101 Wine & Spirits-A Beginner’s Guide to Digestifs
In my last 101 articles, I talked about aperitifs and starting the evening with a libation to get your appetite flowing. In this post, I’ll discuss some beverages that make for the perfect end to a meal–the class of drinks referred to as digestifs. I’ll also touch on their history, different varieties worldwide, and how to enjoy them. Let’s jump in!
As the name suggests, digestifs are drinks after meals to aid digestion. They started as medicinal cures back in the 18th century. Concoctions were mixed up by the pharmacist rather than the bartender. Many modern digestifs are still made with herbs, spices, and other botanicals are evidence of these origins.
Typically, digestifs are taken neat. They also tend to have sweeter, richer flavor profiles than their pre-dinner counterparts, aperitifs. (For instance, while dry vermouth is a typical aperitif, sweet vermouth makes an excellent digestif.) Like aperitifs, many of the most commonly found digestifs come from Italy and France, though there are notable varieties from countries worldwide. Different regions have their specialties and preferences, in line with what is typically produced there. (For instance, fortified wines like port and sherry are usually favored in Spain and Portugal, where they originated.)
Though the range of different digestifs is relatively large, most fall into one of the following categories:
As previously mentioned, fortified wines are famous as after-dinner drinks. The same digestion-stimulating characteristics that make them great as aperitifs work after a meal, too, though sweeter varieties are best. You can’t go wrong with port or sherry, but Madeira (from the Madeira islands) and commandaria (from Cyprus) are also excellent choices, along with the aforementioned sweet vermouth.
Herbal and Bitter Liqueurs
Herbal liquors are perhaps the most common digestifs and can be found worldwide. Fernet-Branca, Sambuca, Jägermeister, and Chartreuse are some names in this category that you may be familiar with. Amaros, whose name means “bitter” in Italian, are also members of this family.
Brandy is perhaps the most typical digestif from the category of aged liquors, though nearly any aged liquor makes for a delightful after-dinner drink. Cognac and Armagnac are usual choices in France, while grappa is famous in Italy and Greece. With its high alcohol content and rich flavor, Scotch whisky is another standby. Aquavit, which hails from Scandinavia, and sipping tequilas like añejos are other examples that illustrate the diverse range of this subset of digestifs.
Fruit-based liqueurs comprise this category’s most notable members, including drinks like limoncello and maraschino. Though it’s a brandy-based liqueur, the characteristic orange flavor of Grand Marnier also puts it into this category, along with different varieties of schnapps.
Last but certainly not least, several cocktails make for a delicious digestive aid. The classic Old-Fashioned has to be first in this category, and with its usual mix of bitters, sugar, and whiskey, it ticks all the boxes that make digestifs unique. The Sazerac and the Vieux Carré, both cocktails made with Cognac, rye whiskey, and bitters (among other ingredients), also fit the bill. One of these cocktails is an excellent choice if you want to finish your meal with a digestif but don’t want a straight pour.
Are you someone who likes to sit back after a delicious meal with the last drink to round out the night? If not, I hope this article will inspire you to partake in the European tradition of the digestif, whatever style you choose. Santé! Make sure to check out how to say Cheers around the world here.