Thanksgiving Bar Essentials

November 19, 2017

Thanksgiving is just around the corner and it’s time to make sure you are sufficiently stocked up. We don’t just mean the turkey and cranberries; this year, above any year, demands a fully stocked bar. We have some recommendations for you and your guests to sip on while the bird roasts, but we’ve also got a few ideas for putting your booze to work in the food.


Whether you’re watching the Macy’s Day parade, football, or the National Dog Show (my favorite), snacks and drinks are a must while awaiting the feast. Spiced pecans are a sure-fire hit (Alton Brown’s recipe has served me well). And what could pair better with pecans than bourbon? Served neat, on the rocks, or even in a whiskey buck would be a fine start to the day. One of my favorites for the day is Four Roses Small Batch.

Four Roses Small Batch / Photo Credit: Four Roses

But don’t just relegate bourbon to your glasses. Adding a splash to deglaze the pan while making your gravy will take it to another level. Whether you’re in the pro or anti marshmallow camp, one thing we can all agree on is a shot of bourbon goes oh-so-nice in any sweet potato casserole.

If you’re in the mood to do some oyster shooters, try serving Scotch with some peat and a little sea influence. The appropriately named Rock Oyster will do the trick. After shooting the oyster, add a little whisky to the oyster shell for an “oyster luge” experience.


Passing on the bird this year and serving ham instead? How about rubbing that ham with some rum? Rum ham! (wink to my fellow “It’s Always Sunny” fans) But seriously, salt and sweet together help to create a balance. This is why a glaze is the final touch to a holiday ham. Be sure to add a splash of rum (2-4 oz) to your glaze to kick it up to another level. We recommend an amber or aged rum to intensify the flavor. Bonus points if you can find a tasty American rum like Richland Rum or Bayou Select Rum.

Richland Rum / Photo Credit: Richland Rum

Rum is also a nice touch for your cranberry sauce. Using one with a little sweetness will help to balance the tart cranberries. A dollop of rum like Appleton Estate Signature Rum would work well.


One reason why brandy is often called for in cooking is its ability to bring not only fruity flavors, but also some acidity. Acidity helps to balance rich, fatty flavors. If you take away only one piece of advice from me today it’s this: never ever use “cooking brandy”. For one thing, it is loaded with salt. Secondly, brandy works with sweet and savory, entrees and desserts. It is just an all-around pantry essential.

Laird’s Straight Apple Brandy / Photo Credit: Laird & Company

One of the best turkeys I’ve ever made was one I basted with apple brandy and apple cider. It took the turkey, and the resulting gravy to a whole other level. Try a ¼-½ cup of young Calvados such as Christian Drouin Sélection to your basting liquid. You can keep it all-American using Laird’s Straight Apple Brandy. Either of these apple brandies will serve you well in a stuffing, particularly in one with sausage or bacon as an ingredient. Use it to deglaze the pan after rendering your fat of choice.


Looking for whiskey and Thanksgiving dessert pairings? We’ve got you covered. Don’t forget rum as dessert. A sipper like Ron Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva would do the trick. Or how about some made-in-the-USA Rougaroux 13 Pennies Praline Rum or Breckenridge Spiced Rum to spike your post-dinner coffee?

Ron Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva / Photo Credit: Ron Diplomatico


Having a few pre and post-dinner drinks is a nice touch. You don’t have to go overboard, but having some basic staples will set you up for a myriad of drinks.

Beyond everything else, you can never have enough ice. Make sure you’ve got plenty of large ice cubes for your Old Fashioneds, which make lovely digestifs. Have at least two ice chests. Reserve one for your drinks and one for chilling the beer and wine. No need to take up precious refrigerator and freezer space.

Next, make sure to have a few basics on hand. Having one solid (i.e. good & not too expensive) bottle each of whiskey, brandy and rum is a good start. Especially since you’ll be cooking with some, right? Incidentally, if you aren’t playing host this year, a bottle of booze makes a nice gift. Add some citrus fruit and some mixers to your shopping lists to take care of your highball cocktail needs. Your guests can easily make their own drinks while you finish up in the kitchen.

Wherever and with whomever you spend the day, I wish you and yours a very Happy Thanksgiving!

On the hunt for more spirits for Thanksgiving?

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