Say No to Wine at Thanksgiving: A Guide to Beer, Whiskey, and Cider
Of all the things people usually fight over at the Thanksgiving table—what time you actually sit down to eat; homemade cranberry sauce vs. the canned stuff; politics—the wine on the table isn’t usually the fire starter. That’s partly because almost every smart host and hostess has an array of reds and whites for their guests; after all, there isn’t one magic Thanksgiving wine.
But now there’s a new reason to pick a fight at the Thanksgiving table: what to drink besides wine. After all, cider, craft beer, and whiskey have been on a cultural tear in America over the past few years, and each has an ever-expanding following. Craft beer has had eight years of double-digit growth. American whiskey sales are up (they rose almost 8 percent last year). And the beverage with the most dramatic expansion might be hard cider: According to fivethirtyeight, cider’s marketshare increased more than five times over a three-year period. In 2016, cider’s global sales are projected to be $769 million (up from $595 million in 2013).
With that—and peace at your Thanksgiving table—in mind, we polled three experts in each of those beverage fields for their choices about what to serve with the turkey this Thursday.
Rated the best beer bar in America by BeerAdvocate, Ebenezer’s Pub in Lovell, Me., has more than 700 different brews. But when it comes to what to serve on Thanksgiving specifically, “these five beers kick butt,” says owner Chris Lively. (He calls himself “the right alcoholic to talk to about beer drinking at the holidays.”) “Everyone will be converted to the beer for Thanksgiving campaign,” he adds. Each are terrific as the main event on a Thanksgiving table. If you want to serve them as a progressive tasting through the holiday meal, that works, too.
DeDolle Oerbier, from Belgium. $5.99
“This dark beer is 8 percent or 9 percent alcohol. It’s like a beautiful, carbonated red wine that’s a little bit earthy. The Belgians are famous for this style of drinkable rich beer. Anyone who says they want a nice glass of wine, give them this. It’s a great gateway beer for wine drinkers, and good to drink before Thanksgiving dinner, too.”
Prairie Funky Gold Mosaic, from Oklahoma. $8.99
This is “a really state-of-the-art beer, showing you where craft brewing is right now," says Lively. "It’s beautifully hopped with a ton of tartness, like biting into the best grapefruit. When you have your Thanksgiving plate, with stuffing, green bean casserole, and mashed potatoes with gravy all over everything, and the food is salty as hell (no offense to the cook), this is the perfect beer. It helps you cut right through all the richness and keep eating. Although I’m going to tell you about a beer that’s even better for the turkey, in a minute.”
De Blaugies Darbyste, from Belgium. $12
“This saison beer is brewed with figs, which expands the mouthfeel and rounds out the brew’s crispness. It’s an expansive drinking experience. You take a sip and sit back. This is a middle-of-the-batting-line-up beer. It’s all-purpose, with a nice long finish and just fabulous with roast turkey.”
De Struise Pannepot, from Belgium, $6.99
“At Thanksgiving, this is the best way forward in the beer world. Pannepot is a 12 percent Belgium quad [quadrupel, or notably strong flavored ale] with big rum and raisin notes and plum-cake richness. It’s filthy rich on the nose, somewhat vinous without the tartness. Swirl that piece of turkey in the mashed potatoes and gravy and then take a swig of this beer. It’s the perfect palette cleanser (a term I hate) and great for everything. You can use it to baste your turkey, to baste your beef. It’s gorgeous: You will lick your glass clean.”
Mikkeller’s Beer Geek Breakfast Stout, from Denmark. $9.99
“When you’ve had your turkey dinner and you’re staring at your pecan pie, you’ll want the Beer Geek Breakfast Stout. You can have it with the pie instead of ice cream; you can have it with your ice cream instead of pie; you can put it in your coffee. It’s a massive stout with coffee and chocolate notes, made by Mikkel Bjergsø, who brought coffee-spiked beers to the forefront. He’s from Denmark but really is a gypsy brewer who moves around. Beer geeks know him as the other twin from Evil Twin brewing. They also know that he’s a former male model—we’ve dug up the pictures.”
At New York’s renowned Dead Rabbit Grocery & Grog, named the Best Bar in the World, bar manager Jillian Vose has about 200 different whiskeys, bourbons, and scotches on hand. And that’s the upstairs bar. Downstairs, there are 200 Irish whiskeys alone. “We have a lot,” she laughs. Vose advocates for whiskey at Thanksgiving because the rich caramelized flavors are the proper accent to a feast. “Whiskey is great for a celebration, and Thanksgiving is always a celebration,” Vose maintains. Next question: Drink it neat or on ice? “I personally don’t think hot food with a cold beverage is ideal,” says Vose. “Plus, you get more flavor on the nose when it’s neat.” Likewise don’t pair cocktails with turkey at the table: “I’m a purist. I like my whiskey solo,” she says.
Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon, from Kentucky. $27
“Let’s start with American whiskey for an American holiday. Elijah Craig is a great one, and it’s very affordable and well made," explains Vose. "At Thanksgiving, you think of warmth, and warm smells and flavors like cinnamon and vanilla. This bourbon has all of that. And it’s great with food, it’s spicier than most whiskeys, it’s softer and a little bit sweet.”
Powers John’s Lane 12-Year-Old Single Pot Whiskey, from Ireland. $73
“Dead Rabbit has a lot of Irish influence; single pot Irish whiskey is a quintessential style of whiskey. Powers is creamy and robust, made with malted and unmalted barley so it’s not peat flavored, aka smoky, the way Scotch whisky is. The flavor is really rich, which is what you want with your candied yams and mashed potatoes.”
Monkey Shoulder Blended Scotch from Scotland. $30
“I’m a big fan of Monkey Shoulder. Not just because it’s so affordable. A lot of Scotches are intense, but at Thanksgiving, you don’t want to drink something that overpowers the meal. You get a lot of honey off Monkey Shoulder, which is great for any dish that has caramelized flavors, be it candied sweet potatoes or glazed turkey. In fact, it’s just a great, food friendly Scotch, especially for all you Scotch drinkers out there.”
Nikka Yoichi 15-Year Japanese Whisky from Japan. $200
“I love Japanese whisky, which, in most cases, is made the same way as Scotch. In general, it’s got nice subtlety; maybe that’s one reason it’s so hot these days, and also so good with food. Clearly Japanese food is lighter than almost anything you’ll have for Tday, but Yoichi has a really pretty smoke component to it, which makes it great for people who want a robust drink at Thanksgiving. And if you’re adding any kind of smoky flavors to your turkey, this is for you.”
Noah’s Mill Small Batch Bourbon from Kentucky. $48
“If I see Noah’s Mill on a bar, I know that person knows their stuff. Most bourbons are around 40 to 45 proof. This is bottled at 57; be warned. It’s that well made, you wouldn’t know the proof, but just in case, you might want to add a little ice to soften it. It’s less soft than some other bourbons, with lots of vanilla and coconut, which makes it good for your holiday desserts. It’s good to go out with a bang.”
At the modern Basque restaurant Huertas in downtown New York, partner Nate Adler has made the bar renowned for its cider program. He stocks at least 10, sourced locally and from Asturias and across Spain. Adler maintains that cider is one of the most versatile drinks for Thanksgiving, because the apple-based beverage goes well up and down the menu, from starters, through turkey and all the sides, to dessert. “It’s one of the only things you can drink with seafood, with poultry, with red meat, with dessert,” says Adler, making a play for people to serve it outside the holidays as well.
Shacksbury Semi-Dry, from Vermont. $14 / 4 pack
“The newest release from this excellent American producer that works with a cidery in England," says Adler. "It’s a favorite of mine because it’s so drinkable; it has tart acidity and farmhouse funk and residual sweetness, too. This is great for people who don’t like their cider too funky. Because it’s semi-dry, it’s perfect with turkey, especially if you’ve got cranberry sauce on the side—it balances all those flavors. An added benefit: It comes in really cool cans.”
Isastegi Basque Cider, from Spain. $8
“This is a quintessential Spanish-style cider, acid forward, funky, and dry. That’s what makes it a great aperitif, It gets your mouth watering. Fair warning: This is not necessarily the cider you want to drink throughout your Thanksgiving meal. Though it would be good with turkey, watch it with the sides, which might be sweet with this cider. However, it will be great with your leftover turkey sandwich the next day.”
Millstone Farmgate Cider, from Maryland. $18
“Millstone uses heirloom apples and barrel ages its cider, which makes the flavor especially full bodied. That in turn means this cider is phenomenal with turkey. It has farmhouse funk, which you might guess from a place that has ‘farm’ in the name. This is fermented goodness. Besides turkey, it pairs nicely with gravy and sweet potatoes and everything else on the table.”
Wolffer Estate Dry Rosé Cider from New York. $5
“Every year I bring this sparkling rose cider to Thanksgiving dinner. It’s produced the same way you produce a rose wine except using red fleshed apples instead of grapes. Though it’s called dry, this rose is very balanced; the apples give it nice acid, but also a good bit of sweetness. This is just a super refreshing cider, whether you’re at the Thanksgiving table or sitting by the pool in the summer. Just think of it the way you think of rose wine.”
Bordatto Basandere Cidre Demi-Sec from France. $12
“Bordatta is a sophisticated cider producer from the French side of Basque country. The Basandere drinks like a French style cider, which means it has honey notes. Basically it tastes like a spiced-up, funky apple pie, which is really good alongside turkey. It’s got a quintessential cheesiness, like a lot of great ciders; it’s phenomenal, the sweetest of all of the ciders here. Feel free to drink it with your holiday pies, too.”