In my last 101 article, I talked about aperitifs and the practice of starting off 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 around the world, and how to enjoy them. Let’s jump in!
As the name suggests, digestifs are a category of drinks taken after a meal to aid in digestion. They actually started off as medicinal cures back in the 18th century–concoctions mixed up by the pharmacist rather than the bartender–and the many modern digestifs 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 a great digestif.) Like aperitifs, many of the most commonly found digestifs come from Italy and France, though there are notable varieties from countries around the world. Different regions have their specialties and preferences, in line with what is typically produced there. (Fortified wines like port and sherry, for instance, are typically favored in Spain and Portugal where they originated.)
Though the range of different digestifs is rather large, most fall into one of the following categories:
As previously mentioned, fortified wines are popular 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 excellent choices as well, along with the aforementioned sweet vermouth.
Herbal and Bitter Liqueurs
Herbal liquors are perhaps the most common class of digestifs and can be found all around the world. Fernet-Branca, Sambuca, Jägermeister and Chartreuse are some names in this category that you may be familiar with. Amaros, whose name literally 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 typical choices in France, while grappa is popular 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 make up the most notable members of this category, which includes 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, there are a number of cocktails that make for a delicious digestive aid. The classic Old-Fashioned has to be first in this category, and with its characteristic mix of bitters, sugar, and whiskey, it ticks all the boxes that make digestifs special. The Sazerac and the Vieux Carré, both cocktails made with Cognac, rye whiskey, and bitters (among other ingredients) also fit the bill. If you want to finish your meal with a digestif but don’t want a straight pour, one of these cocktails is a great choice.
Are you someone who likes to sit back after a delicious meal with a 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!