Serious Eats: Drinks

Ask a Bartender: What's a Great Pre-Thanksgiving Dinner Drink?

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Jeret Pena of Brooklynite in San Antonio

When you put hours and hours of effort into a fabulous Thanksgiving meal, you deserve the perfect drink before digging in to turkey and stuffing. What's the best drink to sip before Thanksgiving dinner?

We asked bartenders across the country; here's what they had to say.

"A Boulevardier with a barspoon of allspice dram. Allspice makes people think about pumpkin pie and pumpkin pie is just plain ol' awesome." — Jeret Pena (The Brooklynite SA)

"Sazeracs for Thanksgiving are always a great idea—Sazerac rye, Peychaud's, angostura, and absinthe." — Jeremy Strawn (Bo's)

"I think my ultimate go to for a pre-Thanksgiving cocktail is an Old Fashioned made with rye... dealing with my family takes courage, I need something strong and delicious to get the job done. I like using bitters with more of a cinnamon flavor to play off the spiciness of the rye and put me in the holiday spirit." — Nikki Sunseri (Dominick's/ Little Dom's)

"Anything with sherry! A Bamboo Cocktail is great because it's light and well balanced, but always goes great with fowl and cranberries, and I think the dry sherry would be nice with some creamy sweet potatoes." — Brian Means (Fifth Floor)

Some Seattle, Some Boston

Elizabeth Powell of Liberty Bar in Seattle

"For Thanksgiving, I usually don't do cocktails, I really love to pop a cork on some sparkling wine. If pressed, I would probably opt for something lower proof, like an Americano, as it's tasty, refreshing, and perfect for the rich food served at many Thanksgiving tables." — Elizabeth Powell (Liberty Bar)

"I'd shoot for a Cocchi di Torino on the rocks with an orange twist—nice and spicy; makes me think of the holidays. It tastes like a cocktail all on its own and it's light enough that you can sip a few and not be out of commission by the time the turkey comes out of the oven." — Dan Carlson (Saul at the Brooklyn Museum)

"Treat every pre-meal cocktail like an amuse bouche; it should tell a little story about the meal to come. Bruise some sage and add rocks, some nice rye and a dollop of cranberry sauce from the kitchen, stir, and top with some lemon seltzer." —Dan Bronson, The Strand Smokehouse

"A glass of Champagne or Old Weller 107 on the rocks. It's a simple and special day; there's no need to complicate it." — Garrett Sweet (Perennial Virant)

"A good rum punch. I use Ron Atlantico Reserva with fresh lemon juice, Lustau Amontillado sherry, cinnamon and nutmeg-laced simple syrup, fresh apples and fresh cut lemon wheels. It's hard to go wrong and you can pre-make it in punch bowls, which means you can join the crowd in the festivities instead of having to slave over a shaker tin every time a guest wants one. Plus, the spices pair perfectly with the flavors of Thanksgiving dishes and the sherry component helps make it food-friendly and a great aperitif." — Paul Sanguinetti (Patina Restaurant Group)

"Thanksgiving is a time for absolute gluttony, so I think the best cocktail is the Cocktail itself (that is, the Old Fashioned). No better way to get your hunger going than to fill your belly full of bitters and spirits." — Zachary Svoboda (Ela)

"Before Thanksgiving dinner you want something light and crisp and low-alcohol and bitter, a classic aperitif like dry or blanc vermouth, or an aperitif style Amaro like Nonino, over ice, with maybe a slice of lemon or orange. Get the digestive system primed for deliberate degustation." —Mike Ryan (Sable)

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Dan Rook of South Water Kitchen in Chicago

"My favorite pre-Thanksgiving cocktail is a Journeyman Rye Old Fashioned served clean—none of that muddling nonsense. It's ideal because it delivers some beautiful cinnamon/spice fall flavors (and because I'm very thankful to have Journeyman spirits on our back bar)." — Dan Rook (South Water Kitchen)

"I love a good Negroni as a pre-dinner cocktail. I usually make an infused gin with fresh cranberries. Great fall flavors." — Ray Anguiano (Atwood Café)

"You can never go wrong with a punch. A nice cranberry cider punch can be paired with most spirits and still have a great seasonal taste. Punches are very much in line with Thanksgiving. They are festive and for everyone to share in." — Roger Bailey (Filini Bar and Restaurant)

"My ridiculous friends (and by that I mean my family) and I usually drink copious amounts of Fernet Branca! Fernet is perfect for the occasion because it's a digestive. But let's be honest, we would drink Fernet even if it wasn't suitable." — Jen Queen (Saltbox Dining & Drinking)

"The French 75.  I like to make mine with Meyer lemons, cognac, and champagne. It's fresh and works as an aperitivo. Champagne is appropriate all the time, and at any occasion, I believe. I'm sure many would suggest cocktails with a lean toward spices and richness, but you're going to get enough of that with dinner—why not begin on a lighter note and move into the richer flavors throughout the night. " — Christopher Longoria (1760)

"Mull some fresh cranberry cider, using good cranberry juice and basic mulling spices you can find anywhere like cloves and star anise—then chill it once it cools. Shake with good añejo tequila, Cointreau, and lime juice, pour over ice, and garnish with a cinnamon stick and a wedge of lime. The flavors are perfect for the fall and winter and everyone loves a twist on a margarita!" — Allen Burton (A.G. Kitchen)

"The ONLY pre-Thanksgiving cocktail is the Nutty Woodford, a cocktail we created with Woodford Reserve bourbon and a splash of Nocello walnut liqueur, served in a snifter over a coffee cup full of hot water." — Brandon Lockman (Red Star Tavern)

Fernet

Justin Fairweather of Evelyn Drinkery in NYC

"Amaro. Any Amaro. You gotta get ready for that big meal." — Justin Fairweather (Evelyn Drinkery)

"If we're talking pre-Thanksgiving dinner cocktail, then I would go with something light and warm to save room for turkey. Your own take on a spiked cider should get you ready to feast." — Brady Wilkens (Lucy Restaurant & Bar)

"I'd be concerned if you came to Thanksgiving without an appetite but here's a cocktail that'll set you straight just before you take a seat at the table. The Rye Sbagliato, a riff on a Negroni Sbagliato; 1 ounce rye, 1 ounce sweet vermouth, 1 ounce Campari, stir over ice in a large Collins glass and then top with Prosecco." — Beau du Bois (The Corner Door)

"Drink what you love. On a day like Thanksgiving when you are surrounded by family and friends, embrace it all. For me that means mimosas with breakfast, a switch to tequila for the afternoon, and wine with dinner.  After dinner move on to Scotch or stick with the wine, depending upon how you are feeling. The key is to avoid beer, even though it matches the football and weather; it tends to be an issue because it fills you up. You need to make sure you make it through appetizers, dinner, dessert, and of course, the late night turkey sandwich." — Nick Tarsi (Kachina Southwestern Grill)

"Riesling is the perfect pre-Thanksgiving wine. Or a Moscato. Something that is now in alcohol but a little sweet. When you're running a marathon,  you don't want to start off sprinting." — Daniel Farr (The Eveleigh)

"Chino's Double D ("Day Drinkin"): 1.5 ounces Templeton Rye, 1 ounce Becherovka, 2 dashes aged whiskey barrel bitters, 2 ounces cranberry juice, .25 ounce simple syrup—over ice and topped with hard cider." — Chino Lee (Departure Restaurant)

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