Classic Cocktails for Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving is rife with confusion of its origin and may well have been first celebrated in St. Augustine, Florida; Plymouth, Massachusetts; Canada; or even borrowed from the Dutch. These are things well beyond the scope of a blog post on Thanksgiving drinks but it bears noting that they all culminate in a harvest party—something few of us experience anymore. (A visit to Whole Foods hardly constitutes harvesting, though it may even be arduous fighting for the perfect bird and lunging for the last can of cranberry sauce.) But then it's the perfect time of year to remember our debt to agriculture and the purpose behind the holiday: to give thanks for what we have.

Therefore, instead of sending you on that shopping spree at a chain store, I'd rather send you to the farmers' market or to your own cupboards. There's no need to splurge on beverages during the feast, it's easy enough to cobble ("cobble" not "gobble") together some simple recipes. Let's start with a colonial drink called the Sangaree.

The very mention of turning a pumpkin pie into liquid form ignites a series of expletives from my mouth that would make Anthony Bourdain blush.

Yes, it sounds enough like Sangria that the very mention of the word conjures summer days and a pitcher of the delightful, red concoction, fruit-laden and packing a wallop. But the Sangaree, it's forebear, is ideal for year-round enjoyment. At its heart, the Sangaree is a punch and can be made from a wide range of spirits and wine. No one tells the story better than Dr. Cocktail, Ted Haigh, so I'll give him his due.

I like using a robust red wine, sugar, and some brandy and nutmeg. I generally measure a half-ounce of simple syrup, add three ounces of red wine, an ounce or so brandy or Curaçao (surely somewhere tucked in your liquor cabinet), and sometimes a dash of lemon for a little tartness depending on the wine used. Add ice (cracked ice works great), stir, and grate some nutmeg on top. Simple and refreshing, but pairs across the board with turkey, cranberries, and that sweet potato-marshmallow dish that marks the second round of eating, at least in my hierarchy of plating.

Steer away from pumpkin pie martinis like the plague. The very mention of turning a pumpkin pie into liquid form ignites a series of expletives from my mouth that would make Anthony Bourdain blush. Instead, if seasonal ingredients are what you seek, then grab some pears or apples, whole sage leaves, and rosemary twigs. Dice the fruit and heat it in a sugar syrup to a simmer, simmering for 15 to 20 minutes but never boiling, and then add herbs after taking the syrup off of the heat. Cool it, strain through cheesecloth, and save the herbs for garnishing. Add the herbed syrup (whether apple, pears, or both) to a flute and top with sparkling wine. Garnish with the leftover herbs.

Lastly, a hot mulled cider may be among the most delightful drinks of the harvest season. It's also only a few minutes of prep followed by 30 minutes of making your home smell like heaven before pouring the cider into a cup. There are many great recipes but here's my everyday version:

    • 1 quart apple cider
    • 2 cinnamon sticks
    • half an orange, cut into moon-shaped slices and studded with cloves in the pith
    • ½ cup brown sugar, although Demerara sugar is even better
    • 2 pods star anise
    • 1 cup dark rum or brandy, or both at ½ cup each

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Derek Brown is a writer, illustrator, bartender, and co-owner of acclaimed bars The Passenger and Columbia Room in Washington, D.C. He sits on the board of directors for the Museum of the American Cocktail. More

Derek Brown is a writer, illustrator, bartender, and co-owner of acclaimed bars The Passenger and Columbia Room in Washington, D.C. He travels throughout the country and around the world in search of great drinks, and the stories behind them. Derek's methodical approach to cocktails was profiled in the Wall Street Journal's "A Master of Mixological Science" and his martini lauded as the best in America by GQ. He's been in numerous media outlets featuring his approach to better drinking, including CNN, The Rachel Maddow Show and FOX. Derek is a founding member of the D.C. Craft Bartender's Guild and on the board of directors for the Museum of the American Cocktail.
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