By Richard Thomas
Last year, I took the traditional pairings approach to producing a Thanksgiving guide, and that approach is still a perfectly valid way to go about serving whiskey with your holiday feast. The thing there, though, is that such an approach is categorical, making recommendations for different stages of the feast: aperitif, pairing with the meal, dessert whiskey, and digestif.
A different approach is to pick a single, general purpose bottle for the entire meal. Two concepts govern this choice. First, don’t go smoky. Of the usual Thanksgiving fare, only smoked ham or a dish prepared with a generous helping of smoked bacon would go with a peaty Islay or a thickly barrel charred bourbon. Excepting these, the smoky current of flavor will clash with just about everything.
The second point is higher than normal alcohol content. Strong alcohol is known to help with digestion, and we all need that help after just one generous plate at Thanksgiving. However, unless you are serving dinner for your local whiskey enthusiasts club, it’s unlikely anyone else at the table will appreciate a potent, cask strength dram. So, the whiskey you choose must raise the alcohol content while retaining an approachable, easy drinking character.
With that in mind, we recommend one whiskey each from four categories: Bourbon, Rye, Irish Whiskey and single malt Scotch.
Wild Turkey 101 ($23, 50.5% ABV)
Seriously, how can you pass on putting a bottle of “The Bird” next to the big roast bird on the table? But there is more to it than that. This bourbon is high proof, yet easy drinking, and balances floral citrus and vanilla sweetness against cedar and a spoonful of spiciness. It is also the most budget-friendly option of our recommendations this year.
Teeling Irish Single Malt ($60, 46% ABV)
The flavor profile of the Teeling Single Malt is a real winner, offering a measure of complexity with its crisp and fruity, yet woody and dry aspects. It is also relatively high proof for Irish Whiskey, about as high as one can expect without turning to much stronger cask strength offerings.
Pikesville Straight Rye ($50, 55% ABV)
The Pikesville Straight Rye is the strongest whiskey recommended this year, but despite this the character of this whiskey remains almost deceptively easy drinking. This is the choice that will not only help you digest your meal, but might very well also guarantee you fall asleep on the couch too. The flavor is classic Kentucky rye, a sweet yet spicy combination of vanilla, cloves and honey underlaid by a current of cedar.
Old Pulteney Navigator Single Malt ($45, 46% ABV)
As with Irish Whiskey, 46% is the highest proof you can usually expect without reaching for a much stronger cask strength bottling. Based on ex-bourbon barrel and ex-sherry butt stock, this Scotch brings together malty, grassy sweetness with light, stone fruit sherry notes and a trace of earthy chocolate. Lacking so much as a trace of smoke, this Highland malt will blend in nicely with most Thanksgiving feast staples.