The frost is on the punkin’ and the fodder’s in the shock, so, like many of you, I’ll be traipsing over rivers and through woods. That sort of effort works up a hunger….and more importantly a thirst. So what’s in the cup on Thanksgiving?
If you’re the sort that goes in for historical accuracy (or re-enactments), then set aside your blunderbuss and your buckle shoes. Alongside your roasted wild turkey (and swan) and turnip dressing, I suggest a healthy serving of hard cider. Of course, this assumes, you’ve allowed half your family to starve the prior winter to set the mood. I’m going out on a limb here, of course, since actual records of that first Thanksgiving are bit sparse, but our forefathers were certainly fans of the stuff (and who can blame them?). What about beer? Well, maybe. There wasn’t likely a lot of extra barley hanging around in the first year or two of the Plymouth settlement. Most likely, there was none at all. So, any “beer” would have been made from more plentiful materials – “pumpkins and parsnips and walnut tree chips” in the words of an early American folk song. Oh and if you do go with beer, forget those big industrial names that get all the play on Super Bowl Sunday. They’re pilsner knockoffs and the first pilsner wasn’t brewed until 1842, so stick with something in the ale family.
If you’re willing to extend a bit forward in the colonial era, options open right up. I’d suggest sipping on a bit of Madeira which was a huge favorite of early America. As a bonus, the stuff is aged in intentionally abusive ways, and as with Batman, a difficult youth makes for a resilient (and smooth) maturity. I’m not sure what it would take to make a bottle go bad short of topping it off with, say, plutonium, so you can safely quaff from the same bottle year after year – if you can keep it around that long which I can’t. I’ve had the good fortune of tasting a Madeira of pre-Revolutionary-War vintage (yes, the American Revolution). It was tasty in ways that you don’t expect from something that’s been lying around for nearly 250 years.
Of course, Thanksgiving is all about food and for many people, food means wine. I’m not going to argue that it’s a solid choice – though insisting on wine with meals is probably a bit narrow minded. But what wine? This is a meal with light meat, dark meat, cranberries, sweet potatoes, one or more regional stuffing variations, possibly an onion casserole and quite possibly macaroni and cheese. It’s a sommelier’s nightmare.
You could try to pair different wines with different courses, but serving the turkey in a separate course from the cranberries is a good way to end up in worse condition than the bird. One quick and delicious way to solve the problem is to pour champagne or another sparkling wine. It’s festive, it goes well with just about any food, and you can always aim flying corks at that one uncle who just won’t leave politics alone. For still wine fans, there’s a tendency to opt for white wines – and again there’s nothing wrong with that. Look for something with a nice acidity to cut through the richer flavors. I’m a big fan of a Sauvignon Blanc or a Gewürztraminer.
Fans of red wine don’t have to sit this one out, though. It’s probably not a great day for a big Cabernet Sauvignon; go for something a little lighter and with a bit of fruit. Maybe a nice Pinot Noir? Or go for a seasonal choice: Beaujolais Nouveau, a young red wine released to much fanfare each year in the third week of November. Don’t believe the French don’t know a little something about marketing to Americans. It may not impress the relatives like an ancient cru, but it’s been a happy part of my Thanksgiving years.
Finally, for people like me, there’s always a place for a mixed drink or two. You may prefer to keep them ahead of the meal, but I’ll often have one sitting next to my wine at the table. I’m including a few suggestions below.
This one is a really old favorite from colonial times. Various recipes call for various spirits. No less an authority than Dave Wondrich (cocktailian extraordinaire) called for dark rum in the mix. Others call for rye whiskey, and still others for bourbon, etc. I’m going to go with applejack for at least a couple of reasons – it pairs up well with the cider and, as I’ve mentioned, Laird’s offers a connection back to our American roots. You can pick your own poison, but if you use vodka, you should be deported.
- 2 oz. Laird’s Applejack
- A couple of dashes of Angostura bitters (call it optional, but a delicious option)
- Hard cider
Pour the liquor and bitters into a rocks glass with ice. Top off with the cider. Lots of choices of garnish. Nutmeg is my favorite, but just a bit of lemon works nicely.
Presbyterian, aka Whiskey Press
The quintessential highball, this has been getting us through family holidays for time immemorial, a perfect offset to heated kitchens and heated discussions. I hold close to the tenet that this has to be a Scotch-based drink (the Presbyterian Church being the national church of Scotland), but if you want to use bourbon or Canadian whiskey instead, go for it. Just don’t call it a Press. Also, some people omit the club soda and double the ginger ale. I remain ecumenical on that question.
- 2 oz. Scotch (My go-to is Dewar’s, but ain’t nothin’ wrong with your Johnnie Walker or Famous Grouse; using a single malt will raise eyebrows, but not mine)
- Ginger ale
- Club soda
- A couple of dashes of Angostura bitters (again optional, again delicious)
Pour the Scotch into an ice-filled Collins glass. Add bitters. Top with equal parts ginger ale and club soda. Tune out your damn cousin Chuck, the Cowboys fan who has never been closer to Texas than the local Taco Bell.
Chatham Artillery Punch
If Thanksgiving means a houseful of guests, a punch is one of the easiest and best ways to entertain. I spent some time thinking about which particular punch to suggest and given the historic nature of the rest of this post, decided on this one (though there were many contenders). Named for a military troop that honored George Washington, this punch packs frightening firepower. Opt for it only if your family and guests are even-keeled, festive drinkers – or if you want to ensure that some of them will never speak to any of the rest again.
- 10 or so lemons
- 1 lb. turbinado sugar
- 1 750-ml bottle of bourbon (or rye)
- 1 750-ml bottle of good brandy
- 1 750-ml bottle of dark Jamaican-style rum
- 3 750-ml bottles of champagne
- 1 5-lb. bag of cracked ice
Peel the yellow zest off the lemons and combine in a bowl with the sugar. Muddle them up to extract oil from the peels. Let that sit for an hour or more to further extract oil and blend. When ready, put the sugar into your serving bowl and add the bourbon, brandy and rum. Stir to fully dissolve. Add enough ice to fill the bowl and pour in the champagne and stir (ordinarily, you’d want a block or ring of ice, but believe me, you want to get some dilution in this potion ASAP). Fire at will. (Again a little nutmeg on each serving is a nice touch.)
Photo: A Stone Fence with Pumpkin Spirits
Photo Credit: Steve Morgan