What to Drink With "Succession"
May 5, 2023 –––––– Jonny McCormick
The fourth season of “Succession” reaches its climax this month as the final episode hits our screens. While we can’t wait to find out what happens, it hasn’t escaped our notice that the multi-Emmy-winning HBO Max series about power and politics includes a great deal of imbibing. To toast the last installment, here’s our guide to what to pour into your glass, whether you want to match the choices of the super-rich in key scenes or sip our whisky recommendations inspired by the show’s glamorous locations.
“Succession” follows the fortunes of octogenarian media tycoon Logan Roy as he fights to keep control of Waystar Royco, his global media and entertainment conglomerate. The darkly comic drama sees Roy, played by Brian Cox, negotiate the balance of power over a series of digital media merger and acquisition deals, amid a series of scandals, betrayals, and takeover bids as the next generation makes a play to succeed their father as the head of the company. Roy, the dysfunctional family’s tough and irascible patriarch, often faces the greatest threats from his own squabbling, backstabbing offspring: Connor, Kendall, Siobhan (Shiv), and Roman.
Show creator Jesse Armstrong has won plaudits from fans of the series’ whip-smart scripts and characterizations. The action rarely stands still as the fluid camera work tracks the choreography of crisis; characters march through executive offices barking invective into their phones, climb into convoys of chauffeur-driven Lincoln Navigators, and fly off over the East River in black Sikorskys from the Pier 6 heliport. The turbo-charged dialogue crackles with the verbal pugilism that pervades Waystar Royco’s toxic boardroom culture, each scene populated by family and board members fully loaded with a quiver of acerbic ripostes and salty expletives.
The wines and spirits in “Succession” fit the mood of each scene. Unlike many hit shows, product placement is refreshingly low-key. Frequently, we see the drink and not the bottle. That hasn’t stopped online speculation about the meaning and significance of various labels in the show or the characters’ motivations and palates when they discuss their wine preferences. There’s an abundance of champagne of course, with elegant flutes of bubbly served on silver trays at every black tie function, wedding, Thanksgiving dinner, and charity gala. Wine is poured at the table for large family dinners, while beers are sipped during downtime or on vacation, but all the main characters drink whisky neat. Whenever that warming whisky slips down their gullets, it’s among the few moments when the characters stand still and the pace of the conversation slows down. In “Succession,” whisky is the lubricant of the transactional relationships between the characters as they negotiate infidelity, power play, deal making, crisis, and acts of moral turpitude. And it’s Roman Roy (Kieran Culkin), the anti-hero's’ anti-hero, who is the most frequent whisky imbiber of them all.
Without any big spoilers, here’s our episode guide to the drinks we spotted on screen in “Succession.” With the Waystar Royco’s private jets taking the characters from Tuscany to Tayside and Lake Como to Los Angeles, we’ve also included a few location-specific whisky recommendations to tie in with the lifestyle. As they say in the show, it’s all gravy.
Season 1, Episode 4 “Sad Sack Wasp Trap”: The Botanist, the Islay gin made at Bruichladdich Distillery, is seen lined up on the bar behind Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) at the charity gala.
Season 1, Episode 7 “Austerlitz”: The family gathers at Connor Roy’s (Alan Ruck’s) ranch in New Mexico for some much-needed family therapy and a photo opportunity. Transport yourself to New Mexico for this episode with our location whiskey recommendation from Santa Fe Spirits; our tasting panel rated Colkegan American single malt 91 points.
Season 1, Episode 8 “Prague”: Rather than flying to the Czech capital, Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen) is taken to Rhomboid, the hottest club in town, for his bachelor party. As Kendall and Stewy Hosseini (Arian Moayed) talk at the bar, we spied a cluster of bottles including Suntory Toki, Chambord, Don Julio 1942, Silver Patron, and Cîroc Vodka.
Season 1, Episode 10 “Nobody Is Ever Missing”: The epic finale to season 1 was shot at Eastnor Castle in Hertfordshire, England. As Shiv Roy (Sarah Snook) and Tom tie the knot, our location recommendation comes from an English Distillery situated less than 50 miles away from the castle; Cotswolds Reserve, rated 93 points and is made from floor-malted barley grown in the area.
Season 2, Episode 4 “Safe Room”: Roman Roy drinks Deanston 12 year old in his hotel room as he makes a late-night phone call to Gerri Kellman (J. Smith-Cameron). And that’s all we’ll say about that.
Season 2, Episode 5 “Tern Haven”: Roman calls on Gerri in her hotel room, where they pour Dalwhinnie 15 year old.
Season 2, Episode 7 “Return”: Logan makes a late-night proposition to Rhea Jarrell (Holly Hunter) as they share a late-night dram of Balvenie Double Wood in London.
Season 2, Episode 8 “Dundee”: The only episode filmed in Scotland visited the Gleneagles Hotel (spot the continuity error with the moving whisky bottle as Gerri and Roman explore a suite) and locations around Dundee, the birthplace of Logan Roy, and actor Brian Cox in real life. As the company celebrates Logan Roy’s significant career milestone at the V&A, Dundee, it’s only fitting that we make a location recommendation from Angus Dundee Distillers PLC distilled just up the road: Glencadam 25 year old, rated 93 points. Make it a double to celebrate Logan’s 50 years in the business. Let me hear you sing, “L to the OG…”
Season 3, Episode 2 “Mass in Time of War”: Logan sends a gift of doughnuts as the siblings argue about which side they are on. If this episode makes you hungry, we have you covered with this recipe on how to make your own maple-bourbon glaze for your doughnuts.
Season 3, Episode 4 “Lion in the Meadow”: As Greg accepts Logan’s offer of a morning Rum and Coke, we spotted a bottle of Blanton’s Single Barrel in Logan’s home bar.
Season 3, Episode 5 “Retired Janitors of Idaho”: The hothouse atmosphere of the first five episodes of season 3 reaches a boiling point as the Waystar Royco annual shareholders’ meeting gets underway. This location will look familiar to regular attendees of WhiskyFest, New York and Wine Spectator’s New York Wine Experience as it was filmed in the same venue, the Marriott Marquis, New York.
Season 3, Episode 6 “What It Takes”: Wine lovers will remember this episode for the scene in which Tom and Shiv unscrew the caps on their disappointing biodynamic German wine from their own vineyard. As well as the neck of a bottle of Veuve Clicquot in an ice bucket, that bottle of Blanton’s Single Barrel makes another guest appearance in Logan’s suite in Virginia as many of the characters enjoy a glass of bourbon at the end of the episode.
Season 3, Episode 7 “Too Much Birthday”: Kendall kicks off his 40th birthday celebrations by enjoying a glass of whisky with friends on a rooftop high above Manhattan. Meanwhile, a bottle of Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque Brut is opened in the office as Logan’s inner circle toasts the completion of a deal. At Kendall’s lavish party filmed in The Shed, there’s a bottle of Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 behind the bar as Kendall bumps into his ex-wife Rava—though she’s drinking Hennessy XO.
Season 4, Episode 2 “Rehearsal”: The Roy siblings arrive late at the wedding rehearsal dinner to find a maudlin Connor Roy nursing an open bottle of Château Haut-Brion after Willa (Justine Lupe), his bride-to-be, makes a sudden exit with some last-minute pre-wedding jitters. The siblings head to a karaoke bar for an impromptu bachelor party for Connor, where they find Champagne Jacquart on ice, before Logan makes an unexpected appearance.
Season 4, Episode 4 “Honeymoon States”: Kendall asks a rhetorical question “Dude, what are we gonna do–sit in the dark and drink Laphroaig?” Well, if you’re offering, then make it the Laphroaig 10 year old Cask Strength rated 94 points. Are we good? We’re good.
Season 4, Episode 5 “Kill List”: The Waystar team travels to Norway to try to close the deal with Lukas Mattson (Alexander Skarsgård). Although we don’t see the bottle, a confessional Shiv and Mattson form an alliance over a large dram of whisky. Given the vibrant distilling scene in the Nordic countries, our location recommendation whisky would be Bivrost, which is distilled above the Arctic Circle in Norway.
Season 4, Episode 10: While we’re publishing this ahead of the final episode, we cannot know who will be in charge and what drinks may be consumed until the end, but we have a fitting recommendation if you're as wealthy as a Roy and have someone like Kerry (Zoe Winters) on staff to take care of it all. Courvoisier released a rare cognac called Succession in limited quantities in the 1990s, which is now highly sought after by collectors, and we hope the richness of the cognac will provide suitable consolation to soothe the ending of this epic TV drama for its legions of obsessive fans.