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.
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."