When you’re stuffed after a big meal, another drink may seem like the last thing you’d want. But a certain group of boozy beverages known as digestifs may actually settle your stomach.
What is a Digestif?
These after-dinner drinks are meant to be enjoyed in small quantities, usually an ounce or two, says Anthony Caporale, director of spirits education at the Institute of Culinary Education.
Digestifs can be fortified wines like vermouth or Sherry. They can also be herbal liqueurs including Chartreuse or Cynar; bitter liqueurs like amaro; aged liquor like whiskey; or sweet liqueurs such as limoncello or Grand Marnier.
The same kinds of booze can overlap as aperitifs, or pre-meal drinks. But Caporale says these nightcaps tend to be sweeter and are usually consumed straight or with coffee or espresso.
There is a long tradition of drinking digestifs in Europe. But the digestif drinks course is often overlooked in the U.S., he says. However, it’s a valuable way to extend a great meal with great company.
“It’s just a way to reconnect with the fact that spirits should primarily be about the communion of people, shared experiences, conviviality, celebrating a meal [and] celebrating occasions,” says Caporale.
Here are eight digestifs to sip on after a large meal, according to the pros.
Eight Digestifs and After-Dinner Drinks
Tomas Bohm, chef and owner of The Pantry Eateries in Little Rock, Arkansas, lists grappa with a shot of espresso as his favorite digestif. Grappa is a centuries-old Italian spirit made from grapes—including their skins and stems—leftover from winemaking. It tends to have a fruity, sweet flavor and is gluten free.
“It closes the gates from the great time you had with your friends and family,” he says.
Amaro is a type of Italian bitter liqueur traditionally consumed as a digestifs. Mac says Amaro Montenegro and Fernet-Branca are some of her favorite amari brands.
“Montenegro has an almost bubblegum sweetness,” she says, while Fernet-Branca is more herbaceous and bitter.
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Caporale credits his Italian-American heritage for his love of drinking sambuca, an Italian anise-flavored liqueur, after a meal, either neat or with espresso.
“That’s something that brings back a lot of memories,” he says, adding that digestifs are often rich in culture, history and nostalgia.
Pacharán is a Spanish liqueur from the Basque region that’s made from the fruits, or sloes, of the blackthorn tree. The sloes are fermented and infused into a brandy with anise, coriander and other spices. The brandy is then sweetened, says Eamon Rockey, beverage consultant at Oliva in New York City.
“Pacharán liquor has a bright, tart and somewhat cherry-like flavor with a hint of spice and gentle sweetness,” says Rockey. He believes it’s best served over ice and pairs well with traditional American desserts like berry cobblers and pies.
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Caporale also recommends Drambuie, a Scotch whisky-based liqueur, as a digestif. It features spices, herbs and honey. According to Caporale, Drambuie’s sweetness goes with coffee, chocolate and cream.
“It’s sort of baking-spice forward, cinnamon and nutmeg, those things we associate with desserts and fall,” he says.
While it may not be as traditional as others, the Chinese distilled spirit baijiu fits the bill, according to Ashley Mac, bar manager at NiHao in Baltimore.
Made from sorghum or rice, baijiu features ancient Chinese medicinal herbs and is believed to have healing properties, she says.
Light aroma baijiu “makes a fantastic digestif,” Mac says, because it features floral flavors. Another digestif option is huangjiu, a Chinese yellow wine that resembles Sherry.
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Becherovka is a Czech herbal liqueur. Its recipe dates back to the early 1800s and is made with about 20 herbs and spices as well as orange oil and sugar. It’s bittersweet with notes of clove and anise.
Bohm, who’s from the Czech Republic, grew up drinking Becherovka and says that, like many liqueurs, it was originally created for medicinal purposes.
“It just does something really magical to your digestive system, and I enjoy the flavor, too, of course,” he says.
Mac says she pairs Becherovka with strong coffee or tea.