Who doesn’t love Thanksgiving dinner? It’s the perfect opportunity to get together with your loved ones around a table, pile it high with a plethora of delicious sweet and savoury dishes, and indulge yourselves in the flavours of fall.
It’s also the perfect chance to explore the wonderful world of food and whisky pairing. Whisky is, at heart, a fall drink – it’s got that warmth and spice, that range of deep and sumptuous sweet notes, and those gorgeous complexities that are simply ideal for sipping alongside your favourite autumnal dishes. What’s more, if you’re a whisky lover (which seems likely, if you’re reading this blog), it’s likely that a member of your family may well have bought you a bottle of something special as a Thanksgiving gift to share with those present.
One of the truly great things about whisky (and one of the things which so many seem to overlook) is that it’s a fantastic spirit for food pairing, especially when it comes to all your Thanksgiving classics. All too many people seem a little intimidated to try matching their whisky with their favourite dishes, which is a shame, as good whisky has all the complexity and depth you’d find in a fine wine, and pairs superbly with a massive range of flavours.
Today, we’re going to be looking at how you can bring some seriously high quality whiskies into your Thanksgiving dinner. We’ve got something for every stage of the meal – from the pre-dinner toasts to the cheese platter and sweet desserts at the end – and they’re sure to bring some real holiday cheer to the occasion. Read on to find out more!
Your Thanksgiving get-together probably kicks off some time in the mid-afternoon, when your guests start coming in from the cold, and want to spend some time catching up with each and generally socialising. Hopefully, you’ve already got the vegetables prepped, and the turkey’s cooking away in the oven… so you should be free to join in with the festivities and relax a little before you add the finishing touches to your dinner. What better way to start as you mean to continue than with a delicious pre-dinner cocktail, featuring the all-American flavour that only Bourbon can provide?
This wonderful cocktail is not only delicious, it’s fantastically easy to prepare in fairly large quantities. This means you can whip up a batch and have it shared among your friends and family in no time at all, and it packs in all those delicious fall flavours that well and truly keep the autumn chill at the door.
- 2 oz quality Bourbon (we recommend Four Roses or Buffalo Trace)
- 2 dashes of Angostura Bitters
- Quality apple cider, to top up
Fill a double rocks (or similar) glass with ice, then pour over the Bourbon and the bitters. Top up with the apple cider, give it a quick stir with a spoon to incorporate all the flavours, and raise a toast to your Thanksgiving dinner!
When it comes to the whiskies you want to serve at your dinner table, there’s really a massive range to choose from. Most of the key categories of whisky – Bourbon, Rye, Scotch etc – feature the kind of flavours which work brilliantly with your Thanksgiving fare, although we’d probably suggest avoiding anything too smoky or peaty which might overpower the more delicate dishes being served.
There’s a long and ongoing debate surrounding whether or not whisky should be served neat or with ice, or indeed with a dash of water. What you choose is ultimately up to you… although we’d suggest that adding some water to your whisky might be a good idea when serving alongside food, as it slightly kills off some of the harsher edges, yet leaves the notes of flavour intact. Here are five whiskies we think work best with Thanksgiving dinner in 2018:
This classic Tennessee whiskey is a firm favourite up and down the country, and it’s one of the best widely-available whiskies out there for pairing with roast turkey and cranberry sauce. Boasting rich caramel flavours, with a gorgeous dried fruit profile and just a hint of smoke, it’s a soft, sumptuous number which is sure to be a hit at dinner time.
Glenlivet Nadurra Triumph
If you’re a diehard Scotch fan, then American whiskey simply isn’t going to cut the mustard, even when you’re celebrating Thanksgiving. This superb dram from Glenlivet is a smooth, fruit forward example of what the Scots do best, and has a lovely direct flavour which cuts through heavier dishes featuring cream, cheese, or sweet potato. It’s also a great pairing for turkey, and will work very well with nuts and roasted vegetables, too.
Rye whiskies are definitely on the up at the moment, and there are dozens of new, trendy rye whiskey distilleries popping up all over the place, exploring the potential of this historic spicy spirit. Templeton Rye particularly hits the spot at Thanksgiving, due to the fact that it isn’t overly dry or spicy, and has plenty of lovely subtleties that make it ideal for food pairing. We’d recommend this whiskey especially if you’re serving up a Thanksgiving ham, although it will also work well with any roasted meats.
Sometimes, only a classic American Bourbon will do at the Thanksgiving table. Booker’s is no shrinking violet of a whiskey (and as such, might need a splash of water more than most), and it packs in lovely flavours of festive spices, especially cinnamon and nutmeg. This is a real hit if you’re looking to pair with a classic stuffing recipe, or your sweet potato casserole!
Balcones Texas Single Malt
This innovative whisky is a remarkable thing: a single malt which isn’t Scotch, and yet which pays a clear homage to both Scotland and the USA in its character and flavour profile. Balcones age their single malt in Bourbon barrels, which brings about plenty of subtle notes of sweetness and spice, and the results are rarely less than superb. With its toasty grains, baked apple and brown sugar flavours, and undeniable clarity and directness, it really does bring together the best of both worlds. Fantastic for stuffed turkey, and equally good for your dessert menu, too.
If your gathered guests and family members aren’t so keen on the idea of drinking drams of whisky at the dinner table, and you haven’t been able to convert them or persuade them to think otherwise, it might be a good idea to whip up another cocktail to share while eating. This delicious whisky cocktail reflects many of the flavours of the dishes you’ll be enjoying, and is sure to put some smiles on the faces of your fellow diners. You can increase the quantities here to make it into a punch bowl cocktail, too, if that feels more social.
- 2 oz Rye Whiskey
- 1 oz Cranberry Juice
- Club Soda to fill
- Lime wedge, to garnish
Add the whiskey and cranberry juice to a collins glass (or similar). Add some ice, top up with the club soda, and add your lime wedge and stir.
Once the main course has been cleared, it’s likely you’ll want a bit of time to relax before diving into the desserts – the perfect moment to bring out some more complex, delicious, and beautifully made whiskies for sharing with your guests! All of these listed below would also pair very nicely with a dessert, an after-dinner cheese board, too, as well as with the customary cigars and coffee, if you’re so inclined.
The Macallan 18 Year
This delicious, mouth-watering, and beautifully constructed single malt Scotch is the stuff that Thanksgiving dreams are made of. Boasting rich notes of dried apricots, fruit cake, and with a touch of sherry from the cask, this whiskey pairs gorgeously with holiday favourites like pumpkin pie or fruit crumble.
The Balvenie Madeira Cask 17 Year
The deep nuttiness of this delicious whisky comes from the fact that it has been aged in Madeira casks, which also give it a stunning colour and slightly fruity finish. The ideal match for strong cheeses or pecan pie.
Laphroaig 18 Year
Sophisticated, elegant, and spicy, this single malt really shows off the expertise which typifies this world-renowned distillery. This is a single malt for real whisky lovers, and for those who truly enjoy the finer things in life. We wouldn’t be tempted to pair this one with anything (except maybe a quality cigar) – it deserves to be enjoyed in all its glory.
There you have it – our quick guide to bringing more whisky into your Thanksgiving dinner! With a wide range of styles and flavours to choose from, there really is a whisky out there for everyone, and which pairs beautifully with whatever fall treats you might be serving up this year. Feel free to experiment with your own combinations, and give yourself and your guests the Thanksgiving they deserve. Cheers!