All You Need to Know About Digestifs
What is a Digestif
Digestif, or digestivo if you are an Italian, is an after dinner alcoholic drink that aids digestion (hence the name ‘digestif’), oftentimes liquors served straight. Digestifs are usually higher in alcohol content and on the sweeter side, as compared to aperitifs and wines served with the actual meal, which makes them the perfect drink to round of a perfect dinner.
Among all the alcohols to choose from, ideally, spirits and/ or liqueurs that are infused with herbs and spices are preferred, as these ingredients are the key component that helps with digestion, which after all is the main purpose of a digestif. However, nowadays a wide range of alcoholic beverages are served as digestifs, with or without the herbs and/ or spices.
In general, any alcoholic beverage that has a relatively high alcohol content, and ideally aids digestion, would make a good digestif.
Fortified wines are produced by adding spirits (often times brandies) into wines during or after the fermentation process, to enhance both flavours and alcohol content of the beverage.
Being one of the most well known fortified wines, port is originated from Portugal. This sweet, ruby red wine is a match made in heaven with cheeses and chocolates; or to sip it on its own as a lovely digestif.
This is a highly varying category. It comes in many shapes and form, from bone-dry fino sherry to amber coloured cream sherries. When served as a digestif, sweeter variations are preferred.
Oftentimes used in cocktail recipes, this amazing beverage is, in fact, a fortified wine, made by aromatizing wine with various botanicals such as herbs, spices, barks, flowers etc. Vermouth comes in dry and sweet form; when serving as a digestif, make sure you choose the later version. The herbally spicy nature makes this aromatic beverage the perfect after-dinner drink.
Madeira and marsala:
Both madeira and marsala got their names from the region where they are produced; the former is produced in the Madeira Island in Portugal, whereas the latter is made in Marsala, Sicily. The two differ in terms of the grape variety used, as well as the production method. The flavours could vary dramatically but they are similar in a sense that they both have a smoky-sweet flare to them, which makes them both good as a digestif. When it comes to which is better, it really is personal preference and you will have to try and decide yourself.
Distilled liquors (Spirits)
This liquid amber is produced by distilling wine. It is one of the most widely consumed digestifs. The two most common brandy categories are cognac and armagnac, both originated from France, the former produced in the Cognac region and the latter in Armagnac. The two differ in terms of the grapes used, aging process and the alcohol content. Cognac is usually made out of Ugni Blanc grape exclusively, whereas armagnac uses Folle blanche, Colombard, and Baco Blanc as well. Cognac usually has a higher alcohol content and is always aged for at least 2 years; while armagnac typically has lower alcohol content and could be consumed after a minimum of 1 years of aging.
Eau de vie:
Literally translated to “water of life” in French, these fruit brandies that are made from fruits other than grapes. Calvados (apple brandy) is one of the more well-known variety. Although ‘eau de vie’ is a French term, this type of alcoholic beverage is produced in other countries as well. A lot of them are unaged such as eau de vie de poire (pear brandy), which makes them clear in colour; while others are aged in wooden cask such as Calvados, which would give them a glorious gold colour. Despite the name of the fruit on the label, eau de vie usually only has a very light fruit flavour and they usually are not sweet. Nevertheless, the lovely aroma and flavour of this liquor make it a fine digestif to sip after a meal.
Although both brandy and whisky are very commonly consumed as digestif, Whisky, unlike brandy, are produced from distilling fermented grains instead of fruits, and they are almost always aged. Due to the high alcohol content of Whisky, it is usually consumed after a meal to avoid interfering with the meal by overstimulating the palette.
By definition, a grappa is an alcoholic beverage that is made out of pomace (the remains of grapes after they have been pressed for their juice), and must be produced in Italy (or in the Italian part of Switzerland, or in San Marino). This intense beverage is extremely aromatic and high in alcohol, which is what makes it a popular choice of digestif.
Amari are the signiture digestif from Italy. They are infused with all kind of herbs and spices, which gives them the ability to aid digestion. These liqueurs are extremely aromatic and full of flavours, making them delightful digestifs. My favourite subject from this category would be Averna. This bittersweet, dark chocolate coloured liqueur is packed with flavours of spices and herbs and citrus. Sipping on a glass of this after a lovely dinner is just pure indulgence.
This is another famous product from the bitter liqueur category. Originated in France, this vibrant green liquer has been produced by Carthusian Monks for almost 300 years in the Chartreuse Mountains region of Grenoble, France. Chartreuse come in two variations, the intensely herbaceous green ones and the subtler yellow variation. The green variation is more popular in terms of digestif choice, and its vivid green colour also gave its name to the colour chartreuse.
Unlike liquors and liqueurs of other categories, sweet liqueurs oftentimes contains added ingredients and sugar to give it a wide variety of flavour and sweetness. Their diverse flavours also make them commonly used in cocktails and other mixed drinks. Sweet liqueurs are usually lower in alcohol content as compared to most spirits, and are more easy drinking. A popular choice from this category includes Grand Marnier, Amaretto, Limoncello, Irish Cream and Drambuie (which is a personal favourite). As much as they are popular in mixed drinks, these sweet beverages also make fantastic sippers.
Although traditionally digestifs are spirits that are consumed straight, mixed drinks are also becoming more and more popular nowadays, and this is where things get fun and creative. Here are some of my favourite cocktails to serve after a fancy dinner party.
the great combination between an after-meal coffee and a digestif.
40 mL (1.5 oz.) Irish Whiskey
80 mL (3 oz) Hot Coffee
30 mL (1 oz) Fresh Cream, Lightly Whipped
1 tsp Brown Sugar
Heat the coffee, whiskey and sugar to a simmer; do not let boil.
Pour into glass and top with whipped cream
45 mL (1.5 oz) Bourbon or Rye Whisky
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
1 Sugar Cube
Few dashes Plain Water
Place sugar cube in an old-fashioned glass and saturate it with Angostura bitters, add a dash of plain water.
Muddle until dissolved.
Place in a piece of spherical ice ball and add whiskey.
Garnish with an orange twist. Serve.
I once had this lovely cocktail in an Italian diner in Toronto. It has a lovely spicy sweet flavour it’s just the perfect drink to end a meal.
30 mL (1 oz.) Disaronno amaretto
30 mL (1 oz.) Amaro Averna
Mix together the amaretto and Averna, serve on ice.
30 mL (1 oz.) Cognac
30 mL (1 oz.) Crème de cacao
30 mL (1 oz.) Fresh cream
Nutmeg for garnish
Combine all ingredients in a shaker.
Shake and strain into chilled cocktail glass.
Garnish with freshly grounded nutmeg.