The Idiot’s Guide to Digestifs
You just finished a delicious, and perhaps expensive, dinner when someone at the table suggests a round of digestifs to cap the night off. Your mind starts spinning: digestif—you’ve heard about these before, but the extent of your knowledge is that digestifs involve booze and…that’s about it.
You’re on the right track: a digestif is a beverage served after a meal to help you digest your food. Digestifs almost always have alcohol, but it’s technically an umbrella term for any after-dinner drink.
Don’t feel ashamed if you don’t know much about digestifs. They aren’t exactly a staple in everyday American dining. That said, we want you to feel confident at your next date night or fancy dinner party, so we assembled the idiot’s guide to digestifs.
Read on to learn about the history of digestifs, whether they actually help with digestion, and how to indulge without embarrassing yourself.
What Is a Digestif?
A digestif is a drink—usually alcoholic—that you enjoy after a meal. Think of it as your post-dessert dessert. Digestifs are supposed to settle your stomach after a big meal and help with digestion, but the jury’s still out on whether that’s true (more on that later).
Digestif is French for “digestive.” These beverages were originally administered to “treat” all kinds of illnesses, but they made their way to the dinner table in the 1700s. (Sounds like an excuse to drink more).
Digestifs are traditionally rich and flavorful with a high alcohol content. That said, it’s a shockingly diverse category of drinks that differs from region to region. For example, the go-to digestif in France is brandy, while in Italy (where it’s called a “digestivo”) they go for amaro.
Digestif vs. Apéritif
An apéritif is an alcoholic beverage you drink before a meal to help you work up an appetite. Unlike digestifs, which are usually on the sweeter side, apéritifs tend to be dry. Some common apéritifs include vermouth, champagne, gin, and dry sherry.
You know how you get the munchies when you’re drunk? This is just a grown-up, classier version of that experience.
Do Digestifs Actually Aid Digestion?
There’s no solid evidence that drinking a digestif actually helps your body digest food. Drinking a small amount of alcohol can benefit your cardiovascular system, according to a 2015 review. Biomolecules. But consuming alcohol after a meal doesn’t affect how your food is metabolized.
In fact, a 2010 study found that drinking alcohol (in this case wine or schnapps) after a meal actually slowed down the digestive system by up to 50%.
That doesn’t mean digestifs are a scam by any means. Everybody digests booze differently. If a nightcap settles your tummy after supper, treat yourself. Not to mention some of the high end stuff tastes damn good. If you’ve already thrown your diet out the window with appetizers, entrees, and dessert, what’s one more drink?
One word of caution: if it’s date night, beware of the dreaded whiskey dick. A small glass of sherry after dinner probably won’t render your little man useless, but if you go overboard that’s a different story.
5 Types of Digestifs
Digestifs are most popular in Europe—each region has its own style. Here are five different types of digestifs you might find on a menu along with some (very) basic descriptions.
1. Aged Liquor
Any aged liquor can work as a digestif, but there are a few popular types:
- Brandy (including calvados, cognac, and grappa): spirits distilled from grapes
- Whiskey: distilled from fermented grain mash
- Scotch: distilled from malted barley only
- Añejo: tequila aged 1-3 years
2. Fortified Wine
This is a wine combined with a distilled spirit, usually brandy, to increase the alcohol content. You’ve probably heard of “dessert wines” like port, sherry, and sweet vermouth—all of which are fortified wines.
3. Bitter Liqueurs
These are produced by sweetening and flavoring a base spirit. There are hundreds of types of bitters, but most of the MVPs hail from Italy, including Campari and Averna Amaro.
4. Herbal Liqueurs
Herbal liqueurs have less of a “bite” than bitters. Their origins date back to the elixirs used as makeshift medicine, but today they’re staples in almost every bartender’s repertoire. The best ones are from France and notoriously hard to pronounce: Bénédictine, Chartreuse, Cynar, and Fernet-Branca.
5. Sweet Liqueurs
If you’ve got a sweet tooth or gag at the taste of neat alcohol, ask your bartender for a maraschino, limoncello, or even Grand Marnier as your post-dinner sipper.
Is Coffee a Digestif?
Technically yes—a post-dinner coffee qualifies as a digestif, even though it’s non-alcoholic. Remember, digestif literally means “digestive,” so any beverage that helps your gut process the meal you devoured meets that criteria.
As all caffeine junkies can attest, coffee is notorious for triggering bowel movements. Accordingly, sip your cup of joe in moderation and make sure you know where the nearest restroom is.
If you want to class it up with your after-dinner coffee, go for something strong and rich like a Cuban coffee, a shot of espresso, or if you’re feeling adventurous, an amaretto coffee cocktail.
How to Drink a Digestif
Alright, you successfully navigated the digestif menu and have a rough idea of what to expect. Now you’re ready for action. There are three important things to remember before you indulge:
- Digestifs are enjoyed “neat,” meaning no other ingredients are added
- Digestifs are usually room temperature, so don’t ask for it “on the rocks”
- Digestifs should be sipped and savored, not chugged or ripped like a shot
Yes, this is a far cry from the days of guzzling warm beer with your bros in somebody’s basement. But now you’re ready to spread your wings and fly into the upper echelon of society.
Need a DUDE Wipe After That Digestif?
Some people might feel like big shots sipping a $30 splash of French liqueur. But there’s one thing that keeps everyone humble: the literal shit show that follows a big, boozy meal.
Nobody is immune from a stinky deuce, but you can be immune from a chapped rear with DUDE Wipes. They’re extra large, way softer than TP, and infused with aloe to soothe your hole.
In fact, we believe bartenders should serve complementary DUDE Wipes with every digestif.