Make every step of your holiday feast flow with boozy ease.
What’s the one thing you need to make hosting holiday feasts a breeze? A plan. And knowing the optimal time to put the turkey in the oven is only a small part of the equation. Though the poultry is important for ceremonial reasons, most people look forward to two aspects of holiday gatherings: pie and copious amounts of festive booze.
Thankfully, pie already has its honored place in the holiday plate assembly line. Drinks are another matter entirely. Cocktail wonks will likely know what to serve with each course of the meal. For others, timing the amount of booze consumed before the main course—so as to not be a total wreck before the pumpkin pie makes its appearance—can be a challenge. And believe it or not, there are drinks meant to be served before, during and after meals to do everything from enliven the appetite to enhance the flavor of the cranberry sauce.
Perhaps this is the year to skip the open bar and show your guests how true cocktailing is done.
BEFORE THE MEAL: AN APERITIF
How do you prepare to gorge on heaping plates of turkey, green bean casserole and cranberry sauce? A cocktail designed to whet the appetite: the aperitif.
Sounds fancy, but there’s not much to an aperitif—not even alcohol. Drinks that are lower in proof help stimulate the appetite. These drinks are also typically bitter, bubbly or aromatized (or a combination of the three), making it easier to sip them slowly while munching appetizers and preparing for the ultimate gorge.
During the holidays, consider a simple aperitif like a low-proof fortified wine or easy-to-assemble cocktail. Rosé vermouth, Lillet Blanc and Amontillado sherry are great options, as is a simple fizzy combination like Dubonnet Rouge and Champagne. There are also slightly higher-proof cocktails worth considering, including the classic Italian Negroni and the Dubonnet Cocktail, both of which contain gin, vermouth and a bitter kicker.
DURING THE MEAL: GO WITH THE FLOW
Now it’s time to abandon the aperitif for a more mellow beverage. Choosing what to pair with food is undoubtedly the trickiest part of a holiday meal. A solid rule: Keep it simple and avoid heavy drinks, which will not only compete for precious belly space during the meal, but will likely overpower whatever you’re eating. A flavorful but light wine, like pinot noir, is always a good option, and expert Johnathan Cristaldi has a few more suggestions for both the first and second courses (find them here).
Plan to stay on the cocktail train? Be sure to pay attention to the flavors of the dish—or dishes—you’re eating. If you’re having red meat, try a whiskey cocktail like the Old Fashioned. Smoked the turkey this year? Go for tequila. Vodka and gin are also quite easy to pair, especially if you incorporate a spice or herb from your dinner into the drink. The same goes for dessert: Pies are full of delicious spices, so an easy Mulled Wine recipe should pair nicely.
AFTER THE MEAL: A DIGESTIF
The sipping doesn’t have to stop once dessert is over. The best way to calm the stomach after an indulgent meal is by nursing a distant relative of the aperitif: the aptly named digestif.
Cognac, with its fruity notes, is a popular choice in this category and pairs remarkably well with an after-dinner cigar or coffee. Port and cream sherry are also solid, traditional picks. But to keep the dinner party conversation at a murmur, choose a more unconventional drink. Yellow or Green Chartreuse, both intensely herbal and complex French liqueurs, are not only memorable, but a sure-fire way to salve your aching belly. Likewise, the artichoke-flavored liqueur Cynar (stay with us here) is a calming bitter sipper that’s great on the rocks or with a bit of Scotch and vermouth in the Sin Cyn.
Really, there’s no wrong way to end a holiday feast, as long as everyone’s still standing.