One of the best parts about getting ready for a meal after a day’s work, or at any time at all, is enjoying a great cocktail before your meal and another delicious drink after your meal. You may not have thought that these two drinks had a name, but viola, they do!
The drink you enjoy before consuming your meal is known as an aperitif while the drink you have after treating yourself to a delicious meal is known as a digestif. They are both French terms for drinks you take before and after dinner. In this article, we cover all you need to know about aperitifs and digestifs.More info and FAQ below
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Frequently Asked Questions About Aperitifs and Digestifs
Is Coffee a Digestif?
Coffee is often referred to as a digestif because of its caffeine content. When used in the right amount, caffeine can also aid in digesting large meals. Many digestifs are made with the same ingredients used in making teas like spearmint, peppermint, ginger, cinamon, watergreen and so on.
So, while coffee or tea cannot be exhaustively regarded as a digestif, it can serve the same health purpose as a digestif and even add to the depth of the after-meal experience.
Do Digestifs Work?
Digestifs aside provide you with a nice drink to wind down and have medicinal advantages, but the question is do they really do what they claim to do?
To answer this question, we must know that digestifs are not really taken to deliver an unwanted knockout punch, and they usually contain bitter herbs which are very medicinal. These herbs encourage the release of digestive juices which in turn helps to improve the digestion process.
The goal is not to blunt your senses, but to elevate the meal you just had. So, if you look at it, digestifs do work both in helping you unwind really well and also ensure a seamless digestion activity.
Information About Aperitifs and Digestifs
What are Aperitifs?
Aperitifs are cocktails served before settling down to a meal. They are served to help stimulate the appetite and get you hungry to enjoy your meal. They help get your stomach and taste buds ready for what lies ahead. An aperitif should leave you relaxed and excited for your meal, and at the same time, get you really hungry and set to consume a good meal.
The word aperitif is a French word coined from the word aperire, which is a Latin verb that means “to open”. Apero is the French colloquial word for aperitif.
Aperitif typically has lower alcoholic content than its counterpart, digestif, which we will talk about next, but it really doesn’t matter which alcoholic content is higher. What to look out for is that an aperitif should be light, easy to drink, not too sweet or delicious, and of course non-filling so as not to ruin your appetite for the meal ahead.
Aperitifs are not expected to be too tasty or delicious, so gins, gimlets, and Manhattan are some examples of drinks that make up the aperitif list.
What are Digestifs?
While aperitifs stimulate your appetite and get you hungry for the meal, digestifs help diners wind down after all that food has been happily consumed.
CEO of Foundations Marketing Group, Monika Eling explains it better, “With the end of a meal, some of the greatest conversations happen as the digestif is served. An aperitif is meant to entice the palate and whet the appetite, while digestives help settle the stomach and facilitate the digestion after a filling meal.”
Majorly digestifs are sweet and delicious drinks, and so popular port wines and dessert liqueurs make the digestif list.
Digestifs tend to have more alcohol content and sugar than aperitifs. Some digestifs do contain fresh ginger since they are expected to settle your stomach.
Brief History of Aperitif & Digestif
A fifth-century Christian ascetic, Diadochos is quoted to have advised that people should avoid drinking “those artificial concoctions which are called ‘aperitifs’,” which according to him is a way to discipline the sexual organs. This revelation indicates that aperitifs might have been around since the fifth century.
A popular modern aperitif, vermouth was invented by Turin distiller, Antonio Carpano in 1796. Another kind of aperitif was later introduced in France in 1846 by a French chemist, Joseph Dubonnet who used his wine as a means to fight malaria.
Stories have it that contrary to popular opinions, the Europeans were not the first to introduce this concept of a drink-before-meal treat, but that an unpopular opinion argues that the ancient Egyptians were actually the first to begin the tradition of a pre-meal cocktail.
In Europe, it is commonly noted that digestifs aid the digestion of food and are made from roots and herbs. There are also beliefs that digestifs help to soothe an upset stomach, and it has been confirmed that the digestif Fernet Branca, in this regard works like a charm.
Like aperitifs, the history of digestifs goes back centuries. It was originally used as a cure for ailments, but somehow it found its way from the pharmacy stores to the dining table in the early 18th century.
Regional Choices for Aperitifs & Digestifs
As a general guideline, aperitifs are dry rather than sweet. There is also no single alcoholic drink that always poses as an aperitif. The choices for aperitif range from fortified wines to liqueur and dry champagne. The types of aperitifs differ from region to region.
France: Here, there are differences in aperitifs. In the south of France, pastis is very popular, but in the Normandy regions, Calvados brandy tends to be everyone’s choice. In the Eastern region, we have the Cremant d’Alsace, as well as champagne or cognac. Popular in France is also Kir which is also referred to as Blanc-cassis. A simple red wine like Beaujolais nouveau can also be passed as an aperitif, alongside amuse-bouches.
- Greece: The Greecian love to use ouzo as an aperitif, except on Crete, where Tsikoudia is preferable.
- Eastern Mediterranean: Here, arak served with meze is all that is needed to make a good aperitif.
- Britain and Ireland: Traditional aperitifs here are sherry and dry Madeira.
Americans are not particular with what they take before and after meals, because there is little or no emphasis on an elaborate diner. There are not many formalities with serving diners as we see in European countries and cultures. Most American cultures tend to group meals into a single-course and reserve the multi-course treat for special occasions, vacations, and holidays.
In contrast, Europeans enjoy sitting with grand diners later at night. There could be three to four courses and diners are rather full after the meal. This becomes the perfect time to have an after-dinner drink before going to bed.
Each region has its own after-dinner preference:
- Italy: Popular Italian digestivo (digestifs) are amaro and amaretto, grappa, centerba, strega, sambuca and genepi.
- France: The drink of choice is often a French brandy such as Armagnac or cognac.
- Spain: The country has a preference for fortified wines such as Madeira, sherry, port, and pacharan.
- Germany: Here, they love flavored digestifs like Jagermeister and Underberg bitters.
Types of Aperitif
Sometimes, the word aperitif is used to refer both to a class of alcoholic beverages and the cocktails they can be made with. Some of the classifications of aperitifs are based on a singular drink or a cocktail of it.
Amer Picon: This French bittersweet aperitif possesses a unique flavor that is dominated by orange accompanied with a dry finish.
Aperol: The Italian aperitivo with orange flavor, herbs, and roots to give it a bitter taste, is enjoyed as an Aperol spritz.
Campari: This is considered the most famous aperitif. The red Italian spirit has a very unique bitter profile and is often used in cocktails like the popular Negroni.
Cynar: This bitter herbal liqueur is often mixed with orange juice and garnished with soda or tonic water. Though it has an artichoke base, that is not the dominant flavor of this drink.
Dubonnet: This is a fortified wine garnished with herbs, spices, and peels. It is available as Rogue or Blanc. It also contains quinine, which makes its profiles drier than vermouth.
Dry Wine: Any sparkling or stiff dry wine makes a good aperitif.
Lillet: This is the aperitif brand that produces Rose, Blanc, and Rogue. It is in many ways similar to vermouth, the only difference being the proprietary recipes that give them their unique taste. Lillet-Blanc is the most popular among them and was originally called Kina Lillet.
Pimm’s: This sweet, herbal-spice flavor accented liqueur can serve as an aperitif or digestif. As an aperitif, Pimm’s can be served with sparkling lemonade.
Sherry: Manzanilla and Fino which are light-bodied dry and fresh sherries can make excellent aperitifs.
Types of Digestif
The fact remains that digestif spirits began primarily as medicinal tonics years ago. They were made with spices, herbs, and other flavoring ingredients that help calm the stomach. Over time, they evolved from being just medicinal spirits to formal drinks used in dining.
Generally, there are four categories of digestifs:
Fortified Wines: This category stands out as one of the most popular types of digestifs. You cannot talk about digestif without mentioning fortified wines like sherry and port wines. While dry vermouth is an aperitif, on one hand, sweet vermouth is a great digestif on the other hand.
Bitter Liqueurs: Just the same way bitters are great as aperitifs, there are some that are better-suited as digestifs. Though the digestif itself is slightly sweeter and richer, the ingredients that give them a bitter profile aid digestion. Amaros is a good example of an Italian bitter that can pass for a digestif.
Aged Liquor: In addition to the traditional digestif liquors like brandies (eau de vie, grappa, and calvados), almost all aged liquors are very good digestifs. Whiskeys, especially scotch, and Anejo tequilas are very popular and also excellent digestifs.
Herbal Liqueurs: Many of those herbal elixirs of old now pass off as today’s herbal liqueurs, and they do just great as digestifs. Some of them include Becherovka, Zwack, Cynar, Fernet-Branca, aquavit, Benedictine, Chartreuse, Sambuca, and Galliano among others.
When and How to Serve
Brand ambassador for Marie Brizard, Kelvin Charuel said, “It’s not just to open the aperitif, it’s more something to get social and to get together and spend some good time, to have a nice drink with family and friends. It’s more sharing some precious time.”
While settling down to an aperitif involves food and drink, the main purpose is to connect with friends and family. It doesn’t have to be heavy drinking or taking large portions, “It’s setting yourself up for a better dining and living experience,” says Daniel Cooney, owner of Heavenly Spirits import company.
When serving aperitif, there are no rules. But you can follow a few rules of thumb:
- Serve approximately 30 to 60 minutes before dinner, after guests have arrived.
- As for the type of glass to use, this varies based on the type of drink you made. But, you can serve neat in snifter or small cordial glass or any vessel that works well with aromatics. Most likely use a glass with a long stem and a small bow.
- If you’re serving on the rocks, use rock glasses.
- Serve after dinner, anytime is fine.
- Serve neat in a snifter or small cordial glass or any glass that is great with aromas. It works best with a long-stemmed glass with a small bow.
- If served on ice, use a rock glass. Depending on the type of digestif served, your rock glass can be a shot glass, wine glass, or brandy glass.
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