANN | Head Sommelier, Public Services
For a classic option, go with cru Beaujolais, like Nicole Chanrion Côte-de-Brouilly, Lapierre Morgon, Dutraive Fleurie, etc. For zany options, try lambrusco (like Vigneto Saetti red or rosé) or some unfiltered pét-nat rosé (Mosse Moussamoussettes or Broc cab franc).

I also know I’m one of the millions of Americans dreading the possibility of discussing politics with their family (regardless of who they voted for). I’d reach for cask-strength brandy as a delicious coping mechanism: The new release of Gourry de Chadeville cognac aged in a St. Emilion Bordeaux barrel and bottled at 55-percent ABV should work perfectly.

BIANCA MIRAGLIA | Founder, Uncouth Vermouth
A few of my favorites: Andi Knauss Zero Riesling Sekt. This bubbly comes from a single vineyard on steep sandstone slopes outside of Stuttgart in a region known as Swabia. This is the perfect sparkling wine and is more complex than half the Champagne you can find for double the price. And David Ramnoux Fins Bois Pineau des Charentes: Made from fruit grown on a biodynamic estate in the Fins Bois (Cognac appellation), this is a four-year-old blend of ugni, colombard and semillon. It’s aged on the lees, and the casks are never racked from lees, so they build up in layers. This for a super mouthfeel and an absolutely zingy acidity.

ABIGAIL GULLO | Head Bartender, Compère Lapin
Thanksgiving day in New Orleans is opening day at the racetrack, [which is] sort of like Derby Day, with much more New Orleans flair. The perfect thing to serve on the way to the track are Daiquiris to go.  [Or] a Cajun Coquito. This Caribbean island eggnog with coconut milk and Old New Orleans Cajun Spice rum honors our kitchen and my history of living in a Dominican neighborhood in NYC. We [also] have Cafe Du Horchata: homemade horchata with rice, almonds and pecans with cinnamon, rum, Cathead Pecan Vodka and our cold-brew coffee.  It can be mixed with the Cajun Coquito [for a] Turkey Day spice delight. I’ll be bringing milk bottles of these to the track, for sure.

WHITNEY ADAMS | Wine Writer, Whitney A.
Thanksgiving is my favorite eating and drinking holiday, and I like a veritable cornucopia of wines at my disposal for the all-day turkey affair. Whether I’m hosting or rolling up to someone else’s shindig, I usually come with a full mixed case of wine. I need options. There are certain things I always have in the case: riesling, gamay, pink pét-nat, a textural orange wine, a hearty Italian red, tart cider and some super dry bubbles. All that wine is just one more thing to be thankful for.

GREG BEST | Co-Owner, Ticonderoga Club
Here is my go-to run of show:

11 a.m. – 2ish: Gin Bloody Marys and/or Champagne. The former for those of us who “prepped” a little hard the night before; the latter for the more civilized.

2ish – 4ish: Fino and amontillado sherry. So begins the whetting of the appetites and the accompaniment to a variety of hors d’oeuvres.

5pm – ?: Along with the progressive courses of dinner (usually between seven and ten), we see a sizable cache (assembled by at least five wine/beer/bar geeks) of wines, Old World-style ciders and delicious beers to pair. Usually, both the food and beverage develop in richness and weight the further through the meal we go. Last year topped out at 39 bottles…

Clean-up is always accompanied by Fernet and glasses of cold sparkling water.

After dinner: Cigars, pipes and brandy. Lots of brandy. Armagnac, Cognac, un-aged grape brandy and sometimes a spot of rum and vintage Madeira. If we do cocktails, it is most likely in the form of Stingers.

Then, we sleep the sleep of the thankful.

Interviews have been edited and condensed.