A Drink for Every Dysfunction: 10 Recipes for Surviving Family Thanksgiving

No Thanksgiving would be complete without some family drama, so we consulted top cocktail experts for 10 liquid prescriptions for whatever ails your clan--recipes included
by Kerry Acker,


Thanksgiving is a time to be grateful, to savor the kindness of kin around the hearth, and…wait a minute, who are we kidding? Much as we love the holiday--and, yes, we love you, too, Mom--there are times when Thanksgiving and its attendant family rituals can be, well, an exquisite brand of torture. But we've got your back, dear readers. To help you cope with the horrors of the holiday, we've assembled a panel of professional mix-masters to prescribe the perfect cocktail cure for all sorts of Turkey Day meltdown moments. Cheers!

* Suppose…: You're minding your own business, scarfing down the cheese plate before the big meal, when your sister and her husband launch into a Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?-style blowout.
* Cocktail cure: "Knock out some Bonded Bourbon Manhattans immediately with extra bitters," says Dale "King Cocktail" DeGroff, the iconic James Beard Award-winning mixologist and author of The Essential Cocktail and The Craft of the Cocktail. "Bonded bourbon is 100-proof bourbon and it will calm everyone down; Dale's Pimento Aromatic Bitters, which is extra-strong, will give them a taste of what we've had to listen to, and the sweet vermouth will come through in the finish and balance out the evening."
* Rx: Chill a cocktail glass. In a mixing glass filled with cubed ice, add 2 oz. bonded bourbon, 1 oz. Italian sweet vermouth, and 2 dashes DD Pimento Aromatic Bitters (available at DDBitters.com). Stir 50 rotations to chill, and strain into the chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with marinated cherries (brandied or maraschino).

* Imagine…: The persona non grata uncle who gambled away the family fortune shows up uninvited.
* Cocktail cure: "Well, it's definitely gotta be strong, but not so strong that you lose control and paste him one; fisticuffs do have a way of spoiling a family gathering," says drinks pro David Wondrich, the James Beard Award-winning author of Punch and Imbibe!, and numerous magazine articles. "And it had better be just a little bit expensive, to remind yourself that your wastrel uncle didn't also blow your future when he blew all the money. In other words, an Improved Brandy Cocktail, like the swells used to drink before Prohibition," counsels Wondrich.
* Rx: Put a scant teaspoon sugar in a mixing glass. Add a teaspoon of water, 2 dashes Angostura bitters, and a few drops of absinthe. Stir well. Add 2 oz. VSOP-grade Cognac and 1 teaspoon orange curaçao or Grand Marnier. Fill mixing glass 3/4 full of cracked ice, stir well, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Twist a swatch of thin-cut lemon peel over the top.

* Suppose…: No sooner is he through the door than your super-religious uncle lets loose on your atheist spouse.
* Cocktail cure: Erik Adkins, bar manager at San Francisco's Slanted Door, which recently won the 2012 Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Award for Best Restaurant Bar, has a general strategy for dealing with any family gathering. "Get bottles of Bugey-Cerdon rosé and Bordelet apple cider," he says. With these low-alcohol refreshments, he explains, "I keep all of the grandparents sober--none of them can hold their liquor-and I survive off of strategically placed flasks. One under the baby's crib, one in the garage, and one in my closet. Mescal does the trick. This is how I avoid family conflict."
* Rx: This particular situation may call for special measures, Adkins acknowledges: "I would whip up some Satan's Whiskers and toast the Devil." Chill a coupe or martini glass. In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, add 3/4 oz. gin, 3/4 oz. French vermouth, 3/4 oz. Italian vermouth, 1/2 oz. fresh orange juice, 1/2 oz. Grand Marnier, and 4 dashes orange bitters. Shake well; strain into coupe. Garnish with an orange peel, and serve.

See more:10 Recipes for Thanksgiving Leftovers

* Imagine…: Your extended family is gathered around the candlelit, gorgeously appointed table, admiring and giving thanks for the Thanksgiving bounty, when Grandpa suddenly unleashes an epic fanfare of window-rattling flatulence.
* Cocktail cure: "Nothing beats Crosby Gaige's Cocktail Guide and Ladies' Companion, published in 1941, to fully prepare for any family meltdown," declares LeNell Camacho Santa Ana, proprietor of LeNell's, a beloved wine and spirits boutique formerly of Brooklyn, New York, which she aims to reopen in her new hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, in 2014. "Perfect for laughs at Grandpa's gassiness is Gaige's Call the Undertaker cocktail."
* Rx: Put equal parts gin, crème de cacao, and vodka in a shaker with ice. Shake; strain into a cocktail glass. Do as Gaige instructs: "Serve and run for your life."

* Picture this…: You're meeting your future in-laws for the first time. Not only does your mother-in-law-to-be turn out to be a nasty piece of work, but--lucky you!--you get to sit next to her during the feast.
* Cocktail cure: "Tricky situation," says Joaquín Simó, the 2012 Tales of the Cocktail Bartender of the Year. "But…most folks respond well to being flattered, so Champagne is always a safe bet," adds Simó, an alumnus of New York's famed Death & Company and co-owner of Pouring Ribbons, which opened in the fall of 2012 in Manhattan's East Village. He suggests a dry pink bubbly from Pol Roger or Perrier-Jouët, "as rosé Champagne pretty much pairs beautifully with everything."
* Rx: If you're feeling more ambitious, Simó says, "Tackle a Tom and Jerry bowl for a deliciously decadent riff on eggnog." Do as the good doctor instructs and "let the spices and base spirit you add be dictated by your future mom-in-law's taste." Marrying into a Scandinavian family? "Star anise, cardamom, and fennel would play nicely with aquavit's caraway," Simó advises. "She'll be hard-pressed to not be won over by your efforts and consideration." To make a punchbowl's worth of this sweet, old-fashioned winter treat: Separate 12 eggs; beat whites until stiff. Beat yolks with 1 cup sugar and a small pinch each of spices of your choosing; pour in 4 oz. rum or brandy (or aquavit). Fold whites into yolk mixture. Place 1 tablespoon egg mixture into each mug; stir in 1 oz. each rum and brandy (or 2 oz. aquavit). Top with hot milk; stir. Grate nutmeg on top and serve.

* Suppose…: Your adorable 2-year-old has a cute-as-heck cranberry-sauce-smearing, stuffing-hurling meltdown. It's getting messy, and soon she's not the only one screaming.
* Cocktail cure: When tantrums strike, the Slanted Door's Adkins usually goes "straight for one of the flasks" of mescal already mentioned. If a more sharable escape strategy is called for, however, "I would make some Painkillers," he says. This strong tropical drink comes from Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands, where Adkins and his wife went for their honeymoon. "It can take one away to that peaceful hammock strung between two coconut trees."
* Rx: In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, put 2 oz. rum (preferably Pusser's), 1 oz. cream of coconut, 1 oz. fresh orange juice, and 4 oz. pineapple juice. Shake for 8 seconds and pour the drink with the used ice into a 14-oz. water glass. Grate nutmeg on top and serve.

* Picture this…: Your family is digging into their pumpkin and pecan pies, and your young niece announces her engagement to her boyfriend of two weeks.
* Cocktail cure: "The Ritz Cocktail!" exclaims master mixer DeGroff, opting to look at the bright side of the situation: "A celebratory cocktail is needed, and nothing is more celebratory than Champagne, so that will be our base," he begins. "However, life is not all froth and bubbles…so we'll fortify our drink with Cognac." To represent "those sweet moments to come," DeGroff includes some Cointreau, along with lemon juice, for a "little balance." Finally, "We'll finish with a quarter ounce of the wonderfully floral Maraschino liqueur," says the cocktail king. "What's a marriage without flowers?"
* Rx: Chill a large cocktail glass. In a mixing glass filled with ice, add 3 oz. Champagne, 3/4 oz. Cognac, 3/4 oz. Cointreau, 1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice, and 1/4 oz. Maraschino liqueur and shake well to chill. Strain into the chilled cocktail glass and top with 3 oz. Champagne. Garnish with orange zest.

See more:5 Essential Thanksgiving Sides, 5 Ways

* Imagine…: While you and your loved ones are chatting post-pie, your nine-and-a-half-months-pregnant relation suddenly goes into labor.
* Cocktail cure: Camacho Santa Ana once again looks to Crosby Gaige's Cocktail Guide for wise counsel, coming up with a drink that couldn't be more perfect for the occasion: The Pediatrician.
* Rx: Put 1/2 part dry gin, 1/4 part grape juice, 1/2 part lemon juice, and a dash of grenadine in a shaker filled with ice; shake. "Strain into a nursing bottle with a well-sterilized nipple." What?! "Yes, he actually says that!" laughs Camacho Santa Ana, adding her own sage advice: "Never attend any family function without packing a flask of bourbon as backup."

* Suppose…: Grandma has one too many Whiskey Sours and starts dropping F-bombs and (very, very unwanted) details about her sex life.
* Cocktail cure: "I'm going to have to show solidarity and join Gram-Gram on this one," ventures cocktail connoisseur Wondrich. "Anything that'll make her loosen up has got to have something going for it. But I might just make my Whiskey Sours into New York Sours, with a little layer of red wine floating on top to add complexity to the drink."
* Rx: Put 1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice and 1/4 oz. fresh orange juice in a cocktail shaker. Stir in 1 teaspoon superfine sugar. Add 2 oz. straight rye or bourbon whiskey ("or, indeed, any whiskey at all"). Fill the shaker 3/4 of the way with ice, cover, and shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and carefully float 1/2 oz. of red wine on top by pouring it slowly over the back of a spoon. (Note from Wondrich: "A nice, oaky Cabernet Sauvignon works best, although whatever your prissy sister-in-law is drinking will work fine; it's easier to float the wine if you put it in a small cruet first.")

* Picture this…: You're a liquor lover trapped in a strictly mocktail clan.
* Cocktail cure: "Occam's Razor says a vodka soda would be the clear choice here--no tattletaling booze breath, and it looks like you're drinking club soda," says Pouring Ribbons' Simó. "But that's not terribly original, now, is it?" Instead, Simó takes an approach similar to Adkins', recommending cider. "Try bringing a few bottles of nonalcoholic cider for the guests and a bottle of hard cider for yourself. Everyone looks like they're drinking the same thing, so no one feels left out or put out, and few things pair better with rich fall dishes than a tart, bracing cider."
* Rx: Though you can't go wrong with a traditional French cider, and some Spanish versions would be nice for variety, Simó says, "The more patriotic choice is to stick with the homegrown stuff. Isn't that what Johnny Appleseed would've wanted?" Simó recommends Doc's Draft Hard Apple Cider, made in Warwick, New York. "It's funky in that apple-orchard-floor kinda way--a perfect pairing to cut through a gluttonous Thanksgiving meal." Finally, he adds, "Don't forget to pack a tiny bottle of Underberg bitters--the best aid to start digesting that massive turkey leg you just took down."

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