The Coping Mechanism

thanksgiving dinner

It’s autumn, which means the holidays will soon be hitting us hard and fast. Lately, things seem to get rolling in late summer, when pharmacies start filling their shelves with Halloween candy in August and department stores start piping Christmas music in September. It doesn’t let up until the new year.

By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, I’ve already had more holiday cheer than I can handle, which is a shame, because it’s one of my favorite “X” marks on the calendar.

It’s a once-a-year opportunity to binge eat with one’s extended family and pretend that everything’s just fine—a time to feign delight at meeting your uncle’s new, much younger girlfriend and practice loving patience when your father not-so-quietly comments about your weight as you reach for a second stuffed mushroom.

But once the fragile peace has been shattered by the shrieks of sugar-spiked children and your grandfather’s scotch-fueled tirade regarding “the problem with foreigners,” you may need to retreat to a quiet place for a while with a good, stiff drink. If you have access to a few simple ingredients and a small room with a lock on the door, you can create a temporary, but highly effective, sanctuary/bar.

In my experience, the best cocktail to make in a Thanksgiving safe space is what I call The Coping Mechanism—it’s a take on the Filibuster by famed San Francisco drinks master Erik Adkins, but adjusted to help me cope enough to look as though my holiday spirits are high.

Which they will be, thanks to the three and a half ounces of booze per cocktail.

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the coping mechanism cocktail

The Coping Mechanism

This potent beverage contains many useful components to help you endure this year’s holiday get-togethers: plenty of liquor to “take the edge off”; maple syrup, which serves as a mild antidepressant; egg white, which provides a bit of protein to help you forego a second helping of the dried out, flavorless turkey; Italian amaro for that hint of bitterness which exists just beneath the surface of so many family gatherings; lemon juice, which is excellent for softening dry elbows; and a finishing pinch of fresh nutmeg, which screams “Thanksgiving” just loud enough so you don’t have to.

The most important—and satisfying—part of this cocktail, however, is the making. It must be shaken to achieve its eggnog-like foam. Vigorously. It’s a highly effective way to release pent-up aggressions, seasonal or otherwise.


3 ounces of bourbon
If your older brother makes a big show of bringing a very expensive bottle of the stuff because he constantly needs to remind everyone how much money he makes, use that.

1 ounce of dark amber maple syrup
I like a good Canadian brand because I’ve never felt Canada’s own Thanksgiving holiday gets the attention it truly deserves.

½ ounce of Italian amaro
There are several amari to choose from, each with its own distinct character. I like a Sicilian style, such as Averna, because it reminds me of my own family, a particularly rancorous lot.

The juice of half a lemon
Eureka lemons are best.

The white of 1 egg liberated from a reasonably healthy chicken
Turkey eggs are to be avoided. As are turkeys in general.

Freshly grated nutmeg

Plenty of ice


Into a large cocktail shaker, deposit the ice. Pour over the bourbon, maple syrup, lemon juice, amaro and egg white. Close lid firmly.

Wrap in a clean kitchen or bar towel, which will keep your hands from freezing as you violently shake.

Agitate the contents of your shaker. Begin with a moderate, but peppy tempo—a lively conga, such as Xavier Cugat’s “One, Two, Three, Kick,” works extremely well. Gradually increase the tempo and vigor of your shake, imagining that what you hold in your hands is no longer a mixology vessel, but the shoulders of your casually racist grandfather who never bothered to remember your birthday, or your brother-in-law who won’t stop trying to sell everyone on the idea of NFTs. Shake with increasing intensity until sufficiently tired and/or exorcised of enough frustration to once again function politely within a family setting.

Feel remorse at your formerly violent thoughts toward your relatives.

Remove the lid of your shaker, strain the frothy contents into a cocktail glass, garnish with as much nutmeg as you please, consume the drink in two to three large gulps, tell everyone who’s been pounding on the door for the past three minutes that you’re just fine and will be out in a minute, take a good hard look at yourself in the vanity mirror and say to your reflection in a barely audible whisper, “Next year, things will be different.”

Repeat as often as necessary.

Michael Procopio is a two-time James Beard award loser. You can read more by him at

  • Author: Michael Procopio