Most of us will have encountered a digestive drink after the end of a meal out. This is usually when the waiter comes around and presents a foreign looking liquid in a shot glass, that you sip through a clenched smile!

This isn’t just your waiter being friendly, it’s also a time-trusted tradition of rounding off your palette with a finishing drink, to help digest your meal.

What is a Digestive Drink? 

The term ‘digestive drink’ is often bandied about, but what does it actually mean? Well first of all, we’re saying it all wrong! It actually comes from the French word ‘digestif’ which, as it suggests, refers to the process of digestion. As such, a ‘digestif’ means an alcoholic drink that is often served after meals. Some believe that alcohol helps with the production of certain enzymes in the body, while others argue that it can slow down digestion. It’s not to be confused with an aperitif which serves quite the opposite purpose, helping to  stimulate appetite before eating.

More than just a simple after-dinner shot, there’s a science and art to serving the right tipple, for the right occasion. So, let’s take a look at the ins and outs of digestif etiquette. 


The first point to note, is that a digestive drink tends to be a dark drink served neat, at the end of a meal or alongside coffees. It is encouraged to be sipped slowly and never ‘knocked back’ as one might do with a shot.

It’s common for different countries to have their own traditions and preferences when it comes to digestives, but usually a selection will be offered.



Brandy is one of the top dogs of the digestive arena; it is a distilled spirit made from fermented fruit juice, most commonly grapes. Distilled in France, Cognac is probably the best known and revered for its high-quality and refined character.

Recognised for its high alcohol levels (80 to 120 proof), it is drunk in small servings and sipped slowly.

When in doubt, this is a safe go-to option for after dinner soirees, never failing to round off a perfect night.



The Italian’s love a digestif, and are famous for various after dinner treats, from Limoncello to Amaro. But one of the prefered options of all is Grappa.

This classic drink is often described as having an acquired taste, with a typical high 35-60 percent volume. Its popularity is reflected in the 40 million bottles sold every year. Even Chef Heston Blumenthal is a fan, who enjoys drinking Grappa on his travels to Italy.

Made using the skin and leftovers of the winemaking of grapes known as pomace, it bears a distinctive concentrated flavour to it.

As such, it can be served on its own or added to espresso, but the Italian way is to serve straight from the freezer, for a crisp finish full of flavour.


While digestive drinks tend to have a sweet aftertaste, it’s not for everyone. That’s when a dram of whisky can clear the palette, as the perfect nightcap. For that reason, it’s always worth having a malt whisky in your collection, best served on the rocks.

Port and Sherry

Port Wine

Port and other fortified wines, including vermouth and sherry have long been popular as after-dinner drinks. Light and sweet, they are easy to sip and enjoy for all types of palettes. 

If hosting a drinks party, it’s always advisable to stick to the big names; Taylor’s, Warre’s and Lustau Pedro Ximénez are all favourites to offer around.


Taking many forms, Schnapps is a fruity uplifting liqueur that is popular across Europe, especially ski resorts in France, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Its usual apricot or peach flavour is distinctively appetizing and one of the few drinks that is also acceptable consumed as a shot.

Not Forgetting…

The list of after-dinner drinks is extensive and by no means covered in this list. So, we should mention a few other notable tipples:

Grand Marnier – The elite has been enjoying this orange-flavoured liqueur since the 1800s.
Rum – Although not widely known as a digestive drink, rum served with a wedge of lime is a pleasantly sweet after dinner treat.
Ouzo – Go Greek or go home, that’s the motto behind this powerful anise liqueur. 
Baileys – For a nightcap (or several), a dash of Baileys over ice never fails to complete a perfect evening, especially in those colder winter months.

Check out our other blog posts and scroll through a series of cocktail related articles.