Sure, there will probably be a passable bottle of red wine on your family’s Thanksgiving table, but the biggest eating holiday deserves better than the last-minute grocery-store bottle that your uncle bought on sale. Instead, set the scene this year by mixing up a strong drink before everyone sits down for the big meal. For the best Turkey Day cocktail recommendations, we asked bartenders and beverage professionals for their favorite Thanksgiving drinks. Here’s what they recommend.
The Best Thanksgiving Cocktails, According to Bartenders
- Newark cocktail
- Amaretto sour
- Cranberry sour
- Hot apple cider
- The Friendsgiving
- Bourbon sour
- Buttered rum apple cider
- Black Manhattan
- Old Fashioned
- Hot Toddy
“For me, Thanksgiving has always meant big family gatherings and big meals. I need something easy to make so I can catch up with my family, and not spend my entire day making drinks. For that, I love a Sazerac. It’s boozy and luscious so it doesn’t fill me up (gotta save room for stuffing), I can pre-batch it and keep it in the fridge for ease of access, and it’s nice before or after dinner.” —Brandon Thrash, general managers, Middle Child Clubhouse, Philadelphia
“While wine is my drink of choice for Thanksgiving dinner, I always make sure to finish my meal with a strong, bitter cocktail, which aids both in settling my stomach after consuming way too much food, and also helping me drift into my post-meal slumber while watching football. My Thanksgiving digestif of choice is the PDT classic ‘Newark’ cocktail, made with Laird’s applejack, sweet vermouth, Fernet Branca, and Luxardo maraschino liqueur. It’s boozy and bitter and doesn’t skimp on any fall flavor thanks to the rich apple pie notes of Jersey-made apple brandy.” —Danny Child, bar manager, Farm and Fisherman Tavern, Cherry Hill, N.J.
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“Cosmopolitan through and through. Thanksgiving is the time of the year to really hero cranberries, and there’s no cocktail that does that better than a Cosmo!” —Liana Oster, bar director, NoMad London
“Being raised in Harlem and the Bronx, my holidays were a lot different than most. Thanksgivings were held in the homes of loved ones in tenement buildings, full of family and friends. As you went up the elevator, each floor smelled of delicious foods. The hallways were always filled with the younger kids playing and staircases with the teens. The spirits of choice when you entered were Hennessy or Brugal, along with chasers like juices and sodas. Even though I no longer live in New York City, I will still make a Daiquiri variant where I substitute rum for Hennessy, cranberry juice for lime, and cinnamon syrup for simple syrup.” —Tito Pin-Perez, creative director, Rayo Cocktail Bar, Mexico City
“Guilty pleasure for me is an Amaretto Sour… but, I always add a bit of the leftover cranberry sauce to give it a bit more tartness. Who doesn’t love cranberry and almonds together, especially next to a perfectly cooked bird?” —Phil Collins, beverage director, TableOne Hospitality, Los Angeles, San Francisco, NYC
“During Thanksgiving, I love to sip on a simple cranberry sour. It’s one of my favorite cocktails to drink to pair with all of our Thanksgiving favorites and brighten up those fall flavors. My recipe is made with bourbon, lemon, homemade cranberry syrup, and cinnamon.” —Ivy Mix, co-founder of Speed Rack, co-owner Leyenda and FIASCO! Wine and Spirits, Brooklyn
“I usually make some sort of punch for the family — a non-alcoholic base that the young ones can taste and that the adults can add the spirit of their choice to. This year, I’ll be whipping up a spiced pear punch with vanilla and holiday spices.” —Coleen Morton, director of bars, Hotel Per La, Los Angeles
“I always drink hot apple cider with cinnamon and clove. For my guests, I always prepare an apple cinnamon clove Old Fashioned, which I start at the beginning of the month. I infuse bourbon with clove-studded Fuji apples, cinnamon sticks, and grated nutmeg. By Thanksgiving, it is ready to go.” —Gabe Sanchez, general manager, Midnight Rambler at The Joule, Dallas
“For Thanksgiving, I like to make a cocktail I call the Friendsgiving: Laws Four Grain Bourbon to warm you up, maple and spices for seasonal taste, and pineapple juice to sweeten it up. This is the perfect cocktail to share with whiskey and non-whiskey drinkers alike.” —Garrett Turnquist, beverage director, Bourbon Belly Hospitality, Illinois
“For Thanksgiving or Friendsgiving, I always like to showcase a play on a bourbon sour using persimmon, clove, nutmeg, and a little cinnamon. The word savory always seems to come into play when thinking about cocktails and fare in fall. The persimmon and spices definitely lend to good bourbon — easy drinking with friends and family with all that delicious food at your table.” —Evan Cablayan, beverage director, Mercy Me at Yours Truly, Washington, D.C.
“My cocktail of choice for Thanksgiving is a buttered rum apple cider. I take some good-quality apple cider, put it on the stove with some cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, allspice, orange peel, and a little ginger, let it simmer for 15-20 minutes. Pour two ounces of rum with a chunk of unsalted butter into a mug, and pour the hot apple cider over. Let the butter melt into it and enjoy — reminds me a little of liquid boozy apple pie.” —Mathew Scherl, beverage director, Lagos Restaurant & Lounge, NYC
“My cocktails of choice for Thanksgiving are cocktails that are made with bourbon or rye whiskey as well as Cognac or Calvados. Original recipe for classic Manhattan would be my first choice. High-proof rye whiskey mixed with sweet vermouth, Angostura bitters, and splash of Grand Marnier. Rye toasted and vanilla oak notes and aromatically herbaceous aromas from bitters and sweet vermouth are a perfect match to the fruity and citrusy aromas of Grand Marnier. Finishing off with lemon twist, served straight up, this cocktail is great to drink as an aperitif or to pair with heavier food that has been served during cold days in a holiday season.” —Milos Zica, beverage director, Fandi Mata, NYC
“My libations of choice for Thanksgiving are aperitif- and digestif-driven, with applejack as the spirit base (I love Arkansas Black for this) — Boulevardiers to start, Black Manhattans to finish, and still, dry cider during the meal itself. You can really tailor each cocktail to your meal depending on what kind of vermouth and bittering agent you’re using in the Boulevardier and what kind of amaro you’re using in the Black Manhattan. The aperitivo and digestifs will help your stomach throughout the feasting and the apple-based spirit will be in theme, both historically and palate-wise.” —Ulysses Toimil, bar manager, Uccello Lounge, San Francisco
“To me, the flavors of Thanksgiving scream ‘whiskey.’ From the spices to the caramel, there isn’t a better pairing in my opinion. My go-to within that category: a rye whiskey with plenty of spice such as Angel’s Envy. WhistlePig 10 Year Rye is a little bit higher alcohol, perfect for mixed drinks like a Manhattan or Old Fashioned.” —Scott Taylor, beverage director, Harris’ Restaurant, San Francisco
“Thanksgiving is stuffing yourself with all of the comfort food, surrounded by friends and family. So for me, I would love a spiked cider or a Hot Toddy; something to warm and comfort you for the day, with fall vibes. Thanksgiving is also a long day that can be very tiring, so incorporating some low- or no-ABV options into your day may assist with that tryptophan hangover after dinner. And if dinner has got you too full, you can always reach for the nearest digestivo. Explaining Fernet to my family is always fun.” —Ashley Mac, beverage & service director, Moon Rabbit, Washington, D.C.