Like Christmas and booze-free wakes, Thanksgiving is one of those celebrations where the main goal is making it across the finish line with your sanity intact. Preferably without a major blowout over Justin Trudeau’s handling of COVID-19, the continued existence of Conrad Black, or whether or not you really need that seventh drink before the turkey goes in the oven.
On that front, liquor makes everything better, including your thoroughly obnoxious relatives. And the key to dealing with that brother-in-law who’ll argue that Donald J. Trump is the greatest world leader that’s ever lived is getting your glow on early and quickly.
Leave the Peach Bellini for the next time you’re settling into a booth at Harry’s Bar in Venice. And save the Cabernet Sauvignon for dinner—unless you plan to spend the afternoon doing the sensible thing by drinking straight from the wine box.
The other key to surviving Thanksgiving is accepting that there’s no point in fighting the holiday. Everything’s easier when you try and have some fun with it, whether that means watching Planes, Trains and Automobiles for the 73rd time or dressing up like a circa-1621 pilgrim, including the crisp white creased canvas breeches and gold-buckled hat.
By getting into it, we’re also talking cocktails that go with the spirit of the day. The more hard-core among us will suggest turkey-fat-washing your go-to rye, gin, or absinthe. But let’s face it—you’re going to be totally greased-out by dinner, especially after drinking straight from the gravy boat while the men-folk are doing the dishes.
Instead, you can capture the spirit of Thanksgiving with a few easy tricks. The easiest is to break out the muddler and the herbs. Assuming you haven’t gone the Butterball or Swanson dinner route, chances are good you’re stuffing your cranberry-brined, free-range, raw-grains-fed organic turkey with fresh sage, rosemary, and thyme.
Here’s a great thing: all of these are brilliant additions to cocktails.
Make a thyme-infused simple syrup by boiling four or five fresh sprigs in a half-cup or water. After steeping for 15 minutes add a half-cup of honey or sugar and stir until dissolved. Substitute the thyme syrup in an Old Fashioned, muddling a sprig at the bottom of the shaker for an extra flavour kick. Go down a lighter path by combining 2 oz of gin with an ounce of thyme syrup and an ounce of lemon juice, once again muddling a couple of sprigs in the shaker before going full-on paint-mixer after adding the ice.
We’ve already covered the fabulous Keefer Bar’s brilliant and simple Rosemary Gimlet in a previous Liquor Nerd. While perfect for summer, the cocktail is also herbaceous enough for a Thanksgiving drink or four.
More specific to the holiday is sage, which no one except for the ghost of Julia Child tends to use in day-to-day cooking. Same goes for the whole cranberries you use to make homemade cranberry orange sauce—which of course acts as an acidic counterbalance to the two turkey legs, half-pound of mashed potatoes, and softball-lump-size mound of stuffing that you’ll be stuffing your face with.
Sage is a funny one in that it’s so mild it’s hard to truly capture its essence in a simple syrup. Don’t let that stop your from trying as per the thyme recipe above, but add a couple of extra sprigs and then bump up the steeping time by an hour or so.
Better yet, expand your simple syrup game by combining five sprigs of sage with 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup sugar, 3/4 cup of whole cranberries, and 1/4 cup of fresh orange juice. Bring to a boil, crush the cranberries with a muddler, and then let steep for hour or two, strain, and then store in the fridge. You can add an ounce of triple sec for an orange kick.
Once you’ve got your cranberry-sage syrup, keep in mind it will tend to be overpowered by whiskies and bourbons. You’ll have better luck swapping it in for cocktails that call for vodka or gin.
Unsure of yourself unless you’ve got the safety net of a recipe? That’s okay, fellow liquor nerd. We don’t want Thanksgiving to be any more stressful than it already is. It’s bad enough you’re going to be worrying about giving 85-year-old Aunt Enid salmonella because the turkey is undercooked.
Let’s make things easy. Here’s a drink you can make to capture the spirit of the day that every turkey dreads. Not to mention your liver in the official warm-up to the hellishness that is Christmas.
Sage and ’Berry
2 oz Sipsmith gin
3/4 oz cranberry syrup
1/4 oz pure maple syrup
3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
2 dashes orange or cranberry bitters
Five sage leaves
Three whole cranberries
Muddle three of the sage leaves in a shaker. Add gin, syrups, lemon juice, bitters, and ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a chilled coupe glass and garnish with sage leaves and whole cranberries.