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Thanksgiving meal tips are everywhere, but what kind of wine will go best with your turkey?

Thanksgiving libations: A primer for your holiday table

Around this time of the year, food publications are full of advice about how to cook your turkey, make the perfect side dishes and wow your guests with the hippest new recipe for pumpkin pie. The Internet is also packed with recommendations for the perfect beverages to serve alongside your feast.

And yet, it seems the question of what to pair with holiday food is as elusive as ever. Not everyone loves wine. Not every beer is the perfect choice to serve alongside the tang of cranberries. And cocktails can be tricky when it comes to complex holiday fare.

So, what is a savvy food-lover to do?

I spoke with three Milwaukee area experts about the whats, wheres and whys of holiday beverage pairing, and they offered up some great suggestions for taking the mystery out of what to drink with Thanksgiving dinner.


First, I spoke with Ira Koplowitz, Milwaukee cocktail guru and owner of Milwaukee's own Bittercube Bitters, who admitted that creating cocktail pairings for a large dinner like Thanksgiving can be a real challenge.

"Main course pairings are tough," he explains. "You want a cocktail that can stand up to the meal, but you don't want to overpower things."

He points out that dealing with varied and competing flavors like sweet potatoes, gravy, turkey and stuffing requires a bit of creativity for those seeking to provide cocktail pairings throughout a meal. He suggests focusing on autumnal flavors like allspice, cinnamon, apple and pumpkin for syrups and cocktail infusions.

"One interesting thing to do," he offers, "would be to take the cranberries off the plate and utilize them in a cocktail. A spiced cranberry syrup shaken with fresh lemon juice, Rehorst gin, Blackstrap bitters and an orange slice might be the perfect complement to Thanksgiving dinner."

When it comes to cocktail pairings for dessert, Koplowitz suggests going bitter.

"Bitter cocktails are great for two reasons when paired with a sweet dessert," he explains. "First and foremost, a bittered cocktail helps digest food. When you digest something bitter, your tongue assumes it is being poisoned and sends this impulse to your brain. Your brain in turn sends impulses to your stomach to fight the poison. Your stomach releases amino acids that aid digestion.

"The second reason for a pairing of bitter with sweet is that the two cancel each other out. Each bite is new again. A Boulevardier riff stirred with Old Fitzgerald Bourbon, Aperol, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino and Bittercube Cherry Bark Vanilla Bitters should do the trick!"

His overall advice: Think simple. Pairings should either contrast or complement flavors, but shouldn't take over. If in doubt, you can always begin and end dinner with cocktails and let guests fend for themselves during the main course.


John Lavelle, founder of, a website for beer lovers, has been working tirelessly on his own beer pairings for Thanksgiving dinner, keeping the following pairing rules in mind – first, finding beers that cleanse the palate to enhance the dining experience, and second, pulling in beers that enhance individual flavor notes in the foods being offered.

"Thanksgiving is a tricky one," Lavelle admits. "If someone is having a deep-fried turkey, I'm probably going to recommend that they get themselves something like a North Coast Scrimshaw Pilsner or a Lakefront Klisch or Riverwest Stein for a little more malt backbone. These beers will continue to cleanse the palate and keep the eating experience fresh.

"If you're looking at a good ol' roasted turkey, I would probably lean more towards a really good porter, like a Founders Porter or a Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald. These beers will complement the food without sitting too heavily."

A few of Lavelle's favorite pairings for Thanksgiving dinner include Capitol Brewing's Eternal Flame and Hinterland's Bourbon Barrel Dopplebock.

"The malty and warming quality of the Dopplebock really just screams Thanksgiving to me," he remarks.

When it comes to dessert, Lavelle says that sometimes the most obvious-sounding pairings can be the most appropriate. Southern Tier's Pumking or Lakefront Brewery's Pumpkin Lager make great pairings for classic pumpkin pie, since they reflect and enhance the flavors already present in the pie.

"For something different, try a porter," he suggests, "which is phenomenal with a good pumpkin pie.The roasted quality of the malts with the nutmeg and cinnamon sounds absolutely amazing. In fact, I want to eat and drink all of this stuff right now." Page 1 of 2 (view all on one page)

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