Despite how much I love whiskey, I rarely stock it at my house. I like to save it for special occasions— nights out with friends, in birthday sazeracs, for celebratory libations, and of course for the holidays.

From a glug of Evan Williams in my gas station eggnog to my immediate family’s bizarre, endearing tradition of lighting candles for our deceased relatives and putting a shot of whiskey by each on the mantle, Christmas certainly gets its fair share of whiskey appreciation. So does New Years, with its flutes of champagne, each topped off with a little bourbon, a drink an ex-boyfriend introduced me to a couple years ago before our first and only midnight kiss.

But Thanksgiving, I think is where whiskey really fits in nice. It’s perfect with cranberries, with pie spice, with all the sweet and savory flavors of the day. It’s sharp bite cuts through the greasy turkey and if you pick a good, smokey oakey variety it lends a helping hand to what can sometimes be a dry, bland bird. It cleanses the palate after my father’s rich, camembert-studded mashed potatoes. Its sweetness backs up yams like old buddies. Its depth provides a nice contrast to the simple saltiness of broccoli casserole cooked in canned soup and crusted in crackers.

But whiskey earns its place at the Thanksgiving table not only as a pairing, but as a reminder of what I’m most grateful for.

My parents’ liquor cabinet, out of which we pull all the good holiday blends, is stocked with especially good scotches and bourbons. My father’s students and colleagues and friends have gifted him over the years with some of the good stuff, from Glenlivet 12 year to Balvenie to Willet.

We might start with a nip of these and move on to the proper drinking whiskeys, the Collier and McKeels, the Bulleit and Jack. But when it’s time for toasts, we always pull out a bottle that reminds us of our friends. We pick a single malt as rich as the friendships we’re so thankful for, or a double wood that reminds us of the partners we stand side by side with. We’ll find an Irish whiskey that my grandparents and great grandparents might have enjoyed, too, in their day.

Because I save whiskey for special, the good stuff always recalls the best times throughout the year. The great nights with girlfriends. The triumphs and successes. The occasional defeat that can only be soothed by corn mash or rye, when you need a whiskey as rough as the day you’ve had. The reminder that it got better after that.

A good glass of holiday whiskey is the perfect tribute toasts and tribulations of the year, and of the friends and family you most hold dear.

My friends often go home for the holidays, back to their childhood houses and big family gatherings. My family is mostly far away, and we never gather at this time of year. My Thanksgiving whiskey is how I bring them close to me again.

It’s how I remember the Jameson and Gingers my cousins and I had at a family wedding. The mystery whiskey we did shots of in a dive in Southstreet Seaport. The two fingers of twenty four year a friend and I tried on a steamboat straight out of a David Lynch film. The punch served at professional events and birthday parties. The whiskey we drank to invoke connection and warmth during tarot card readings, the candles burning bright and causes the crystals on the table to glow. The ebullient manhattans and sidecars I ordered in San Francisco and New York, happy to be a woman off on an adventure, discovering new corners of unfamiliar cities. The whiskey I drank alone in bed, thinking how, for the first time ever, I was very happy in my job, in my single life, in the deep down rooted parts of myself.

When my family pulls the stopper out of some good bottle tomorrow, I will think about all the good things that brought us together, though we will be a family tomorrow both of blood and chosen. We have traveled together, laughed together, cried together, and been a part of one another’s lives now for at least seventeen years. We will break bread, carve turkey, stuff our bellies, and afterwards will let the whiskey be the the drink that binds us together in gratitude. 

Here’s to the hope of you and your loved ones gathering together around a glass of a special bottle and toasting to all that you are grateful for. Cheers, Meghan.