From the annual onslaught of cranberry sauce–laden suggestions to lists of the best wines for the season to our own recommendation to batch big and drink small, there is no shortage of guidance on what to drink for the holidays. But more than any single bottle or cocktail recipe, the key to preparing drinks for a successful night of entertaining is planning ahead. This year, as a road map, we’ve compiled what the Punch team and contributors will be turning to before, during and after dinner. While the time-tested formula of aperitivo, wine and digestivo is classic for a reason, no two celebrations are alike, so read on for what we’ll be toasting with for some inspiration for your upcoming holiday party.
“A good pre-dinner drink feels celebratory as you gather with friends to properly kick off the evening,” says Hugging the Bar founder Courtney Iseman. “Bonus points if it’s nice and dry and doesn’t fill you up before the feasting begins.” Effervescence is a common theme: Iseman herself will be drinking an extra-dry prosecco like Sorelle Bronca, while Eater correspondent Jaya Saxena will be turning to “the cold-weather cousin to the Aperol Spritz,” Port & Tonic. (Hacking Whiskey author Aaron Goldfarb notes, too, that Thanksgiving this year is Day 5 of the World Cup, and the highball is a nice nod to the Portugal vs. Ghana game.)
As we enter the colder months, some are turning to the strong-and-stirred format for pre-dinner drinking. “Pulling together a meal in my parents’ antiquated kitchen calls for something stronger,” says Punch contributor Laurel Miller. “This year, it will be a pre-dinner caffè aperitivo made with cold brew, a slug of Amaro dell’Etna and a splash of Topo Chico—I live in Texas, it’s required—and an orange twist, on the rocks.” Al Culliton, founder of Al’s Cocktail Club, will be serving their Improved Whiskey Cocktail, dubbed Michaelmas Term (an ode to fall semester in England), while Punch senior editor Chloe Frechette is turning to Eeyore’s Requiem, a moodier Negroni that can easily be scaled up for a crowd.
Key to pairing with a holiday meal is combatting, or cutting through, the flavors of all the rich foods. For Miller, a Boulevardier spiked with homemade ginger syrup provides the requisite spice to stand up to a feast, a sentiment echoed by Punch social media editor Irina Groushevaia, whose family of Moscow natives turns to Moscow Mules made with Beluga vodka each year. For Iseman, meanwhile, a G&T "with an especially aromatic gin" does the trick.
Wines that can cut through the lush meal are also appreciated here, including “lots of sparkling reds,” for Culliton; the savory, cherry profile of Las Jaras’ Sweet Berry Wine, for Saxena; and the minerally Cati Ribot Son Llebre Negre, for Punch associate editor Mary Anne Porto, one of the best wines to drink right now.
The post-dinner game plan can go one of three directions, according to those surveyed. Some find it the opportunity for a dessert drink; Iseman turns to Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout varietals. “This year, there’s a Biscotti Stout that’s chocolate-covered marzipan, anise and cookies dipped in coffee rolled into one,” she says.
Others take it as the final opportunity of the night to surprise and delight guests. “I have made this Polish spiced honey liqueur for many holidays and it always both pleases and intimidates,” says Saxena. “A shot is enough to keep your guests warm on the way home.” Porto, on the other hand, plans to go for easy flair, with the low-proof nightcap the San Francisco Treat. “With its equal-parts formula, it’s easy to commit to memory, and, if you’re trying to impress the dinner table, it can be garnished with a flamed orange twist.”
Finally, the digestivo hour is a chance to decompress and recuperate from a long night of hosting and family. “At about the same time that the pants buttons come undone and we look to start crawling to our beds in a very bearlike post-hyperphagia hibernation, we break out the cozy drinks, like a Livorno Punch or One Hot Ginger for a final cheers,” says Punch visual producer Liina Paavonpera. Goldfarb, meanwhile, takes a different tack to the same end. “After dinner, I will sit in silence and drink some extremely expensive brown liquor and then post it on Instagram, showing everyone that today I’m having the time of my life.”