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.
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.
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8. Balsamic Vinegar
For a non-alcoholic after-dinner option, sip traditional balsamic vinegar that’s made in Reggio Emilia or Modena, Italy, says Michele Casadei Massari, chef and co-owner of Lucciola in New York City. It’s made with grape juice that’s been concentrated over a low flame and slowly fermented in wooden barrels. Massari recommends Giusti 100, Banda Rossa and 3 Medaglie. Balsamic vinegar’s tangy and sweet flavors pair well with dark chocolate.
According to Massari, the active compound in balsamic vinegar is acetic acid, which contains probiotic bacteria.
“These probiotics can enable healthy digestion and improve gut health,” he says.