All around continental Europe, digestif drinks are a necessity after a big meal. There to refresh your palate and digest the meal, digestifs are an important part of going out to eat.
But how much do you know? Read more to discover the wonderful world of digestif drinks…
What are digestif drinks?
A digestif drink is an alcoholic drink that is served after meal to aid digestion. The word ‘digestif’ comes from the French language and refers to digestion. English speakers will be familiar with the term ‘digestive drinks’ or even ‘dessert drinks’.
The idea behind having a digestif is all down to the science. Some believe that alcohol helps with the production of certain enzymes in the body to aid digestion. Others, however, argue that alcohol slows down digestion. Nevertheless, it’s a tried-and-tested technique at allowing your stomach to rest after a filling meal.
Digestif vs Apéritif
The differences between a digestif and apéritif are very easy to remember. Digestif drinks are always after a meal to aid digestion. Apéritif drinks are always consumed before the meal, to stimulate the appetite.
How to drink a digestif
There is an etiquette behind drinking a digestif which means you can fully enjoy and appreciate it. For room temperature digestifs like grappa or port, it’s best drunk from a snifter glass. This way, you’ll be able to fully appreciate the drink’s notes. If the digestif is served chilled, like a limoncello or herbal liqueur, then a shot glass is what should be chosen. Of course, the likes of whiskey and Irish creams require another type of glass but follow this as a general rule and you'll be fine.
Lastly, the digestif must be sipped. The idea is to relax your stomach and make you feel refreshed. Taking the drink as a shot could lead to the opposite effect and is not advised.
Types of digestif drinks
There is a well varied world of digestif drinks out there to discover. Pretty much everyone is able to find one digestif they love. Digestifs can come as fortified wines, herbal liqueurs, aged liqueurs, bitter liqueurs and even sweet liqueurs.
Brandy / Cognac
Brandy and Cognac are some of the most common choices of digestif out there. It’s a distilled spirit made from fermenting the juice of fruits, most often grape juice. As the oldest spirit in the world, it’s stood the test of time, remaining a firm favourite today.
Whilst brandy is great, sipping on a Cognac after dinner delivers a refined taste to your palate, especially perfect for the end of a meal. The great thing about brandy and Cognac is that there is a glass specifically designed to enjoy it out of. Serve at room temperature in a brandy glass for the best digestive results.
It’s well known the Italians love a digestif and have a great array to choose from. However, grappa has to be one of the most popular options to choose from. Typically with an ABV of 30-60%, it manages to sell 40 million bottles per year.
Grappa is another digestif that uses grapes in its production. This time, however, the leftover grape skin (pomace) from wine making is fermented, not the juice. This means that it bears a distinctive, concentrated flavour. Serve this digestif straight from the freezer for a crisp, satisfying after dinner drink.
Sweet digestifs aren't for everyone. Sometimes a whiskey served straight with ice is exactly what’s needed after a hefty dinner. A perfect drink for cleansing the palate, it’s an excellent choice, especially after something like steak. The great thing about whiskey is that there are so many styles out there to try, you’ll be able to find one according to your taste.
Want to know more about whiskey? Read our ‘what is whiskey’ main page. Learn drinking techniques, styles, history and much more…
Fortified wines are another incredibly popular choice. This genre of digestifs include a whole range of different styles including vermouth, port and sherry. They’re often light, sweet and hold fruity notes. It’s an easy digestif to drink and, just like whiskey, it has such variety that everyone can find something they like.
These are best served at room temperature with a snifter glass. A great way to test the drink’s quality is to swirl the glass around and watch the ‘legs’ run down the sides of the glass. The slower the legs, the better the quality.
Schnapps’ popularity spans across many European borders including France, Germany, Austria and the Balkans. Its flavours totally depend on the fruit used. Apricots, peaches and plums are all used to make schnapps, which all make the sweet liqueur either sweeter, drier or more bitter.
A sure-fire favourite. If you ever have a dinner party, eyes widen at just the sight of this little yellow drink. A beautifully well-balanced sweet liqueur, limoncello is a definite palate cleanser. Drinking this lemony delight straight from the freezer in a shot glass is the Italian way and exactly how to drink limoncello properly.
This is whiskey’s second feature of the list, just in a creamier form. Irish cream may not fit in with the other suggestions on this list but it’s worthy of a mention. If you’re not looking for a fruity or bitter digestif, then an Irish cream on the rocks is the digestif for you.
Baileys is the most famous brand of Irish cream and offers a variety of flavoured Irish creams like strawberry, coffee and caramel.