As you've likely seen on TV or online, Thanksgiving brings out the best in "creative" cocktail-making, incorporating what's on the table into what's in your glass in an almost adolescent way. To me that has its place and can be fun, but a cocktail that tastes like cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie seems a bit overkill to me. In my opinion, when pairing a drink with a meal or an occasion, instead of making it an exact match of its counterpart, it should act as a partner to enhance food or celebrations through its own uniqueness. How about a cocktail that distinguishes your pre-Thanksgiving imbibing with a bit of elegance, complexity and sophistication? A cocktail for adults.
I present to you the classic Americano:
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. Sweet Italian Vermouth
1-2 oz. Sparkling Water (to taste)
Combine ingredients in a glass with ice, stir and garnish with a slice of orange or lemon.
The Americano is an aperitif, which means it comes before the meal and is there to "awaken" the appetite. Why do I choose the Americano for Thanksgiving? One, its ingredients of essentially equal parts of Campari, sweet vermouth and sparkling water create a flavor reminiscent of the spices, herbs and fruits enjoyed during the holidays in a way unlike anything on your table. Sweet vermouth is a fortified wine typically infused with herbs and aromatics, many with flavors of stone fruit, cinnamon, vanilla, citrus and even mint and anise. Combine that with Campari's distinctive flavor of bitter orange, derived from its combination of the bitter cascarilla bark and dozens of other herbs, spices and citrus peels. The sparkling water blends and mellows the flavors into a smooth and effervescent texture perfect for pre-feast sipping. What's more, it's a low alcohol drink so your guests aren't too tipsy by mealtime.
Two, the Americano brings a delightful change of pace to the Thanksgiving tradition. It's easy to make (no abstract measurements and is built in the glass it's served in) and is a great way to bring everyone together to signify the coming meal. And for one of the most American of American holidays, it's name can't be beat. And its history goes deeper than that. In Philip Greene's book To Have and Have Another - A Hemingway Cocktail Companion he explains how Hemingway became fond of the Americano during his time living in Italy. The cocktail got its name from the many Americans who ordered it while on vacation in Italy during Prohibition. Americans had apparently grown a taste for bitters like Campari, which at the time were thought to have medicinal value. The laws of Prohibition had loopholes allowing for such bitters to be prescribed medically for certain "ailments." To add even more conversation to your aperitif, Greene goes on to say that the Americano is the first cocktail James Bond drinks in Ian Fleming's first 007 novel Casino Royale. Take that martini!
OK, so you want something with a little more oomph for your Thanksgiving, maybe something for later in the evening? Switch out the sparkling water with some bourbon or rye and you've got yourself a Boulevardier:
1.5 oz. Bourbon or Rye Whiskey (I prefer rye for a spicier tone)
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. Sweet Vermouth
Stir on ice until well chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a twist of lemon. Fall time in a glass! Earthy and bitter-sweet.
Toby Cecchini of the New York Times wrote a great "Case Study" on the Boulevardier telling of its origins in Paris in the late 1920s named after a literary magazine by American writer Erskine Gwynne.
Had your fill of sweet vermouth and Campari? How about a classic cocktail that incorporates two fruits of the fall-winter season, namely apples and pomegranates (ya, you hear me, pomegranates).
I give you the Jack Rose:
2 oz. Applejack (otherwise known as apple brandy - Use Laird's Applejack, the oldest family-owned distillery in the US. It's an old brand, as in George Washington was a fan. If that's not around a French Calvados will do the trick.)
1 oz. fresh-squeezed lime juice
1/2 oz Grenadine (preferably made from pomegranate juice)
Shake ingredients on ice until well chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass. Bright and fruity with a woody undertone and a crisp citric balance to wake up the taste buds.
Regarding the grenadine in the Jack Rose and other cocktails for that matter, brands such as Rose's tend to be highly processed with an ingredient list you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy. Historically grenadine was made with pomegranate juice. There might be specialty shops near you that carry it as well as a number that you can order online. OR, just make the simple recipe yourself. Et viola! Your contribution to the Thanksgiving spread.