We’re heading fast into the holiday season—the time for thankfulness, altruism, and stuffed bellies… and the classic Thanksgiving cocktail. The colder days of November (which will hopefully arrive soon) send us reaching for that extra cozy blanket and a cup of hot cocoa. And with Thanksgiving right around the corner, we’re all gearing up for a day notorious for its stressfully high standards. I’ve always considered Thanksgiving a test of diplomacy, strategy, and humility. Play to your strengths, delegate, and don’t take it too seriously. This is as true for libations as it is for the meal itself.
We reached out to some of Charlotte’s most talented and creative bartenders to ask them what they enjoy drinking while simultaneously chowing down on the biggest meal of the year.
“When it comes to a Thanksgiving cocktail, I’d say I usually find myself reaching for darker spirits as the seasons change. Particularly apple brandy. My go-to is Carriage House Apple brandy from NC.”
1.5 oz. Carriage House Apple Brandy
.75 oz. Cardamaro
.25 oz. Grade B Maple Syrup (1:1 maple syrup to water)
4 dashes pecan bitters
Build ingredients into mixing glass. Stir and strain into rocks glass with ice. Garnish with orange peel.
“At Kindred, we do a cocktail called ‘Pillowtalk.’ I love this drink and crave it the moment I begin to feel that chill in the air. It’s reminiscent of a fall old fashioned.”
“This year for my Thanksgiving I will be mixing up Highballs for the family. We are big whisky drinkers, and I think lightening things up with some bitters and citrus will keep it light and fun. The light smokiness of some peated Japanese whisky pairs so well with all of the rich flavors of fall foods. I also paired it with Cardamom and Grapefruit bitters for their tummy-settling effects.”
1.5 oz. Toki Japanese Whisky
A few dashes of Scrappy’s brand grapefruit and cardamom bitters
1 long strip of grapefruit zest
Mix all ingredients with ice in a tall Collins glass.
“I am currently in love with highballs. For Charlotte, where we warm up during the day and get chilly at night, it is a great transitional drink as we slowly move into the colder months. It’s quick and easy to put together. I don’t want to spend the whole time mixing drinks, so simple, good, and fast options all work great for me. And it’s low enough in alcohol that we won’t be sleeping before we even sit down to eat.”
The Cellar at Duckworths
“It is hard to beat a simple, well-done whiskey sour for Thanksgiving. Just lemon, sugar, whiskey (I prefer Elijah Craig in this cocktail) and a dash of Angostura Bitters. It is easy to prepare, appreciated by most, and the citrus element allows it to pair well with any number of dishes. For those that are looking for a more spirit-based cocktail, it is definitely the Vieux Carre made with an overproof bourbon (I use Knob Creek 120 proof Single Barrel). The key here is not just the right whiskey, but also a good sweet vermouth (I recommend Carpano Antica).”
“As an after belly-busting meal digestif, you just cannot beat Fernet Branca. The dark earth tones with just enough anise and herbs really help to settle your stomach and restore your palate. However, if you are wanting to finish things on a sweeter note, a nice Brandy Milk Punch makes a great nightcap by itself and goes brilliantly with that final piece of pie. I suggest using a vanilla bean simple syrup and topping it off with some fresh shaved nutmeg.”
“I think there’s nothing better after you’ve gorged all day than just popping the bottle of amaro on the table and having amaro with your family. That’s what I’m going to be doing on Thursday. My favorite is Nonino, which is special-ordered. If you’ve not had it, go right down to South Carolina and get a bottle. You’ve gotta go to either State Line or Southern Spirits on 521. Second to that would be either Montenegro or Cardamaro. A lot of these are fifth and sixth generation, so families that have passed these down for a couple hundred years. The most common way [in Italy] is after dinner they’ll just throw an orange slice in their amaro and sip it on the rocks. I don’t think there’s anything better than that.”
“When the weather starts to turn a little chilly, I often find myself reaching for my favorite bottle of bourbon, Old Scout from Smooth Ambler Distillery. It is a 99-proof, seven year-old bourbon from Maxwelton, West Virginia, of all places. This is a beautiful bottle of bourbon that is equally as good neat as it is in your favorite cocktail. I think it retails for about $35, but it drinks like a $70 bottle. Simply amazing.”
“I think that just about any time is a good time for an Old Fashioned, and definitely before Thanksgiving. A Sazerac is another cocktail that would be well-received before starting the big meal. One cocktail that would be easy to make at your house would be a French 75, but use a nice dry cider beer instead of prosecco.”
“If you would like to like to switch it up a little and play with some of the classic bourbon cocktails you normally make, substitute a nice tequila for the bourbon. One of my favorite tequilas is Milagro Reposado. It makes great Manhattans, Old Fashioneds, and you can even make Negronis by substituting it for gin.”