Everyone knows Thanksgiving is an eating holiday, but it's a drinking holiday, too. It only makes sense to complement the variety of food on the table with a variety of drink, and, as luck would have it, we have plenty of nonalcoholic choices, like our superior mulled cider and a sparkling lemonade flavored with tart sumac. We even have several vinegar-based drinks, like cider and pumpkin shrubs and a fig soda made with a dash of balsamic, all of which work so well with some of the heavier Thanksgiving dishes, we'll bet even your boozier relatives will grab a glass.
Spiced Mulled Cider
Mulled cider was a staple of holiday meals when I was a kid. We usually went with grocery store apple cider and jarred "mulling spices," but this recipe does it right, with good-quality cider and a custom spice blend. You can pick and choose what spices you want—cinnamon, clove, cardamom, coriander, and anise make for a great start. If you're not avoiding alcohol, a little brandy certainly doesn't hurt.
Mulled Cider Shrub
This recipe combines mulled cider with apple cider vinegar to make a festive shrub. We cut the combo with seltzer for a lighter drink, perfect as a nonalcoholic digestivo of sorts after a heavy Thanksgiving meal. This is a good choice for shrub novices—after the vinegar's intensity cooks off, you're left with a shrub that's milder and sweeter than most.
For this autumnal shrub, we roast pumpkin until it's sweet and tender, then steep it in vinegar with turbinado sugar, ginger, and cinnamon. Seltzer is fine for cutting its intensity, but ginger beer is even better.
This shrub is bright and citrusy thanks to a cup of fresh tangelo juice, but a woodsy, aromatic rosemary simple syrup makes it distinctly fall-appropriate. This shrub takes the most time to make, but it's mostly waiting time. Start tasting it after it's been sitting for three days; by day five or six, it should be ready, with the vinegar mellowing out enough to let the rosemary and tangelo shine.
Fig and Balsamic Soda
It's a little past fig season now, but if you can still find good ones, consider making this delicious soda. It starts with a homemade fig syrup made with dried and oven-roasted figs. Stir that syrup up with a spoonful of balsamic vinegar, then top it off with seltzer.
Our last vinegar cocktail is made with rice wine vinegar infused with cucumbers. We mix the vinegar with freshly juiced Granny Smith apple and lime juice, plus muddled shiso and mint. Be gentle with the herbs—if you over-muddle them, you'll end up with an unpleasant bitterness rather than the bright, clean flavor you're after.
This two-ingredient drink does a remarkable job mimicking the flavors of an Americano (a cocktail made with vermouth and Campari). Acidic and sweet pomegranate juice stands in for the vermouth, while several drops of bitters evokes Campari's herbal astringency. Note that while this won't get you drunk, the bitters do keep it from being 100% nonalcoholic.
Sparkling Sumac Lemonade
A light, effervescent drink is just what I want to pair with a big meal. This sparkling lemonade gets a beautiful color and an extra hit of tartness from a sumac syrup. Foragers may prefer to harvest their own wild sumac, drying and grinding it themselves, but you'll be just fine getting it from the spice aisle.
Rose Hip Cordial
Rose hips are another foraged treat, though they're better known in Britain than they are here in the US. Here, we make the floral berries into a red-orange cordial—it would be lovely in a cold-weather cocktail, but you can also simply dilute it with sparkling water to make a sophisticated spritzer.
Orange, Rosewater, and Mint Sparkler
Forget about the mimosa—this is my favorite sparkling orange juice drink. We combine the orange juice (freshly squeezed, of course) with plenty of muddled mint and just a few drops of rosewater. Pour the rosewater into a spoon before dripping it into the drink—if you try to do it straight from the bottle, you risk adding an overpowering amount.