I start work on most of these columns at a bar by myself, ordering whatever liquor I plan to write about and chatting with the bartender. While I've met some fantastic folks behind the bar, there's something a little sad about being alone on the other side.
So in the spirit of this holiday season, I've invited a couple of friends to join me, Erika Jo Brown and B.J. Love. The result is the first annual Dranksgiving feast.
Dranksgiving, the most American of non-flag-themed holidays, must be celebrated with domestic spirits, so I meet Erika and B.J at Congress Street Social Club to take advantage of the exceptional bourbon and rye selection - well more than 100 in stock. Art Pickering, one of my favorite Savannah barkeeps, is working this evening, and he brings us the bourbon list. Despite the variety, there's one drink that suits the occasion best: Wild Turkey.
Only a few years ago, Wild Turkey was considered by many to be near the bottom of the bourbon barrel in terms of quality, only a slight step up from a well brand. The well is usually the cheapest bottle available, and bartenders use it when customers don't request a brand specifically. I'm pretty sure I've been to bars where Wild Turkey actually was the well.
That all changed thanks to a solid marketing campaign and the fact that Turkey was always underrated, proof that price influences perception.
Social Club features four varieties of Wild Turkey: 101, Rye, Rare Breed and Traditional.
B.J. starts with the Rye. Wild Turkey is one of several major bourbon brands that have recently added a rye bottling to their lineup. Despite having the same turkey on the label, there's little in common between the Rye and Wild Turkey's bourbons.
"As opposed to bourbon," B.J. notes, "there's not much of the woody taste."
He adds that while bourbon feels like it coats the tongue, Rye almost scrapes at it. When I drink Rye, it's usually because I want that feeling. The dryness comes as a welcome change after the obvious sweetness of most bourbons.
Erika chooses the 101 for the first course of her Dranksgiving feast.
101 has long been a go-to whiskey for me, the extra alcohol content kicking the flavor up a notch. The 101 refers to the proof, or 50.5 percent alcohol by volume, as opposed to more-standard 80 proof. So the same pour goes a little further if a buzz is what you're seeking.
I ask Erika how she likes her drink.
"I'm feeling great right now," she says. "I think you are both very charming."
Which is a reminder that alcohol does, in fact, skew judgment. Please drink responsibly this Dranksgiving.
Instead of my usual 101, I opt for the Rare Breed.
This high-end Wild Turkey variant contains a blend of several bourbon stocks of different ages. All the bourbons in the blend are barrel-proof, meaning no water is used during bottling. Like 101, Rare Breed has high alcohol content, about 108 proof. Even though it's stronger than the 101, it's considerably smoother. The careful blending and the use of bourbons as old as 12 years make the difference.
To round out the meal, B.J. and I sample New Make Corn Whiskey, the Dranksgiving equivalent of cornbread stuffing.
New Make is a clear, or white dog, whiskey. These are bottled right from the still and are much more like vodka in character than dark whiskies. Because it never touches the wood of a barrel, the whole flavor comes from the grains used in the distilling process.
There has been a trend of new white dog releases, but if I'm being honest, they're basically just moonshine with better ingredients and quality control. But it's definitely fun to taste the distillation in its virginal state. I was able to pick out the corn, rye and barley much more clearly than with a barrel-aged spirit.
I should have a little more to say about the whiskey, but sometimes the point of a drink is to share it with friends, and then the taste doesn't really matter. Happy Dranksgiving, everybody!
Zach Powers is a writer and novelist. When he's not busy imbibing, he helps run the literary arts nonprofit Seersucker Live. Get to know him at ZachPowers.com.