When it comes to commonly-loved Thanksgiving foods, there’s an obvious star of the show. Frankly, for many Americans, it wouldn’t even be Thanksgiving without the turkey. And while we definitely encourage you to look at including Indigenous foods in your holiday menu, we get the pressure to serve flightless fowl at the center of your table. Surround it with whatever sides you desire, pair it with oysters or bison, just don’t forget the popular poultry.
If you really want to savor all the roasted, deep-fried, or spatchcocked goodness Thanksgiving has to offer, you might like to sip on a nice glass of whiskey while you bite on that bird. Kyle Ritchie, bar manager at Doug Fir in Portland, Oregon pairs his with spicy rye.
“With its full and forward body as well as its very balanced spice, it will pair great with turkey,” he says. “Whether it’s roasted or fried, heavily herbed and brined, or just as it comes.”
Cole Newton, bartender at Twelve Mile Limit in New Orleans opts for a blended Scotch.
“As an accompaniment to a big turkey dinner, I’d suggest a quality blended scotch, like Monkey Shoulder, and soda,” he says. “It’s light, refreshing, and the malty sweetness and light smoke should pair perfectly with Thanksgiving food without overwhelming it. Also, if your family dinners are going to get contentious, maybe it’s best to wait for straight hard liquor until after?”
These two picks made us wonder about the flavors that other whiskeys bring to the Thanksgiving table. So we asked some of our favorite bartenders to tell us their go-to whiskeys to pair with the gallant galliformes.
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 friend’s 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 Rye
Kristian Niemi, owner of Bourbon in Columbia, South Carolina
Wild Turkey 101 Rye. Since it’s corn-heavy rye, it retains that toasty, spicy notes of rye, but with the rich, caramel-pecan sweetness of the corn. This makes it especially good for drinking on a big cube, in a mixed cocktail, or in the Tom & Jerry batter. It’s also perfect to pair with friends and family with different political views.
Taha Ismail, bar manager at the Round Robin Bar in Washington, D.C.
I enjoy sipping Legent Bourbon. It’s Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey partially finished in a wine & cherry cask that pairs well with roasted turkey & gravy.
Charleston Distilling Calhoun Straight Rye
Matt Catchpole, general manager at Terra in Columbia, South Carolina
I’m not sure there is a “best” whiskey to pair with turkey, probably whatever your favorite one is since the sides and accouterments are likely a bigger determining factor. We’ve been awfully fond of rye recently, so maybe a Charleston Distilling Calhoun Straight Rye with just a little chilled water or a large ice cube.
Devon Daley, bar manager at Sternewirth in San Antonio, Texas
There are plenty of options here, depending on what is accompanying, however, I like Pikesville 6yr Rye. It’s spicy and delicious and, best of all, overproof.
Woodford Reserve Bourbon
View this post on Instagram
A Friend For Dinner 🥃 Inspired by my recent visit to Bar&Restaurant Branie, I tried to reproduce their Deputy Officer. Did not quite work out that way but still resulted in a very nice Raspberry Bourbon Sour. 🥃 Made Raspberry syrup using equal parts fresh Raspberry juice and sugar. 🥃 2 oz. Woodford Reserve Bourbon 1 oz. fresh lemon juice 0.5 oz. homemade Raspberry syrup 0.5 oz. Triple Sec 0.25 oz. Ginger syrup 2 dashes of Angostura Bitters 1 orange twist 🥃 🔹4.5+ blue points 🥃 Halfway added a bit more Bourbon. Also nice. Bit more Bourbon and less sour. That starts to resemble my original intention. 🥃 In a next effort tried 2 oz. Woodford Reserve Bourbon 0.5 oz. fresh lemon juice 0.25 oz. Raspberry syrup 0.5 oz. Ginger syrup 2 dashes of Angostura Bitters 1 orange twist A wonderful sweet-sour Bourbon cocktail 🥃 🔹5 blue points 🥃 #woodfordreserve #bourbon @branieamsterdam #triplesec #raspberry #syrup #photography #lemon #whiskeysour #gingersyrup #ginger #homebar #woodfordreservebourbon
Tony Gonzales, lead bartender at District in Los Angeles
I like to pair my turkey with Woodford Reserve Bourbon because it has just the right amount of sweetness to mix with eggnog.
Warbringer Mesquite Smoked Southwest Bourbon
Jeremy Allen, general manager at MiniBar in Los Angeles
I recommend Warbringer Mesquite Smoked Southwest Bourbon, finished in Sherry Cask. It’s a big whiskey, full flavor, with smoke and peeled carrots on the nose. The rich and milder turkey texture is perfect for these big flavors. THE whiskey for thanksgiving.
Drew Breen, bar manager at Jianna in Greenville, South Carolina
What’s the best whiskey to pair with turkey? That’s easy. I enjoy rye to sip with food. Rittenhouse is an awesome brand for affordability or Michter’s for a nicer feel.
Johnnie Walker Black Label Scotch Whisky
Benjamin Rouse, head bartender at Henley in Nashville
For me, the best food pairing whiskies tend to be from Scotland. Scotch tends to be a little less abrasive than bourbon or rye. My turkey dram would be Johnnie Walker Black Label because it has some awesome fresh orchard fruits and the perfect ribbon of smoke to accompany the bird and all the rest.
Wild Turkey Bourbon
Casey Faden, bartender at Sabroso+Sorbo in Philadelphia
Wild Turkey is a Thanksgiving staple. Bourbon in general pairs really well with turkey. My second choice would be the Knob Creek Rye, but both bourbons do a nice job pulling through the flavors of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
Jefferson’s Ocean Cask Strength Bourbon
Justin Miller, executive chef at Anthony’s Chophouse in Hamilton County, Indiana
A quality home cook should know that you should brine your bird at least 24 hours ahead of the big day. The brine seasons the turkey as well as, ensure the bird doesn’t dry out. If I were to pair a whiskey with roasted turkey I would choose, Jefferson’s Ocean Cask Strength. I chose this bourbon because it is aged on ships that are sailing around the world. In doing so, the sea spray from the water is absorbed by the barrels and lends a saltiness to the whiskey. The perceived saltiness from both the turkey and whiskey would make a great Thanksgiving pairing.
High West Campfire
John Walter, lead bartender at Outlier in Seattle
High West Campfire would be my go-to turkey whiskey. I like to gradually increase the smokiness of what I’m drinking as the meal goes on. This blend of American whiskeys complements the myriad ingredients in the stuffing and can bring some sense to all the giblets.
Daniel Dameron, bar manager at Husk in Savannah, Georgia
The best style of whiskey to pair with turkey is definitely a wheated whiskey. Larceny is a great brand at a very approachable price. The extra wheat really mellows the burn.
Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon
View this post on Instagram
four roses single barrel kentucky straight bourbon #bourbon #fourroses #fourrosesbourbon #fourrosessinglebarrel #bourbonwhiskey @fourrosesbourbon #sweetsweetwhiskey #kentuckybourbon #instawhiskey #whiskeygram #whiskeylover #instadram #drinkphotography #productphotography #bottleporn #booze #cheers
Keith Zintakmon, bartender at JRDN in San Diego
Turkey pairs perfectly with Four Roses Single Barrel. At a good price point, this gentle bourbon is easy to drink but still brings powerful flavors. It’s a great way to cut through the richness of turkey and gravy to balance your dinner.
Old Grand-Dad 114 Bourbon
Ben Rojo, bartender at Black Emperor in New York City
Old Grand-Dad 114 is my preferred Turkey Day sipper. Big, brash, and beautifully American, the full body and dark spice of this bourbon keeps your palate engaged through the marathon meal, and the considerable ABV will keep your stomach settled and your dad’s jokes hilarious.
Russell’s Reserve 10-Year-Old Bourbon
View this post on Instagram
I was looking for something in my cabnet that I haven't had in a while and ended up going with this. Not a favorite but it's not bad at all. Lots of spice, wood and alcohol flavor hits you fast, then a nice sweetness lingers. It's a product of Wild Turkey and that's always a plus. 👌👍 #russellsreserve #russellsreserve10 #wildturkey #bourbon #whiskey #sunday #beard #bearded #beardman #beardlife #beardlove #beardgains #noshavelife #graybeard #beardo #beardsofinstagram #fuzzyface #beardsofig #beards #fuzzylip
Steve Yang. co-bar manager at Tavola in Charlottesville, Virginia
Russell’s 10 year. It’s smooth, balanced with just a hint of sweetness to contrast the salt of the turkey. Not to mention—it’s made by Wild Turkey. Perfect fit.
Old Medley 12 Year Old Bourbon
View this post on Instagram
Old Medley 12yr is a good coming from just down the road from my hometown. The mild spice in the oak is a little surprising and carries through to the finish. There are a lot of complicated sweet tones the come out with a drop of water #oldmedley #medleybros #oldmedley12year #wathensmedley #bourbon
Mike Wolf, author of Garden to Glass: Grow Your Drinks from the Ground Up
For turkey, I’d recommend Old Medley 12 year, one of the most exquisite and light yet deeply flavored bourbons out there. The Wathens/Medley family has been making bourbon for eight generations, so just imagine how many awkward holidays they’ve made it through with their whiskey!
Maker’s Mark Bourbon
Casey Bunch, bartender The French Room Bar in Dallas
I like Maker’s Mark. It may seem like a pedestrian answer, but Maker’s has a slightly sweeter note that pairs well with the usual slightly sweet offerings on the Thanksgiving table. In terms of only pairing with the turkey, I love Sonoma County cherry wood rye. There’s a newish trend to smoke whiskey, not like the peat-smoked variety found in scotch, but more of the smoke found commonly in barbecue. Try it with a smoked turkey and your mind will be blown. If you do want to go the scotch route, I’m a huge fan of peat monster
Buffalo Trace Bourbon
View this post on Instagram
Picking the right Whisky or Bourbon for the weekend can be tough but this time, I've went for reliability! . . Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight isn't the most hard or complex whiskey but there's smooth caramel, toffee and rum spice in there. The price is also outstanding. . . Keeping the Bourbon and American metal pairings going, with this ridiculously easy to drink whiskey, Metallica and the classic Master of Puppets. Cheers 🥃🤘🥃🤘🥃 #rocknscotch #bourbon #kentuckybourbon #americanbourbon #whiskey #whiskeyagogo #buffalotrace #buffalotracebourbon #instawhiskey #instabourbon #metallica #heavymetal #80smetal #classicmetal #classicmetalalbums
Denis Cote, bartender at The Limelight Hotel in Ketchum, Idaho
Buffalo Trace and turkey is a match made in heaven with its new American oak, sweet, smooth flavor profiles with a juicy turkey that will make you want to go for more…bourbon.
Humboldt Redwood Rye
Austin Doiron, beverage director at NEAT Bottle Shop & Tasting Room in Alys, Florida
When it comes to pairing with turkey, I would say a good rye because of the overall spice it brings to the glass. The Redwood Rye from Sonoma County (yes, a California whiskey) has spice notes of clove, pecan, and subtle apple on the tongue.