Last month, on this very blog, I wrote about the aperitif, that drink consumed before a meal to start the meal, and the conversation, off on the right note.
However, a meal is like a shelf full of scrumptious books, and without a bookend on either side, the books, or courses, spill over onto each other and become less distinguishable. This is why having the right after-dinner drink to balance out the aperitif is key.
The core function of a digestif (or digestivo in Italy) is to assist when you’ve eaten a tad too much--or a whole heaping helping more than may have been prudent. These drinks are supposed to alleviate that over-full feeling by keeping the digestion flowing (some think they also make it possible to eat another course). I believe digestifs stand as a course all on their own, fitting into the overall scheme of a fantastic meal in the same way the cheese course does; and they should be planned accordingly.
Much like aperitifs, there are many worthy digestifs served solo. The Italian staple grappa and the many Italian mysterious amari (or herbal liqueurs) are frequently consumed as digestifs and some sweeter mixes also show up, though I believe the true digestif should have more kick than cuddle.
I also think that certain cocktails serve solidly as digestifs. They must have, as mentioned, a muscular side combined with an herbalness that eases the stomach, but they should also have a nuanced flavor to provide a final delicious drop after a fine meal.
The following four drinks fit the digestif definition perfectly:
The Stomach Reviver
The very name of this potent post-dinner potable points to its prowess at making you feel less stuffed after a mighty meal. Whip them up following this recipe from Dark Spirits: Fill a cocktail shaker or mixing glass halfway with ice cubes and then add 1-1/2 ounces brandy, 1 ounce caraway-spiced Kümmel, 1/2 ounce Fernet-Branca, and 2 dashes Peychaud bitters. Stir well. Strain the mix into a cocktail glass.
While I am a devoted fan of Italian vermouth Carpano Antica (the original sweet vermouth, dating back to 1786), it’s almost a tad too sweet to fit comfortably in the digestif category. But when matched with Elijah Craig’s 18-year-old bourbon, enchanted French liqueur Benedictine, and bitters in this cocktail at the Knee High Stocking Company (1356 East Olive Way) that sweet nature is equalized into an ideal end to a meal.
Sipping this mix when you’ve over-indulged is like sending an friendly “aloha” to your stomach--not a bad thing to do if it’s the beginning of the weekend and you’ve already begun to revel in earnest. Make it using the recipe from Ginger Bliss and the Violet Fizz: Fill a cocktail shaker or mixing glass halfway full with ice cubes. Add 1 ounce bourbon (Woodinville Whiskey Harvest Release bourbon if you can find it), 1 ounce Kahana Royale macadamia nut liqueur, 1/2 ounce Amaro CioCiaro, and 1 dash Fee Brothers whiskey barrel aged bitters. Stir really well (or shake, if you’re not up to serious stirring) and then strain into a cocktail glass.
Not solely for suave first daters, this classic from the 1920s (created by Ada Coleman at the American Bar in the Savoy Hotel in London) is great if you’re too full and don’t want to show it. Its smooth combining of gin, sweet vermouth, and sturdy Italian herbal hero Fernet-Branca bring the desired flavor as well as the digestive aiding. At Chino’s (1024 East Pike Street ) they make it with Dolin sweet vermouth and Beefeater gin, a duo that plays well with the Fernet-Branca.