It is rare one reads about bourbon and whiskey pairings for Thanksgiving. This article is an exception and begs consideration of bourbon and American whiskey for Thanksgiving rather than the usual, and generally unsatisfactory, wine suggestions.
The reasons whiskey works so well at Thanksgiving is because it is fantastic to cook with, and even better to nose and drink than most wines and beers. Drinking whiskey for Thanksgiving works really well on a few accounts.
First, whiskey aromatics are much more dynamic than wines and beers. Thus, is is easier to enjoy the nose of a whiskey than that of wines and beers given the array of competing food aromas filling the house.
Second, the alcohol and acidic balance of the spirit helps cut through the richness of the holiday foods and keeps one’s palate fairly fresh, providing one’s consumption is not too liberal. A fresh palate allows one to appreciate the subtleties of mom’s green bean casserole and grandma’s oyster dressing without overshadowing their spouse’s pumpkin bread. This keeps one’s compliments directed toward mom, grandma and their spouse’s cooking rather than toward the beverage, as should be. This is not often the case when the family wine snob arrives with a bevy of overpriced wine.
Third, whiskey choices are as diverse as wines and beers. Whether mixed in eggnog or punch, with sodas, juice or other mixers, consumed with water or on the rocks, or simply neat the possibilities are endless.
9 a.m.: Santa has just graced Macy’s and there are three hours before the first guests arrive. The bird is being prepped for the oven and one now needs a little sustenance to stay focused. Here a light whiskey is needed for mixing a sunrise cocktail and lacing the candied sweet potatoes.
A few other bourbon and whiskey cooking suggestions include adding a shot to the whipping cream for the fruit salad or topping the pies; adding a capful to the pie fillings also adds complexity to the finished pies. If brining the turkey, add a cup of whiskey to the brine. A sweetened bourbon beurre blanc (butter sauce) makes a sinful sauce for bread pudding, sweet potato or pecan pie. A dram of whiskey in the stuffing stock will be the secret ingredient nobody figures out, and the same is true if added to the cranberry sauce and giblet gravy.
Here unassuming whiskies of good quality are needed, and some bigger brands are indeed satisfactory. Among them, try Old Crow or Old Grand Dad from the Jim Beam Distillery, Fighting Cock or Ezra Brooks from Heaven Hill Distillery and Ten High from Tom Moore Distillery.
Some smaller brands whose quality far outweighs their price, try nipping W.L. Weller 7 year from Buffalo Trace Distillery or George Dickel Old Number 8 from Cascade Distillery.
Noon: The guests begin arriving and taking up residence near the TV ahead of the 12:30 p.m. Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions kickoff. This is a fine time to serve a cocktail or three whence the game captivates everyone’s attention until the triangle rings calling everyone to dinner.
Think rye whiskey for Manhattans, and other high quality whiskey for sours, Collins, juleps or other concoctions.
For rye, Sazerac, Rittenhouse and Old Overholt are excellent; thematically, Wild Turkey rye whiskey fits the day like no other.
For sours, Collins, juleps and various concoctions, use quality whiskies just below sipping quality. These choices also drink well enough with a splash of water or an ice cube for those not wanting a cocktail. Whether in a cocktail or with some form of H₂O, these will compliment whatever pre-feast snacks are offered during the game. Consider Bernheim Original wheat whiskey from Heaven Hill Distillery, Four Roses from Four Roses Distillery, and Pure Kentucky XO bourbon.
3:45 p.m.: Dinner is served, and it is now time some sipping whiskey makes an entrance. The sipping whiskey should be of far superior quality than the cooking and mixing whiskies consumed prior. Comparatively, they are better values than most wines and beers, and better compliment the full array of spices, textures, aromas and flavors of the foods being served; they can also be nursed through the evening.
For sweeter, softer style whiskey, track down a bottling from Black Maple Hill or Pappy Van Winkle; they are worth the effort and their lofty prices. But for easier to find and modestly priced whiskies in this vein, try 1792 Ridgemont Reserve, Jefferson’s or Elijah Craig 18 year.
For bolder whiskies, Booker’s Noe by Jim Beam, Willet Family Reserve, Willet Family Pot Still Reserve or George T. Stagg are outstanding.
4:15 p.m.: The bird has had its day and the guests replant themselves near the TV for the Miami Dolphins and Dallas Cowboys kickoff.
At this point, a finger or two of one’s favorite bourbon or whiskey can be enjoyed with a bit of water or an ice cube, and nursed through the evening untill their eventual compliment to dessert and coffee.
Where it may seem a tall order for some to try five or six whiskies throughout the day, small samples are the way to go. If nothing else, it will be a Thanksgiving to remember as the whiskies will show their depth, character and flexibility in ways most consumers have yet discovered.