Thanksgiving carousing: Serve up savory cocktails

“Savory Cocktails”
Looking for something different to serve this Thanksgiving? Try an Autumn Ash, at right.
(Greg Henry / Ulysses Press)

Thanksgiving is one of those by-the-books holidays. There are “must-haves” such as turkey (or tofurkey), cranberry sauce and all the trimmings ... but that doesn’t mean you can’t inject a new tradition or two of your own.

And the easiest way to do that? With a cocktail.

We asked Los Angeles food writer Greg Henry and author of “Savory Cocktails” (the new follow-up to his “Savory Pies”) for some guidance.

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He says he prefers savory cocktails because they conjure up old-school glamour while still challenging the palate with something new.

“When you want a sophisticated take on a cocktail, it makes sense to go with savory,” he said, adding that savory flavor profiles -- smoky, herbal and bitter among them -- help cut the richness of a Thanksgiving feast.

One cocktail in particular, Autumn Ash (shown above, at right) has both the name and the deep rich coloring to accent the Thanksgiving table.

Henry shared the recipe for the cocktail: Combine 2 ounces of blended Scotch whiskey, one ounce of apple brandy, 1/4 ounce of elderflower liqueur, and two dashes of orange bitters in a glass half-filled with ice. “Stir until chilled and properly diluted, about 20 seconds,” and strain into a cocktail glass. Accent with a lemon twist, “expressing its oil onto the surface, rubbing it on the glass rim, and dropping it in, peel side up.”


Henry, who is also the voice behind the popular food blog Sippity Sup, and among the trio of hipsters behind “The Table Set” podcast, explains: "It’s a classy way to drink blended Scotch. You get a very nice restrained smoke and it wafts into your consciousness.”

Now, cocktailing can be an expensive business.

How to do this without breaking the budget?

Henry says there’s no need to overhaul your liquor shelf in one fell swoop. He suggested starting with some basics, and evolving as budget allows.

One place to start? How about the classic savory cocktail, The Bloody Mary.

Henry takes every building block of this hangover helper and elevates it using ingredients that take time, but not necessarily money. The horseradish? Freshly grated. The tomato juice? Freshly made, by blending freshly roasted cherry tomatoes and chiles, with freshly squeezed lemon and lime juice. (Do you see the trend?)

As for the alcohol, he goes for a homemade black pepper or celery-infused vodka.

Henry said homemade infusions, while coming off as quite posh, are actually a great place to save money. “You can do it very cheaply and use rotgut vodka, ‘cause all you need is the proof,” he said with a laugh. “It doesn’t require the usual top shelf stuff.”


But if we’re cheap, pressed for time, and just want to take baby steps into this vast new landscape of savory cocktails?

Henry has two words: Orange bitters.

Henry says orange bitters are a classic ingredient in one of his favorite savory cocktails, the classic martini. But it’s an often overlooked ingredient, one that completely transforms the martini.

Henry says a classic martini is made with 2 ounces of dry gin (don’t argue with him, just grab the gin, OK?), a half-ounce of vermouth, and 2 or 3 drops of orange bitters, with an olive or lemon as garnish. 

“It’s very old fashioned,” he said, “and it’s sublime.”


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