How Not to Drink Like Drunk Uncle on Thanksgiving

L.A. bartenders and a sherry expert share their favorite low-ABV options for the holiday, plus recipes

It’s inevitable. We all want to self-medicate when forced to spend several hours in close proximity with our immediate and extended family. We love them, sure, but in small doses. In any case, as much as we need a drink, no one wants to turn into a worse version of Saturday Night Live’s “Drunk Uncle” character during Thanksgiving.

Fortunately I went to the experts on what are the best low-ABV sippers for drinking before, during, and after the big bird hits the table. Bonus that they’re also easy to throw together so you can get in and get out of the kitchen before your mom can pull you into a chore.

Americano Highball: Gabriella Mlynarczyk of Cadet likes to use the lower ABV Aperol in place of Campari for this Italian classic. “It settles my overfilled tummy but keeps me hydrated without getting me loopy.”

Fernet Buck: For something refreshing that will also ease with digestion post-turkey, Beau du Bois of The Corner Door mixes up Fernet Branca and lime juice then tops with Fever Tree Ginger Beer. “A simple variation of the classic Buck that I find very invigorating while also jumpstarting my much needed digestion due to many plates of my mother-in-law’s incredible cooking.”

Pace Car: Alex Straus of Grandpa Johnson’s is all about this low ABV highball which he borrowed from Miami bartender John Lermayer. Just two ounces of Dolin Blanc topped with club soda. “It allows you to enjoy a beautiful fortified wine that will complement any turkey or mashed potatoes while keeping your head screwed on straight when Uncle Steve says the wrong thing after his 10th Manhattan,” said Straus.


Jason Eisner of Gracias Madre created the Madre Spritz, a light-bodied, effervescent, and herbaceous tummy tamer. Although he uses Spanish vermouth Casa Mariol Vermut Negre, you can sub in your favorite herbaceous Italian Vermouth. But Eisner says it’s worth hunting down the Casa Mariol. “I LOVE Casa Mariol because of its unique and distinctive flavor and aroma profile.”

Madre Spritz
By Jason Eisner of Gracias Madre

2 oz Casa Mariol Vermut Negre
3 dashes orange bitters
Italian Sweet Moscato

1. In a Collins glass add the vermouth.
2. Add 3 large dashes of orange bitters.
3. Fill Collins glass with ice and top off with Sweet Italian Moscato. Roll once or twice and garnish with any Spanish olive varietal and a mandarin slice.

If sherry and sherry cocktails are your go-to for easy sipping, you’ll love Punch Editor in Chief Talia Baiocchi’s new book Sherry: A Modern Guide to the Wine World’s Best-Kept Secret, with Cocktails and Recipes. Not only does she cover the fortified wine’s history, roots, and renaissance but she offers a whole back section of classic and modern sherry cocktails.

As for which would make the best all-day Thanksgiving sipper, she touts 19th century aperitif cocktail, the Adonis. “Definitely not too aromatic. It’s got all those warm oxidative notes that will play very well with a Thanksgiving spread,” said Baiocchi.

Adonis from Sherry: A Modern Guide to the Wine World's Best-Kept Secret
Adonis from Sherry: A Modern Guide to the Wine World’s Best-Kept Secret

Photo courtesy of Ed Anderson

Reprinted with permission from Sherry, by Talia Baiocchi, copyright 2014. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House LLC.

1 oz sweet vermouth, preferably Carpano Antica
2 oz fino, preferably Lustau La Ina
2 dashes orange bitters
Garnish: orange peel

1. Add the vermouth, sherry, and bitters to a mixing glass.
2. Fill with ice and stir quickly.
3. Strain into a coupe glass and garnish with the orange peel.