Forget the summer solstice: Thanksgiving can seem like the longest day of the year, thanks to alcohol.
There’s sparkling wine or mimosas with brunch. Beer while you’re watching football with your cousins. A postgame taste of the Scotch that your uncle recently discovered. Red or white wine that shows up with the afternoon cheese plate once all the relatives start getting peckish. And this is still hours before dinner (probably accompanied by more wine and beer) and, if the tryptophan hasn’t kicked in, after-dinner drinks.
Say it with me: It’s a marathon, not a sprint. With your sanity, sobriety and liver in mind, Food’s beverage writers — spirits writer M. Carrie Allan, wine columnist Dave McIntyre, and I — have put together a list of pro tips for drinking throughout Thanksgiving Day. It’s a holiday to savor, and having a strategy will help.
1. Start slow and pace yourself
Even if dinner is at your insufferable in-laws’ house, you probably wouldn’t start Thanksgiving Day with a shot of Wild Turkey 101. Similarly, you shouldn’t reach for an oaky chardonnay or an imperial IPA right off the bat.
Instead, your beverage choices should evolve throughout the day. For wine, McIntyre says, it makes sense to progress by color: Enjoy the light Moscato d’Asti (more details below) in the morning. “Rosé will keep you fueled through lunch and the afternoon,” until you graduate to more substantial wines, such as Beaujolais and pinot noir with dinner.
Another way to proceed is to watch the clock: For the first few hours, stick to beers below 5 percent alcohol by volume, such Port City’s Ways and Means Rye Session IPA (4.5 percent), or for something more seasonal, Devils Backbone’s tangy Cran-Gose (4 percent). Then ease your way up north to beers between 5 and 6.5 percent for a designated period before slipping into IPA or barrel-aged stout territory.
The exception to these suggestions comes if there’s a fantastic bottle of wine, double IPA or rare whiskey that you (or, hopefully, a relative) really want to share. Palate fatigue is real, and if you save that New England IPA or medium-bodied Grenache until everyone has been eating and drinking for hours, it’s not going to taste the same. (And if you’re tipsy by that point, you might not remember a special treat.)
2. Socialize, don’t bartend
Thanksgiving should be about spending time with friends and loved ones, not putting in an extended shift in the kitchen making cocktails each time someone’s glass is empty — yes, you actually are in the way — or being repeatedly pulled out of conversations with rarely seen relatives to go hunt down a bottle of tonic water for grandma’s G&T.
The solution is to pre-batch your drinks. Allan says “making a nice big bowl of punch can keep a large group happy without forcing someone to play bartender,” especially when it’s something like the Lost Leaves Punch (recipe here), an autumnal creation starring apple brandy and apple cider.
Another option: Keep it simple. Set out a bottle of sparkling wine and a carafe of orange juice to let guests make their own mimosas. McIntyre suggests using “an inexpensive Cava such as Segura Viudas or Jaume Serra Cristalino.” Allan also recommends opening bottles of Byrrh and Cocchi Americano, “aromatized bittersweet wines that make for great aperitifs to get people hungry before the big Thanksgiving meal.”
Both can be sipped neat, over ice, or topped with club soda and enjoyed as a highball with a twist of orange (Byrrh) or lemon (Cocchi Americano).
Warning for hosts who aren’t minding the bar: If there’s anything in the house you really don’t want to be accidentally opened — a special wine, a rare bourbon — make sure it’s stashed away from the rest of the liquor cabinet, just in case.
3. Step away from the alcohol (every now and then)
Even if you’re a seasoned veteran, you shouldn’t drink nonstop on Thanksgiving Day. Stay hydrated and (hopefully) avoid hangovers by interspersing your wine and cocktails with one or more glasses of water between each alcoholic beverage. The problem is that going into the kitchen and filling a glass with ice water from the refrigerator just doesn’t feel very festive, so up your game with sparkling waters and sodas. We like cans of Italian bittersweet Stappj or blood orange San Pellegrino, but something as simple as sparkling mineral water with lime wedges will work. A side benefit: If someone asks if they can get you a “real” drink, you can fib a bit and tell them the latter is a vodka-tonic.
M. Carrie Allan:
Italian amaro (amari if you’re sipping more than one) is a nice way to end a day-long gorge. The herbs in these digestive Italian bitters are designed to settle and ease the stomach after a meal. Try Ramazzotti, Averna or Montenegro — all pleasantly autumnal.
For a cocktail, try the three-ingredient Darkside, both for its great spice notes and the depth of Barolo Chinato and Plymouth Gin. Have two and start a fight with that cousin you don’t like.
If you’re all about cranberries on Thanksgiving, check out Allan’s seasonal berry drink recipes here.
People always argue about which wines to pair best with turkey, but I’d rather drink beer with the bird. For lighter meat and vegetables, I’d open a bottle of the classic Saison Dupont: Dry, peppery, grassy and just a bit flinty. For darker meats, stews and hearty vegetables, there’s Union’s Foxy, a balanced red IPA with pronounced toffee flavors, bready malts and piney hops.
After dinner, skip the pumpkin pie and try Avery’s Pump[KY]n, a pumpkin porter aged for six months in bourbon barrels. I’m not usually a fan of pumpkin beers — a little allspice and nutmeg goes a long way — but this rich, delicious fall-spiced beer seems like the perfect Thanksgiving treat, especially with the bourbon-chocolate notes, and at 15 percent alcohol by volume, a little goes a long way. (Remember that tip about sharing above.)
Start the day with Moscato d’Asti, a moderately sweet, low-alcohol, slightly fizzy white from Italy (and the model for the moscato craze a few years back) that is an excellent wine for breakfast or brunch, especially if blueberry pancakes are on the menu.
A nice, substantial Beaujolais (Nouveau for fun, a Cru for more serious vinophiliacs) is the perfect bridge between rosés drunk at lunch and the weightier pinot noirs and cabernets served with the turkey.
For more of McIntyre’s Thanksgiving wine recommendations, plus a cider, click here.