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The Best Whiskeys To Pair With Your Thanksgiving Feast

When people talk about the holidays, what’s the one thing they say is most important? Quality time with friends and family, right? But if they weren’t trying to impress anyone, they’d probably be more honest and say: “the food.” The gluttonous holiday season — with its stuffing, roasted turkey, ham, candied yams, technicolor Jell-O’s, and endless rolls — is why everyone decides that the first week of January is the right time to join a gym (and then promptly forget to ever go).

But you have wash down your cornbread and cranberry sauce with something right? And with a meal this heavy and rich, you’ve gotta go with whiskey. Bartenders across the country each have their own favorite whiskeys to pair with holiday fare. At the Park Hyatt Aviara’s Park Lounge in Carlsbad, California, Evgeny Anisimov always reaches for the Wild Turkey.

“A few years ago during the holiday season, I had the pleasure of spending some time at the Wild Turkey distillery in Kentucky,” he says. “The level of hospitality and warmth and welcome I received from Russel’s family was incredible. From now on I can only associate Thanksgiving with Wild Turkey bourbon.”

Robert Hall, bartender at Southside Smokehouse in Landrum, South Carolina says that whisky inevitably plays a vital role in his holiday plans.

“In the south, our Thanksgiving holiday meals are rich, creamy, sweet, and usually over-indulgent,” he says. “Before and after dinner, our family enjoys a new Scotch whisky each year. My favorite is the Sherry Cask Springbank. It’s light, but still complex and rich and the sweet finish is wonderfully executed.”

These anecdotes left us wondering which expressions the rest of our favorite bartenders like sipping on while they chow down on turkey and stuffing. They were nice enough to tell us.

Maker’s Mark Bourbon

Robbie Robinson, bartender at The Ballantyne in Charlotte, North Carolina

The best whiskey (bourbon) to pair with Thanksgiving food is Maker’s Mark. The most famous of all Thanksgiving food is most certainly Turkey. Bourbon and turkey happen to be a match made in heaven. The sweet smoothness of makers pairs excellently with the juicy savory poultry. All bourbon by definition uses at least 51% corn, but the unusual use of soft red winter wheat instead of rye is what gives Maker’s a sweeter taste on the palate. Vanilla and caramel are very apparent on the nose and upon tasting this bourbon.

The vanilla and caramel tones of Makers also compliment the flavors of pumpkin pie, the most famous Thanksgiving dessert.

Blackened American Whiskey

Amanda Colom, bartender at Bad Birdy in Los Angeles

What it comes to Thanksgiving food the best whiskey to pair it with is Blackened Whiskey. Blackened is such a well-rounded whiskey and it’s really going to compliment all those rich and savory traditional Thanksgiving courses. Here’s a tip: surprise your family with some maple bourbon butter with freshly baked biscuits.

Michter’s Single Barrel 10 Year Old Bourbon

Jonathan Cunningham, bar manager at Husk in Greenville, South Carolina

Michter’s Bourbon. It comes from an early Colonial-American recipe. It’s got a rustic, homey label. It’s named after a the founder’s two sons (Michael and Peter), which highlights the significance of family. It’s an extremely approachable, drinkable bourbon.

Redbreast 12-Year-Old Irish Whiskey

Michelle Hamo, bartender at Brabo Brasserie in Alexandria, Virginia

I can’t think of anything I’d rather sip at Thanksgiving dinner than a lovely pour of Redbreast 12-Year-Old Irish whiskey. This bottle has a slightly higher price point ($60) but is still accessible for a holiday splurge. Redbreast 12-Year-Old is a single pot still whiskey made with green barley in its mash bill and aged in sherry casks. The result is an earthy and smoky drink with a delicate balance of buttered bread, dried fruits, baking spices, and citrus. This flavor profile works harmoniously with all the dishes you will find on the table this Thanksgiving.

Bruichladdich Classic Laddie Scotch Whisky

Lydia McLuen, bartender at KEX in Portland

The best whisky to pair with Thanksgiving food is Bruichladdich Classic Laddie Scotch. This is an excellent single malt scotch from Islay that is unpeated and highlights the floral and elegant house style of Bruichladdich. On the palate, you find red apples, a touch of sweet cinnamon and a touch of salinity. Perfect scotch to sip after loading up on turkey and cranberry sauce.

Crown Royal Apple Canadian Whisky

Drew Hairston, beverage manager at Dirty Habit in Washington, DC

If my family and I are around the dinner table and we bring out whiskey, it’s usually during desert and rounds of Tunk. My family usually goes with something light and often flavored that everyone can enjoy. Crown Royal Apple is a crowd pleaser and pairs really well with my mom’s sweet potato pie.

Henry McKenna 10 Year Bottle In Bond Single Barrel Bourbon

Stephen George, bartender at 20|Twenty in Carlsbad, California

For me, it has to be something nice enough to sip “neat”, because space will be at a premium with a Thanksgiving spread. I’m going to go with the Henry McKenna 10 Year Single Barrel B.I.B Bourbon, enough of a treat to hold me to just one slice of pie. The 10 years in barrel gives it vanilla, caramel, brown sugar and balanced with some spice from the Rye (plus at 100 proof, you might actually catch a buzz on a full stomach).

Russell’s Reserve 10-Year-Old Bourbon

Lauren Mathews, lead bartender at Urbana in Washington, DC

One of the best whiskeys to pair with Thanksgiving food is Russell’s Reserve 10-year. The hints of butterscotch sweetness complement Thanksgiving food perfectly.

Belle Meade Madeira Barrel Finished Bourbon

Adam Morgan, bar manager at Husk in Nashville

Belle Meade Madeira Barrel Finished Bourbon. The addition of nutty, fruity qualities from the barrel finishes will compliment stuffing, turkey and dad jokes. Ten extra points if you get it at cask strength.

Compass Box Oak Cross Scotch Whisky

Juan Gonzalez, food & beverage director at Baron’s Cove in Sag Harbor, New York

Oak Cross by Compass Box. It’s a rich, medium-bodied blended malt Scotch whisky and combines vanilla characters from American oak and spicy, clove-like characters from French oak for a taste of fall and autumn flavors, perfect for Thanksgiving.

High West Yipee Ki-Yay Whiskey

Dwayne Ridgaway, bartender at The Brown Room in Cape May, New Jersey

I love all whiskeys from Utah-based High West distillery. Typically, sourcing whiskeys from Indiana and Kentucky and blending into inventive, special batches, they are most recently including some of their own in-house distilled whiskey. Their very special Yippee Ki-Yay is a wonderful blend of rye whiskeys finished in used vermouth and Syrah wine barrels. The flavors the barrels impart are oak, subtle fruit, cinnamon, and cloves. All notes that are perfect cold weather friends.

W.L. Weller Special Reserve Bourbon

Seth Weinberg, head bartender at Bourbon Steak in Nashville

Thanksgiving is an American holiday. I could think of no better whiskey than bourbon, since it is America’s National spirit. Brands with a long legacy and history fit the build. Weller is a sweet wheated Bourbon brand. Pappy Van Winkle used to sell their whiskey in the 1800’s. He was a charismatic family man and would have loved to have seen his bourbon legacy carried over to the Thanksgiving holidays today.

Wild Turkey Rare Breed Bourbon

Justin Simko, bar manager at The Bar at Husk in Charleston, South Carolina

Wild Turkey Rare Breed. One of the best ‘bang for your buck’ whiskeys out there, it can sit with a cube in it and not turn flavorless while you gorge on an actual turkey and stuffing. I’m a big fan of the black pepper and oak notes in the whiskey, I feel like it pairs nicely with gravy.

Whistle Pig 10-Year-Old Straight Rye Whiskey

Axl Larrison, Bartender at Stella San Jac in Austin, Texas

Whistle Pig 10-Year-Old Straight Rye Whiskey. A lot of drinking is mental, and the name makes you think of food. We eat animals on Thanksgiving, so ‘pig’ adds to the spirit of the holiday.

Jonnie Walker Black Blended Scotch

Nathan Elliott, lead bartender at il Solito in Portland, Oregon

To me, nothing is more classic than Johnnie Walker Black on the rocks at Thanksgiving. It’s smooth, with a touch of smokiness and just enough subtle spice to pair well with nearly everything that would be served at a proper Thanksgiving. It won’t break the bank if you are serving a lot of people and you won’t sacrifice any of the classiness. If you’re really feeling festive, spring for the Blue. It’s as buttery as pork fat.

Blanton’s Bourbon

Leia Pecotte, bartender at Tulio in Seattle

Going back to my Favorite Blanton’s bourbon for a Thanksgiving pairing. This is my hands-down favorite. The richness of flavor and finish of the spices pairs perfectly with all your Thanksgiving favorites. I will be serving and drinking this myself at our family Thanksgiving.

Templeton Rye

Will Witherow, beverage director at Live Oak in Alexandria, Virginia

Templeton Rye is the best at Thanksgiving. Templeton holds a special place in my heart because it’s the only whiskey a friends dad will drink. At Thanksgiving we would get done stuffing our faces and he would pour us a healthy glass of Templeton and say “here this will help burn the food down.” Drinking will always invoke feelings and I love the thought of those Thanksgivings in my younger days.

Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon

Evgeny Anisimov, bartender at Park Hyatt Aviara’s Park Lounge in Carlsbad, California

It can be something simple, like Wild Turkey 101, a little more sophisticated, like Rare Breed. Or, if you really want to treat yourself, get the bottle of Wild Turkey Decades, if you can still find it. It was a limited release bourbon as a part of Masters Keep collection from a couple of years ago.

Angel’s Envy Bourbon

Katie Hestead, bartender at Richard’s at the Inn at 500 Capitol in Boise, Idaho

If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on the Angel’s Envy Bourbon finished in Oloroso Sherry Casks, you’ll be pleasantly surprised how well it pairs with everything from roast ham or turkey to green bean casserole or stuffing. It’s spicy and smooth and is fabulous in eggnog.

St. George Baller Single Malt Whiskey

Matt Betts, lead bartender at Revival at the Sawyer in Sacramento, California

St. George Baller Single Malt Whiskey. Goes great with Turkey, Stuffing and all the fixings! Also, approachable for entry-level whiskey drinkers. It’s crisp and dry, with a touch of malt sweetness. The smoky finish lingers and builds with each sip. Delicious stuff.

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