Some people call whisk(e)y the ‘Wine of the Spirit World’ because of the variety of flavors, the importance of regionality and its ability to pair with food.  The reality is it’s even easier to pair a whisk(e)y with food than wine because you don’t have to worry about the delicacies of wine – whisk(e)y will hold up to anything you throw at it!  With Thanksgiving coming up I thought I’d suggest a few whiskies that might pair well with traditional Turkey Day dishes.


What would a Thanksgiving meal be without a 12lb bird on the table?  Tho Thanksgiving has only been an official holiday in the US since 1863, most in the ‘New World’ recognize the ‘First Thanksgiving’ as going back to 1621 to celebrate the end of a successful growing season.

I’d take the opportunity to pair the traditional turkey with a traditional American whiskey like Bourbon.  With the relatively mild but gamey flavor of the bird, I’d suggest a bourbon a little more on the spicy side; something with a little more rye in the mash bill (the recipe/percentage of ingredients used to make whisk(e)y) to offset.  Basil Hayden’s, Bulleit and Old Grandad would all make great choices.  If a little rye is good, you might think more rye is better and go to a Straight Rye, but I’d shy away from that here as it might start to overpower the other flavors in the meal.  If your family is one of those avant-garde ‘we deep fry our turkey’ families, or if you just like to play off the deeper, rich flavors, I’d go straight to a smokey Scotch!  I’d probably go with something that still holds some sweetness like Lagavulin or Bowmore – Laphroaig and Ardbeg might be a little much.

If you do an alternative protein like seafood, head straight for a salty Scotch (like Highland Park, Springbank or Talisker) or a Japanese whisky (like Yamazaki or Nikka).  If Tofurkey will be adorning the table, follow along with the turkey-pairing ideas above.


Ah, the bready, doughy, spiced crouton and celery (and whatever else you might want to throw in) mix.  I love mine mixed up with the mashed potatoes and sweetened with cranberry sauce.  Mmmm…  my mouth is watering just thinking about it!

This is where you get to have some fun and experiment with different flavors – maybe a cocktail?  How bout a Manhattan?  If you load up the spices, maybe even with sausage, go for the Rye Whiskey base (like Russell’s Reserve Rye, Rittenhouse Rye, Whistlepig or the stand-by Old Overholt).  If your stuffing leans more to the sweet site, maybe with apples, go for a lighter American whiskey (like Elijah Craig, Makers Mark or Dry Fly Washington Wheat Whisky).

Sweet Potatoes

Regular ol’ mashed potatoes are so….  boring!  Make ’em with sweet potatoes and…. Wow!!  Maybe a little maple syrup?  Some toasted pecans?  Brown sugar?  Yes, Yes Yes!  Maybe even some marshmallows – you know, just for fun!

This sounds like a recipe for Canadian Whisky!  Pendleton?  Crown Royal?  Forty Creek?  Sure!  The predominantly wheat base, light spice and maple sweetness will match up perfectly!  Heck, why not put some whisky right in with the potatoes while cooking them?


Coleslaw is pretty much a must at my Thanksgiving table, or at least some variation on it.  So many soft foods – it’s nice to have a little crunch on the table.  Maybe even a cabbage salad with dried ramen noodles and a sesame dressing.  You’ve really got to dose it up to get a lot of flavor out of it, so I’d choose a whisky that’s not going to steamroller right over the top.

This sounds like a job for a more simple whisky – something like an American Blend or light Scottish Blend.  Seagrams 7, Fleischmann’s, Cutty Sark or Buchanan’s would do just fine.

Pumpkin Pie

The perfect pumpkin pie to me (yes, I still call it “punkin’ pie”) is on the dense side, something like cheesecake, but still a bit of a custard mouth feel.  Silky.  It’s not really punkin’ pie without whipped cream on top and coffee, and preferably eaten just before you feel comfortable about eating again – like, that next bite might really hurt you.

Bring on the Irish whiskey!  The right malt flavors, honey sweetness, light character will cut right through that richness.  I’d might even go all the way to an Irish Coffee!  I’d probably choose something slightly on the rich side like Bushmills Black Bush or Redbreast (tho if I were making Irish Coffee I’d go for brighter like Tullamore Dew or Bushmills Original).

No matter what the dish, no matter what the whisk(e)y, enjoy Thanksgiving with your friends and family and be sure you have a safe way to get home!  Now, won’t you enjoy a dram with me?


About the Author:
The Whisky Guy is an educator, host, blogger and more, having worked in the whisk(e)y industry for over 10 years.   He can be reached through the Contact page and you can find out more by visiting the About page.  He always supports enjoying whisk(e)y responsibly.