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Best Thanksgiving Whiskey Pairings, From Potatoes to Pie

by | Nov 8, 2021 | Drinks

Best Thanksgiving Whiskey Pairings, From Potatoes to Pie

by | Nov 8, 2021 | Drinks

In the holiday lineup, none is more focused on food than the fourth Thursday of November. But Thanksgiving isn’t just an eating holiday. It’s a day for great drinking too. It’s the perfect excuse to offer an all-American lineup of bourbon, rye and other locally made pours. Yes, we’re talking Thanksgiving whiskey pairings.

With Thanksgiving’s notoriously variable menu, pairing drinks to the whole meal can be a challenge. Instead, tackle it dish by dish, and offer your guests options that will suit their favorite part of the plate—whether that’s stuffing, cranberries, or pie. Let’s face it though—everyone’s favorite is pie.

While serving whiskey neat or on the rocks is the most straightforward route, this occasion is a great excuse to break out the bubbly. Seltzer, that is—and whip up some simple highballs. The fizzy cocktail goes great with all kinds of food and can be made with any whiskey. Just pour an ounce or two in a tall glass, add ice, top with seltzer or club soda, and stir gently. Garnish with a citrus twist or a few uncooked cranberries.

From Kentucky bourbon to well-matured rye, robust corn whiskey to smoky single malt, these bottles express the passion and culture of American distillers and make a fitting toast for a day devoted to gratitude.

Bottle of Wild Turkey Master’s Keep One next to black box container on wooden table
Wild Turkey Master’s Keep OneCourtesy Image

Best Whiskey Pairings for Turkey

Wild Turkey Master’s Keep One

Whether roasting, deep frying, or smoking your turkey—and even if you’re having Tofurkey—there’s one obvious pour: Wild Turkey, of course. Old standby 101 is a perennial favorite, but this is a special day, so why not treat yourself to the distillery’s limited-edition Master’s Keep? This year’s release marries mid-aged bourbons (8 to 10 years old) with 14-year-old liquid. After combining, the final whiskey is finished in a second set of new charred oak barrels.

[Price varies; search local distributor]

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Dark tall bottle of New Riff Red Turkey Wheat Bourbon with unfocused background
New Riff Red Turkey Wheat BourbonCourtesy Image

New Riff Red Turkey Wheat Bourbon

If you’re more a fan of wheaters and want to stay on theme, New Riff Distilling has a special-edition bourbon made with heirloom Red Turkey wheat—available for sale in Kentucky only. It’s five years old and bottled-in-bond, hewing to a proud American whiskey tradition that’s in keeping with the day’s customs.

[$50; newriffidistilling.com]

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Clear bottle of Balcones True Blue 100 on wooden surface
Balcones True Blue 100Courtesy Image

Best Whiskey Pairing for Stuffing

Balcones True Blue 100

Possibly the most variable aspect of the meal, stuffing (or dressing in certain parts of the country) could include oysters, onions, fruit, or little more than bread and some spices. My family recipe uses a cornbread base, so I’ll be reaching for a sweet, powerful corn whiskey like those made in Texas. Waco-based Balcones offers a few variants, all made with Hopi blue corn. The 100-proof True Blue, thick with fruit and honey flavors, allows for the generous addition of water or ice, lengthening the drink and the time available to enjoy this sublime pairing.

[$64; balconesdistilling.com]

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Bottle of Westward Pinot Noir Cask American Single Malt Whiskey

Best Whiskey Pairing for Cranberry Sauce

Westward Pinot Noir Cask

The toughest matchup on the table, cranberries are simultaneously tart and sweet—balancing mouth-puckering acidity with a smooth, jellied texture. Look for a whiskey that offers resonant berry notes. Something finished in a wine cask is a good option. Made with Pacific Northwest-grown barley, Westward Whiskey sources pinot noir casks from nearby wineries like Bergstrom and Dominio IV, layering on red fruit flavors and creating a whisper-soft mouthfeel.

[$97; westwardwhiskey.com]

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Bottle of Redwood Empire Rocket Top Bottled-in-Bond Rye with filled stem glass in front of wood slat background
Redwood Empire Rocket Top Bottled-in-Bond RyeCourtesy Image

Best Whiskey Pairing for Mashed Potatoes and Gravy

Redwood Empire Rocket Top Bottled-in-Bond Rye

Mashed potatoes are practically a blank canvas, pairable with just about any whiskey—until you add a dollop of thick, salty gravy. You’ll want to cut through all that richness with a spice-forward rye, like this five-year-old bonded version from Sonoma County’s Redwood Empire. It’s got a generous 87 percent rye in the mashbill, with the remainder split almost evenly between malted barley and, unusually, wheat. Like all of the distillery’s whiskeys, it’s named for a famous redwood tree.

[$100; redwoodempirewhiskey.com]

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Bottle of Santa Fe Spirits Colkegan Single Malt Whiskey on a wooden gable
Santa Fe Spirits Colkegan Single Malt WhiskeyCourtesy Image

Best Whiskey Pairing for Sweet Potato Casserole 

Santa Fe Spirits Colkegan

Since preparations of sweet potatoes often revolve around marshmallows and brown sugar, opt for a contrasting whiskey that will stave off sugar overload. Smoky American single malt offers a dry palate and barbecue-like flavors that juxtapose perfectly, thanks to the use of native hardwoods like mesquite. Try Colkegan, made by Santa Fe Spirits, which balances smoke and sweetness with warming spice.

[$68; santafespirits.com]

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Bottle of Whiskey Del Bac Dorado nestled in a woodpile

Whiskey Del Bac Dorado

Another option is Whiskey Del Bac from Arizona, which makes smoked and unsmoked versions, both of which channel the best of the desert’s dry climate into a spicy, at times fiery, single malt. Malted on-site at the distillery with mesquite smoke, Dorado is distinctly Southwestern yet familiar enough to appeal to diehard peaty scotch drinkers.

[$60; whiskeydelbac.com]

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Bottle of Watershed Barrel-Strength Apple Brandy-Finished Bourbon beside a snifter of whiskey on a wooden table
Watershed Barrel-Strength Apple Brandy-Finished BourbonCourtesy Image

Best Whiskey Pairings for Pie

Watershed Barrel-Strength Apple Brandy-Finished Bourbon

Whether you go for apple, pecan, pumpkin, or another type of pie, the dessert course is where whiskey shines brightest, and it’s hard to go wrong no matter what you pick. Still, a careful choice here will leave your dinner guests with a lasting final impression and set a standard for future meals. Barrel-finished whiskeys can be especially rewarding, as the additional flavors from the secondary cask often echo the ingredients of the pie. Even before they distilled whiskey, colonists in North America made cider and apple brandy. Columbus, Ohio-based Watershed nods to this tradition with its six-year-old bourbon finished in barrels that previously held the distillery’s own apple brandy. The base whiskey itself is herbaceous and peppy, but the barrels soften its spicier notes and, even at cask strength, round out the whiskey’s texture to create a memorable pour that matches seamlessly with traditional apple pie.

[price varies; check retailers]

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Square bottle of Belfour Spirits Pecan-Finished Bourbon on a gray surface
Belfour Spirits Pecan-Finished Bourbon: Produced by a legendary NHL goalie.Courtesy Image

Belfour Spirits Pecan-Finished Bourbon

Hockey legend Ed Belfour is a native of Manitoba, Canada, but apparently likes bourbon enough to have started his own brand a few years ago. The lineup includes this whiskey, distilled in North Carolina and finished with pieces of pecan wood harvested from a 300-year-old tree on Belfour’s Texas ranch. Sounds like a gimmick, but the effect works splendidly, with nutty and fruity flavors and ample spice to complement a sweet pecan pie.

[$70; belfourspirits.com]

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Bottle of High West A Midwinter Night’s Dram Act 9 whiskey with a blurred tree branch background
High West A Midwinter Night’s Dram Act 9

High West A Midwinter Night’s Dram Act 9

The warm spices of pumpkin pie meld seamlessly with similar flavors found in rye. The pairing is especially elevated in this complex blend of multiple whiskeys, all finished in ruby and tawny port barrels. Each year’s batch of Midwinter Night’s Dram varies somewhat, but always showcases the fruity and nutty notes of the port, integrated with spicy, oak-forward rye. With a whiskey this deep and rich, you may be tempted to skip dessert completely—or else have a second helping of both.

[$100; highwest.com]

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