Digestif? Peruse the menu at any upscale, European-inspired joint and you’re likely to find this perhaps hard-to-decipher menu category floating somewhere near the desserts.
Not to be conflated with an “aperitif,” which is imbibed before your meal (hence aperitifs are listed by the appetizers), digestifs are often less acidic, have a higher alcohol and sugar content, and are designed to be consumed after a meal to aid in digestion. Ranging in varieties from whiskeys and brandies to amaros and liquors, the digestif is a popular staple throughout Europe, where grand, multi-course meals are commonplace. Here’s everything you need to know to cap off at your next dinner party.
Types of Digestifs
Ancient Greece has given us many invaluable inventions, digestifs being one of them! They began as medicinal, but by the 18th century they made their way across Europe as digestive-aiding and socially engaging ends to large feasts and gatherings. There are many different types, but they mostly fall into the following five categories.
- Bitters and amari are herbal liqueurs known for their sharp, aromatic flavors. Examples include Campari, Aperol, and amaros.
- Herbal liqueurs like Chartreuse or Benedictine are made with a variety of herbs and spices and can be enjoyed neat or in cocktails.
- Brandy and cognac make wonderful sipping digestifs. Shoot for high-quality, well-aged options like Courvoisier, Remy Martin XO, or Hine for a smoother experience.
- Fortified wines like port, sherry, and vermouth are popular as both digestifs and aperitifs.
- Classic cocktails like a Negroni, Manhattan, Old Fashioned, espresso martini, or French connection are great options for lovers of mixed drinks or those who like to show off their bartending skills.
Many different cultures and regions have traditional digestifs. Italians often opt for sweet grappas or bitter amaros or liquors like Apertivo or limoncello. In Spain, they regularly prefer sherry, port, or other fortified wines. The French reach for brandies like cognac or flavored liqueurs, while in Germany it’s common to drink Jägermeister or Underberg bitters after a large meal. Although these are traditional in the countries listed, don’t be surprised to find any of them worldwide.
How To Serve Digestifs
After dinner drinks are usually served neat and at room temperature in a small glass like a snifter to increase the aromatic experience. It’s also perfectly acceptable to serve them chilled or over ice if that’s what you prefer.
As digestifs are enjoyed on their own or with a small biscuit or chocolate, it’s important to look for higher quality offerings when available. If you’re unsure what to buy to complement your meal, ask questions at a wine or liquor store.
There are also plenty of reviews online so that you get opinions from people with different pallets. If you’re lucky, one of your local distilleries may produce unique, high-quality digestifs. It’s worth a quick call or a check of their website.
Remember that personal preference plays a significant role in choosing and enjoying any food or drink. Take the time to explore different options and find what suits your taste buds and dining experiences. If you’re throwing a dinner party and want to end the night with this classic parlor drink, a good bet is to choose two or three offerings in different categories, or one straight drink and one cocktail, so that your guests can choose. Cheers!