A Guide to Thanksgiving Sips, From Welcome Cocktails To Nightcaps

Wine too, of course.

Originally Published: 
Glass of red wine at dining table in backyard patio
We may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article.

When you cast your gaze upon a well-dressed Thanksgiving dinner table, the turkey usually gets all the glory — but one roasted bird a great meal does not make. The recipe to a delicious holiday get-together also involves a thoughtful assortment of sides and a smattering of well paired (and well timed) beverages to accompany all of the food. If you’re hosting this year and haven’t devoted much attention to the B part of F&B, it’s not too late. From welcome cocktails and aperitifs to wine pours and nightcaps, there’s a lot of room to get creative here. And to those who aren’t imbibing: you shan’t be forgotten, festive nonalcoholic options that don’t involve a bottle of Martinelli’s also abound.

Of course, hosting Thanksgiving doesn’t require an all-out beverage program with several liquid ‘courses’ timed throughout the evening (that's for the hardcore folk). But if you want to take it up a notch beyond a simple bottle of red and white wine, there’s room to expand. Ahead, hear from industry experts who share their recommendations for concocting memorable Thanksgiving sips to share with your loved ones. Plus, plenty of shopping picks to make the planning process a tad easier.

The Welcome Drink

There’s something intrinsically festive and slightly ceremonial about greeting your guests with a welcome drink — whether it’s a glass of bubbly, seasonal cocktail, or classic apéritif, it’s a smart move to have something ready to go for when people start trickling in. “Champagne is always great to serve as guests arrive and it almost always pair well with appetizers,” Tasting House Executive Chef & Certified Sommelier Ryan Fillhardt says.

If you’re going that route, he suggests upsizing. “If you want to impress your guests, start off with a large format; they look impressive and they're the best way to serve Champagne.” On a similar note, Autumn Weimer (the beverage director at The Chloe in New Orleans) also points to sparkling as a strong start. “For a welcome cocktail, I love anything bubbly,” she says. “I would make a punch bowl full of a French 75 with a ton of fresh fruit in it. This could also be fun with fresh cranberries and orange wheels to make it really pop.” Ron Acierto, the wine and beverage director at ōkta agrees a Champagne cocktail is the way to go. “Using any available champagnes (sparkling wines could easily be a replacement) adding some flavored bitters,” he says. “A classic mix would be orange bitters, stir with sugar cube (or a few drops of simple syrup), and for added pop of color, a few drops of cranberry juice could also be added. Garnish with citrus wheel or twist.”

Another gin-based welcome cocktail to greet your guests with is an autumnal gimlet. “I think a great way to start Thanksgiving is by embracing the seasons,” Atomix bar manager Marc Rodriguez says. “I personally enjoy making a pear and thyme gimlet. Here we’re focusing on employing the lovely orchard fruits this season offers, while using a thyme syrup in tandem with a nice botanical gin.” And before you hand it over, Rodriguez says not to forget a bit of lime juice for acidity.

If gin isn’t your bag, shift the focus to brown spirits with a Holiday Gold Rush à la Miss Lily’s 7A. “This is a holiday twist on the Gold Rush using cranberry chutney as an ingredient,” beverage manager Alex Cajuste says. “In an Old Fashioned glass, place the chutney at the bottom. In a shaker, add lemon juice, honey syrup, fresh lemon juice, and bourbon of your choice; shake hard and strain over ice in the glass that has the cranberry chutney.” To finish? Garnish with a cranberry and lemon twist, Cajuste adds.

The Apéritif

If you’re averse to at-home mixology or don’t have enough time to whip up craft cocktails before your guests’ arrival, lean on a simple apéritif, instead. “I'm a big fan of Amaro delle Sirene, it's very approachable unlike some amaros or aperitifs that can be overly bitter,” Weimer says. It offers notes of vanilla, thistle, citrus, and gentian. “Sirene is owned and produced by a woman in Lake Garda, Italy who learned how to make the amaro from her grandmother and that's another reason I think it translates so well to Thanksgiving, it's very nostalgic and reminds me a lot of my grandmother's house during the holidays.”

For Rodriguez, an Americano is a soothing holiday apéritif. “The blend of Campari, sweet vermouth, and club soda really makes for a nice blend of bitter and sweet that will truly warm your guest's palate before they sit down for dinner,” he says. “If you feel like sprucing the proof up on this one, opting to add a bit of Solsongju Damsoul Soju is a nice choice.”

Going for the unusual and unexpected? Acierto recommends quinquina, an aromatized wine that’ is a variety of apéritif. “Byrrh Grand Quinquina combines a generous, port-like wine and mistelle base with a firm backbone of natural quinine to produce a fruity, refreshing aperitif by itself, with tonic and a twist, or paired with blue cheese,” he says.

The Wine

Ah, yes — the wine. It’s the anchor beverage for Thanksgiving and despite what you’ve heard, choosing which ones to pair with your meal really isn’t that big of a deal. “There is no reason to stress about wine at Thanksgiving. All different types of food are on the same plate at the same time; you can have salty, sweet, bitter, sour, and umami in one bite,” Wine Access Head of Wine and Master of Wine Vanessa Conlin says. “Rather than worrying about this, make it a fun conversation at the table by having a mix of different styles of wines.” For starters, she recommends one bottle per person across multiple styles of wine with one glass per person at the table. And even though it’s a sentimental holiday, it’s probably not the time to break out your trophy bottles, Tristan Pitre says (he’s an Advanced Sommelier and the wine collections manager at San Ysidro Ranch in Montecito, California). “The spirit of Thanksgiving is sharing in community and family so let that take center stage and allow the wine to support in fostering that atmosphere,” he says.


Since there will be numerous flavors on your Thanksgiving plate, choosing wines that are high in acid and mellow in tannin structure is always a safe bet. “I like to stick with the classics. On the red side, pinot noir and gamay are both totally at home on the Thanksgiving table,” Pitre says. “Their flavor profiles play well off the deep flavor of hard herbs and hold up to the tart acidity of cranberries, which are hallmarks of the holiday.”

Fillhardt, also a proponent for serving pinot noir and gamay, says experimenting is still encouraged. “It’s always fun to try a new pairing and see how it goes together, like Spanish rioja with a smoked or grilled turkey.” You should also be mindful of the serving temperature when pouring these bottles. “For reds, I like ones that drink well a little chilled, like beaujolais, barbera, or even pinot noir,” Conlin says. “Throw the bottle in the fridge for 30 minutes before you serve it — the cooler temperature can be really refreshing, especially with a meal that can be very rich.”


The consensus is clear — riesling is an industry favorite for Thanksgiving dinner. “This variety is made in a multitude of styles that range from bone dry to sweet dessert wines,” Pitre says. “Throughout these styles there is a through line of refreshing acidity, intense minerality, and orchard fruit that complements autumnal flavors.” It also meshes well with food offerings that stray from the expected turkey dinner. “For me, riesling is king at Thanksgiving. Over the years we’ve begun to have less traditional offerings of food mixed in with the traditional offerings: crab cakes with chipotle aioli, chorizo stuffing, smoked salmon, and honey dijon kettle chips nachos. Riesling can go with all these dishes,” Fillhardt says. He also points to well-balanced chardonnays and French white burgundies as strong options. And if you want to add something slightly unexpected to the table, Conlin suggests a hint of sweetness. “If there is a time of year to pull a cork on a sweet wine like sauternes, it's Thanksgiving,” she says.

The Nightcap

Ready to go above and beyond as Thanksgiving host? Serve a nightcap. “After a long day of eating, I want something to finish the night off with, something that soothes the stomach a bit,” Weimer says. “Coffee is also one of my favorite after-dinner drinks, so I would go with a cocktail called a Revolver; it's basically an Old Fashioned but with a little bit of coffee liqueur for the sweetener. Easy, rich and warming —the perfect cocktail to sip in front of a fireplace.” Manhatta’s head bartender Cameron Winkleman also points to coffee flavors as suitable for post-feast imbibing. “Sipping liqueur with a double shot of espresso is a great way to finish a meal. For Thanksgiving, I’d pair it with UME, a plum liqueur,” Winkleman says. “It adds a nice sweetness and fruity quality to coffee, and the temperature difference of chilled liqueur with hot espresso makes it even more interesting.”

You can also dabble in eggnog territory, bringing together dessert with the nightcap. “Being Puerto Rican from Brooklyn, I always try to find a way to sneak in some Coquito during the holiday season,” Rodriguez says. “Traditionally made with a blend of rums, coconut milk, condensed milk, and baking spices, it makes a great complement to just about any dessert this time of the year.”

And if you’re skewing tried-and-true, Cajuste points to mulled wine, the hot toddy, spiked hot chocolate, and Irish coffee as winning sips to serve. “For mulled wine, heat up red wine with cinnamon, allspice, star anise, cardamom, nutmeg, orange juice, apple cider, and orange peels in a pot. Let it simmer at low heat and serve in a teacup,” Cajuste says. For the hot toddy: hot water, fresh lemon juice, honey, and rum or whiskey of choice. As for the Irish coffee, combine hot coffee with Jameson and whipped cream. “This is an ideal drink for family members that want to keep going all night; talking, stories, listening to music, dancing in the living room, and having fun.” Lastly, Cajuste says hot chocolate is great as it works for the kids and can easily be transformed into a spiked version for adults. “Add a good orange liqueur like Cointreau or Grand Marnier to spike it up. The orange and chocolate mix is delightful and again brings joy with the sweetness, as well as the warmth and coziness of it being a hot drink.”

The Nonalcoholic Option

Whether you’re not imbibing at all or simply want to break up the booze, nonalcoholic options for Thanksgiving are a wise addition to the evening. To start, serve up an Amalfi Spritz (Ghia’s Lime & Salt Le Spritz is a delicious TZR-approved pick). “I’d feature it in a Champagne flute and toss in some cranberries,” Hekate Café & Elixir Lounge Bar Owner Abby Ehmann says.

If you're looking for something moodier, Ehmann points to a whiskey and rye. "This one is made from Spiritless Kentucky 74 and Euforia's Caraway in a double rocks glass over a big block ice cube with a pine sprig frozen into it.” If you’re not familiar, this East Village ‘sober bar’ opened this year with the premise of creating a welcome atmosphere for people without alcohol being the centerpiece. “We serve a few drinks that are literally nightcaps,” she says in reference to their elixirs featuring the Three Spirits Nightcap and Kin’s Dream Light Nightcap. “Our ‘Last Call’ uses Apothekary's ‘Chill the F*ck Out' and it puts me to sleep! Like falling asleep sitting up, crazy relaxing.” And lastly, if you’re in need of wine options for the dinner table, the recent influx of nonalcoholic bottles from brands like Null, Proxies, and Sovi should do the trick.

This article was originally published on