What Booze Should You Pair With Your Thanksgiving Meal?

A guide to pairing whiskey and other fine spirits with your holiday feast

November 17, 2022 10:10 am
Six bottles of booze behind a Thanksgiving meal -- you can pair booze with turkey if you follow this guide
The best side dish of them all....
Getty/Photo illustration

Forget the wine — well, wait, bring wine — but you can really impress the Thanksgiving crowd by bringing out something a little stronger when it comes to drinks. Such as spirits.

Whiskey, rum, brandy, mezcal, amaro and more can be paired just as easily and impressively with your holiday feast as any bottle of red, white or sparkling. Plus, liquor gives you options — you can make cocktails, have it neat or on ice.

We’ve already suggested a few magical pairings in the recent past, but this year we decided to reach out to some mixologists, restaurateurs and drinks specialists to ask exactly how they’d pair booze with a Thanksgiving meal. Note that we made no assumptions about the exact makeup of the meal you’re pairing these bottles with, so keep that in mind if you’re serving (or being served) something that’s not out of a Norman Rockwell painting

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Our experts’ picks are below — which does technically include one wine, though not a Thanksgiving staple — and links to Drizly and ReserveBar (where available) if you want to pick up a bottle before the meal.

Amaro Montenegro
Amaro Montenegro

When I think about having Thanksgiving dinner and all the fixings, the first thing I grab is my favorite digestif. Amaro Montenegro is a perfect accompaniment to sweet and succulent turkey thanks to its bitter yet sweet and spicy flavor profile of vanilla and orange peels. Plus, after a decadent Thanksgiving meal, amaro is the perfect way to settle the stomach. Aaron Thompson, Co-Owner/Operator of Brother Wolf

For those who love mezcal, Maestro Dobel Pavito is made by suspending a turkey breast in the still along with spices like cinnamon and fruits like mango. The result is a floral, slightly smokey spirit perfect for sipping on the rocks and pairing with turkey. — Amy Racine, Beverage Director at Chef John Fraser’s La Marchande, IRIS and North Fork Table & Inn 

Taylor Fladgate 20-Year Tawny Port is the perfect way to cap off a big meal with friends and family. It’s complex while still being extremely approachable. Pour 2-3 ounces into a small white wine glass and sip as you finish your main courses working your way into dessert. The balance of dried fruit, caramel, oak, dried citrus peel and baking spices will compliment Auntie’s cranberry sauce, the turkey glaze and your favorite slice of pecan or fruit pie flawlessly. — Charles Joly, Co-founder of Crafthouse Cocktails

Nelson Brothers Reserve Bourbon on a table with spices
Nelson Brothers Reserve Bourbon
Green Brier Distillery

In our house around the holidays, there are plenty of spirits that recall a special trip or memory. One of those is Nelson Brothers Reserve Bourbon. It’s a moderately priced bourbon that smells and tastes like momma’s kitchen on Thanksgiving morning. With notes of baking spices, nuts and cooked fruits, it’s a quintessential holiday sipper. And at nearly 108 proof, it holds its own mixed into a Boulevardier or just over a few cubes of ice. — Jessica King, Co-Owner/Operator of Brother Wolf

Don Papa is from the island Negro Occidental in the Philippines. Residents have long referred to Negro Occidental as “Sugarlandia” — it possesses a special combination of key environmental factors that combine to cultivate some of the finest sugarcane in the world. Don Papa leads with strong citrus and resolves into a complex and textured spirit containing hints of vanilla, honey, candied fruits and baking spices. This flavor profile makes it a perfect sipping companion for all the staples at the Turkey Day table or even as the base spirit in a Negroni. — Jason Hedges, Director of Beverage at Laurent Tourondel Hospitality’s L’Amico, The Vine and Skirt Steak NYC

Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania Rye is a winter-spiced whiskey that kicks off the festivities in an Old Fashioned or Manhattan. And after your guests have gone home, a neat pour is perfect for winding down with a full belly. — Colin Berger, Bar Manager for Rare Society

Leopold Brothers New England Cranberry Liqueur
Leopold Brothers New England Cranberry Liqueur
Leopold Brothers

Growing up in Rhode Island, visiting cranberry bogs on elementary school field trips has been a lasting fond childhood memory. Leopold Brothers New England Cranberry Liqueur brings back those memories of the cool brisk air, the change in foliage and the sentiment of family gathering around the dinner table on Thanksgiving. Whether a seasonal Old-Fashioned, a communal punch or a way to spice up the cranberry sauce, it embodies the true meaning of the season. Craig Schoettler, Vice President of Beverage for Tao Group Hospitality

It would definitely have to be Laird’s Straight Apple Brandy. It seems fitting since it’s a spirit as American as Thanksgiving, distilled according to tradition from Laird & Company — the first legal distillery established in the USA in 1780. After the turkey is carved, this apple brandy will pair beautifully with any typical dessert, especially a fragrant apple pie. The brandy, bottled at 100 proof, is full, bold and delicious sipped on its own, with the predominant flavors of baked apples, vanilla and toasted oak notes. It’ll also lend itself perfectly to an Old-Fashioned…better even if stirred with honey syrup and garnished with a cinnamon stick. — Giuseppe Santochirico, Beverage Director, Midnight Theatre, Hidden Leaf and Midnight Cafe

Bottles of Del Maguey and Maestro Dobel Pavito, two pechugas
Bottles of Del Maguey and Maestro Dobel Pavito, two pechugas

In Mexico, we celebrate the autumnal harvest with the production of mezcal de pechuga, a labor-intensive variation made using two distillations, usually made only for the family during celebrations. After espadín is traditionally distilled, the mezcalero adds locally harvested fruits and spices and hangs a raw chicken breast on the inside of the pot still, so that the vapor must pass over the meat before it becomes liquid mezcal. I recommend Del Maguey’s Pechuga to sip during dinner, as you will discover flavors of umami, citrus, apple, and plum, the closest thing to sipping Thanksgiving in a copita; not to exclude any dietary restrictions, Bozal de Calabaza is a vegan alternative that uses pumpkin as the pechuga stand-in. — Julio Xoxocotla, Bar Director and Partner of Bar Lula (Endless Hospitality Group) 

The best pairing for Thanksgiving is some delicious Calvados. This apple brandy from northern France takes the cake for encapsulating the holiday feels. Look for the more exclusive labels from the Pays d’Auge AOC to get all of that rich apple-y goodness. Throw a slice of Camembert on top of your apple pie and pour yourself a snifter by the fire for the full experience. Conversely, a spicy rye, which has inherent baking spicy notes, or an extra añejo tequila, which offers rich caramel and vanilla notes. — Jessica Everett, Managing Partner & Bar Manager of Esters 

I would choose Patrón Sherry Cask Aged Anejo Tequila. Pumpkin pie is always a mandatory ending to my holiday dinner, and the cooked agave and light butter notes on the nose from this tequila once opened will have me salivating for that first bite. Caramel and clove, dried fruit and nuts on the palate make for the perfect tipple during the after-dinner banter with friends and family. — Chris Hannah, Owner & Bartender Jewel of the South

The Spice Tree by Compass Box
The Spice Tree by Compass Box
Compass Box

And finally, I asked two specialty whisk(e)y purveyors and blenders to choose something from their own stock. Lost Lantern suggested its 2022 Single Cask #16: Breuckelen Distilling 8-Year-Old New York Malted Wheat Whiskey, a wheat whiskey with notes of oak, chocolate banana bread, cranberry teacake and ginger spice. Scotch mavericks Compass Box, meanwhile, offered up The Spice Tree, a rich malt whisky full of baking spices, oak and fruit. 


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