Guide To Pairing Whiskey With Your Holiday Feast
By Richard Thomas
Thanksgiving weekend is the second busiest travel window in America, with this year set to become the biggest ever with AAA estimating 46.9 million people hitting the roads and trudging through airports. If getting past that experience weren’t enough to make you want to put a bottle of bourbon on the Turkey Day dinner table, then perhaps recalling that American whiskey’s popularity has reached an all-time high will make you curious about ways to enjoy it rather than wine with your meal.
Many whiskey and food pairing experts agree that before dinner is an ideal time to serve up a tray of cocktails. One option is the very autumnal Fall #AF Punch devised by our own Julia Ritz Toffoli, founder of Women Who Whiskey. Champagne is frequently served as a greeting drink at events like Thanksgiving, and Toffoli’s recipe combines it with Canadian Club (Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving too, albeit on a different day) and plenty of fruitiness.
In a similar vein is the Red Lemon Branch, combining Elijah Craig with Campari, Champagne, lemon and a grapefruit twist. A concoction of Zak Walters, chef and co-owner of the critically acclaimed Salt’s Cure restaurant in Los Angeles, and his bar manager Daniel Zacharczuk, it brings similar virtues to an aperitif cocktail: a base of whiskey, bubbles, and lively fruit.
Turkey And Dressing
The classic core of Thanksgiving dinner is turkey with a side of bread stuffing. Some people go with ham to change things up a bit, vegetarians often make a roast tofurkey, and the gourmet-inclined might make something more chic, but there is a reason it’s called Turkey Day. Accordingly, if you really want to plunge into the spirit of pairing whiskey and food at Thanksgiving, try putting a tumbler with a couple of fingers of a good sipping whiskey next to your plate.
Chef Walters has two suggestions for what whiskey to serve and his first is Black Maple Hill Bourbon. Calling it “stiff and spicy,” he believes it offers a strong contrast to the standard Thanksgiving fare.
His second option is George Dickel No. 12, “because Thanksgiving can go one of two ways,” says Walters. “If you have just had a fantastic meal with fantastic friends and family, you will want to stamp the monument so to speak, and commemorate the time by ending on an equally high note. On the other hand, if you’ve had a tough night with the family, you’ll want to enjoy something to lighten the mood a bit, and this will do just that.”
For a sipping whiskey to pair with desserts like the traditional apple or pumpkin pie, a solid option is WhistlePig. Made from a 100% rye mashbill and bottled at a hefty 100 proof, the whiskey is what our in-house rye expert S.D. Peters called a “rye drinker’s rye,” and one that balances a vanilla and caramel sweetness more delicate than that found in bourbon against a robust spicy character.
If you want to go with cocktails instead, Walters and Zacharczuk suggest the Peach Betty, made with Rittenhouse Rye, Pierre Ferrand Ambre Cognac, ginger, lemon, Creme de Vigne Peche, cream, and a lemon twist. Walters is a fan of Rittenhouse Rye, so much so that it often makes an appearance on his family table during the Holidays. In this cocktail, says Walters, it offers a “creamy deliciousness and hint of baking flavor spiciness [that] is both new and familiar for the belly full of yams and green beans awaiting shortbread and pie.”
Turkey Day Digestif
Now you have a belly full of food, have loosened your belt a bit, and are looking for something to help you wash the feast down and just maybe help the tryptophan send you to naptime. For times like that, the stronger your whiskey, the better.
Alanna Taylor-Tobin, the blogger behind the popular Bojon Gourmet, prefers Stagg, Jr. bourbon in this role. “I’m a fan of Stagg Jr. for a digestif,” says Tobin, “since it’s overproof, and rich with round vanilla notes.” She isn’t kidding about the “overproof” part either. The version we wrote up at The Whiskey Reviewer weighed in at 134.4 proof. It’s a worthy kid brother to the popular and very hard to get George T. Stagg, and by far the strongest whiskey recommended here.