Bartender’s Best

By Charlie Wohlrab

Like many people, Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. It’s a time when we disconnect from our busy lives, reconnect with friends and family we may not see as often as we’d like, share delicious meals, and serve alcoholic beverages.

But what to serve? Why not  impress your guests with a well-chosen bottle of wine, a glass of beer or spirits by offering them  something local?

We are fortunate to live in a time when beers, wines and spirits are being produced locally. Twenty or so years ago local wineries began to appear, a few years later breweries began to show up, now there are even local distilleries. Check out a local brewery (or two) and sample some of their offerings. The staff at these breweries are often knowledgeable about their beers and may have a “sampler selection,” so you can  taste and compare a few small glasses of beers before you make your pruchase.

Some breweries may offer “growlers” (which is a misnomer), but would be a nice choice, nevertheless. This  option requires some planning. You would have to be able to get the container filled on Wednesday and then be able to store it in your refrigerator until Thanksgiving which is on Thursday. If your refriderator is  filled with a turkey and other holiday essentials this might now be the best container.

The term “Growler” is a misnomer, as now the “Growlers” that breweries offer are glass jugs with screw-on caps. The term “Growler” comes from the late 1800’s when you could walk to the taproom with a tin pail with a lid. The taproom would fill the pail with beer and as you walked home the agitation from walking would  cause the release of Carbon which would cause the lid to vibrate, hence “growl.” Although the glass jugs don’t growl, they actually keep the beer fresher.  So it’s up to you to decide. Take  advantage of the brewery staff’s expertise to determine the most appropriate beer for your purpose.

If the brewery does not offer “Growlers,” or if you are not hosting, perhaps you can get a Sampler Pack” or a “Seasonal Brew.” If you are hosting, a nice way to serve these beers is to have the bottles standing upright in a cooler half-filled with ice. Local breweries often have attractive caps and they look nice standing erect in the ice.  Remember to have an opener handy as some bottles may not be screw tops. A “Sampler Pack” or a “Seasonal Brew” also makes a nice hostess gift. Remember to include an opener, just in case.

A word about hostess gifts. Often times the host or hostess has the menu planned, including beverages, so it is not impolite for your gift to be saved for a later date. However, it is impolite to show up empty-handed, and this is a good way to give the “local guy” a little business and perhaps introduce him to a new customer.

If you are hosting dinner,  the only wine that goes with everything from steak to chocolate cake is “champagne.” Notice I put champagne in quotes because in order to be called “champagne,” it should come from the Champagne region of France and should involve “Methode Champenoise”. There are many additional rules and regulations, national and international, but that is a quick summary. “Methode Champenoise” refers to a second fermentation in the bottle, which gives the wine bubbles.

I prefer to patronize local wineries and some do experiment with sparkling wines.  It is worth checking wineries in your area to see if they have any sparkling wines for sale, and while you are there, enjoy a tasting. Local wineries are proud of their products and their staffs can give you an insight into their latest wines. If you don’t find a sparkling wine you like at the winery, check wherever you buy wine and look for champagne style wines. You may have to buy a bottle or two and have your own tasting to see what should be on your Thanksgiving table.

If your Thanksgiving dinner includes a pasta dish along with the traditional turkey, you may want to serve a Prosecco. By definition, this must come from Italy and Christie Brinkley is a partner in Bellissima Prosecco. I was a teenage male in the late 1960’s so this is enough to make it my Prosecco of choice. Bellissima Prosecco is totally organic and has a very artsy label. Remember, presentation is important.     

A word about serving sparkling wines. Remove the cork with a gentle twist while holding the bottle at a 45-degree angle. I like to wrap a small towel around the cork. Do Not Point The Bottle at Anyone since the bottle is under pressure and the cork can come out with force, as can the wine. This is a waste of good wine and should be avoided. Serve the wine in a six ounce tasting flute immediately before the guests are seated. You may want to have a chilled white, a Chardonnay, or Sauvignon Blanc, in reserve in case someone prefers a still wine. And if you always keep a chilled bottle of “Champagne on hand at all times, you’ll be like me-ready for any celebration, planned or unplanned.                                   

Happy Thanksgiving!

Charlie Wohlrab is a mixologist whose motto, “Drinking. . .more than a hobby” has been topmost in his mind since he first started tending bar while getting his Pharmacy degree. Now retired, when he’s not restoring his older home in New Jersey, he’s made it his goal to elevate the experience of having a daily cocktail from something mundane to something more exciting. He is now Harrisburg Magazine’s official bartender in residence.

My recipes are like my opinions,” says Wohlrab. “They continue to be refined as I try new products and work with old standbys.” Currently working on a book about cocktails, Wolhrab welcomes comments from his readers. He can be contacted at