By Richard Thomas
Turkey Day is less than two week away, and any proper whisk(e)y enthusiast intent on setting a proper table ought to be turning their attention to what libations to furnish for their guests. This year’s slate of suggestions for a bottle or two to put out for the feast covers four stages of the big meal, offering two suggestions each with a special eye cast to new releases from this year.
A bottle trotted out before dinner should balance the plain fact that this is the only time during the course of Thanksgiving Day’s events where folks are likely to have a clean palate with the need to socialize or otherwise be distracted by football (or perhaps cooking!). Whiskeys here should be good, but not necessarily top shelf or high proof.
Old Forester Statesman: Released this summer as a tie-in for the Kingsman sequel, this Bourbon is a permanent extension of the Old Forester line, not the limited edition one might expect. Averaging about five years old, the stock for this expression was pulled from the warmer, upper tiers of the warehouse, creating a very barrel-forward whiskey. Consequently, it smacks of a spicy vanilla pudding, and is surprisingly full-bodied for a Bourbon bottled at 95 proof.
Bowmore 15 Year Old: This single malt is one of the best value buys coming out of Islay, and certainly the best from Bowmore. Predominately smoky and earthy, a little spicy and just a smidge Sherried, it’s a lovely pour that might just make people think you served up something older and dearer.
The rule once people are sitting at the table and food is served is to go simple. Also, with the mostly savory, herbal and salty flavors that come with a Thanksgiving feast, it’s a good bet to stick with sweeter whiskeys. Serving on the rocks isn’t a bad idea either, since a dining whiskey is essentially a substitute for wine.
Jack Daniel’s Rye: Also new out this year is JD’s flagship Rye. Made with 70% rye, bottled at 90 proof and mellowed in customary Lynchburg style, it has more character than comparable Kentucky Ryes (which are barely rye whiskeys to begin with) or the near ubiquitous sourced whiskeys based on MGP’s 95% Rye stock.
Jim Beam Bonded: Sometimes jokingly referred to as “Baby Knob Creek,” it’s not quite the same thing as the famed small batch Bourbon, but the wisecrack isn’t far off. Richer and a touch woodier than Jim Beam White, it is just interesting enough to attract comment without distracting from or clashing with the food.
Drinking as a substitute for desert has but one rule: Go sweet. Very sweet.
Wild Turkey American Honey: The staple of going super sweet with whiskey is a honey liqueur, with products of this type predating the current craze for maple and other flavorings of Bourbon by decades. The best example is offered by Wild Turkey, hands down.
Bird Dog Peach: Some people simple must have their sweetness married to fruit, and this is one of the best of the fruity flavored whiskeys. Basically, think a very, very heavily peached tea with a shot of vanilla and some booziness.
At this stage you have a belly full of food and need help digesting it. Strong alcohol has been used as a digestive aid for centuries, so it’s time to reach for some strong stuff… but not so strong you can’t drink it neat if you choose to.
Michter’s Toasted Barrel Rye: This is an interesting and lovely sipper that brings together two very popular limited edition offerings from Michter’s: their Toasted Barrel Bourbon and their Barrel Strength Rye. Although it too is a limited edition, it was released not to long ago and should still be available for purchase.
Baker’s: This Bourbon has been overlooked for two decades, which probably explains why it is the only member of the Jim Beam Small Batch Collection that remains unchanged. Basil Hayden and Knob Creek lost their age statement and Booker’s got younger by about a year on average, but Baker’s is still a high proof 7 year old.