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By
Devn Ratz

Digestifs and Desserts: 5 Best Digestif Drinks and Sweets

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Digestifs aid digestion after a delicious meal. As a category, digestif drinks include many different liqueurs, from the bitter amaro to fortified and sweet brandy wine. There are also herbal liqueurs that go well with certain, citrusy dessert categories.  

The term "digestif" comes from French, Italian, and originally Latin. But, the ancient Greek tradition of after-dinner drinks now celebrates a global renaissance. Historically used to cure ailments and drank only neat, these stomach-soothing "tonics" came to the dinner table in the 18th century.

To this day, people delight in digestif and dessert recipes that pair spicy heat, herbal notes, and balanced sweetness. If you want to experiment beyond prosecco and desserts, explore the recommendations below for digestif and dessert pairs.

Key Takeaway: Digestifs and desserts can pair beautifully, marking the end of a memorable meal with a uniquely herbal or spicy cocktail.
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What is a Digestif?

Today's digestifs have many features, but they are usually intensely herbal (or spicy) with a high alcoholic proof. Many of them carry a hint of bitterness as some herbal liqueurs do. You might think this generally means many spirits are possible digestifs, and you're right according to the modern standard.

Digestifs were originally European-only in origin which limited the category and diversity of digestif drink recipes. Today, however, digestifs run around with global, staple categories like Cognac, vermouth, and brandy. Other well-known choices tend to be more herbal such as Chartreuse and Jagermeister.

Overall, digestifs bring high alcohol content and deep flavor profile. The added trait of herbal, spicy, or bitter notes may not make them seem like dessert drinks alone, but they all aim to settle the stomach (rather than produce intoxication).

Types of Digestifs

Digestifs include a broad array of different beverages. Some of the most common are amaro, brandy, fortified wine, whiskey, and herbal liqueurs. Other, sweet digestifs you may desire for dessert recipes include sherries, dessert wines, and port.

More broadly, today's digestifs include most of the cocktails made with any of these ingredients. That means whiskey and bourbon cocktails like the classic Old Fashioned and Manhattan may pair perfectly with your sweet treats.

Best Digestif Liqueurs: Traditional and Cultural

Though the practice of after-dinner desserts sits comfortably across cultures and traditions, alcoholic digestive aids only back several centuries.

The oldest, branded "digestifs" from the 18th century were almost exclusively European, made from roots, herbs, and other botanicals (as they had for thousands of years). More recently, American distilleries have turned to the art of bitter-sweet alcoholic libations to help digestion.

Bitter

Amaro and Averna are two of the most popular, bitter digestifs. They are both Italian in origin and equally known for unique combinations of cocktail spices, herbs, and botanicals that give a special, signature flavor.

  • Amaro, which means "bitter" in Italian, is amber-colored and just slightly sweet. Ingredients of cardamom, gentian, and angelica lend its bitter-first profile.
  • Averna, on the other side of bitterness, is made similarly, except with the addition of citrus peels. While its precise infusion of herbs, fruit, and spices is secret, the taste is distinctly Mediterranean.

Herbal

For the herb-friendly palette, Strega and Chartreuse are two "yellow" digestif drinks that remain staples in the herbal spirits category.

  • Strega brings the flavors of fennel and mint alongside clove, anise, and nutmeg. This Italian digestif lends itself to many desserts that need spicy spirits for hints of heat.
  • Chartreuse, on the other hand, is a French liqueur produced by Cathusian Monks. The drink is globally recognized for its bright green intensity and the strength of its herbal notes.

Sweet

Port wine, sherry, and brandy cocktails are pleasant, popular digestifs. These may seem like more obvious choices for the "dessert drink," but their deep sweetness may need to be balanced by lighter, fluffier dessert fare.

  • Port, a fortified wine traditionally made in Portugal (see: history of port wine), comes in sweet, dry, and semi-dry varieties. Ruby ports are fruity and bright, whereas tawny ports tend to be dark and rich.
  • Sherry, hailing from Spain, exists in so many styles. The most common after-meal types (such as amontillado) are nutty, rich, and boldly sweet.

5 Perfectly Paired Digestif and Dessert Recipes

Panna Cotta Meets the Manhattan

In this pair, cream and sugar matches the mood perfectly after a sip of bourbon, vermouth, and Angostura bitters (see: what are bitters).

  • For panna cotta, dissolve 1/2 cup sugar into two cups of milk and heavy cream. When dissolved, add one tablespoon of gelatin, stirring until smooth. Pour into molds and chill. When you're ready to serve, don't forget the berries.
  • Cream and sugar pairs well with the Manhattan, classically combining great bourbon (2 oz.) with vermouth (1 oz.) and Angostura bitters. Garnish, in ice, with a cherry.

Almond Cake and an Amaretto Sour

  • Almond cake requires one cup flour, sugar, and 1/2 cup almond meal. Melt 1/2 cup butter and beat two eggs with 1/4 cup amaretto into the flour-and-meal mixture. Dissolving the sugar, bake at 350 for 30 minutes.
  • Shake up 2 oz. of amaretto with 3/4 oz/ of sweet vermouth. Add a simple dash of bitters after straining into a glass with ice. Garnish with Marashino cherries.

Cherry Tarts with the Boulevadier

  • For cherry tarts, fill pastry shells with sweet cherry compote, a mixture of cherries, orange zest, sugar, and salt. Then, bake the mounds at 375 for 20 to 25 minutes until golden. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.
  • The Boulevardier ocktail is a classic of equal parts. Strain 1 oz. bourbon, 1 oz. vermouth, and 1 oz. amaro through a shaker into a glass of ice. Garnish with candied lemon.

Lemon Bars and Brandy

  • Lemon bars can be tricky. Mix one cup flour with 1/2 cup butter and 1/4 cup sugar. Pressed in a pan, bake the mix at 350 for 15 minutes before pouring on 2 eggs beaten with a cup of sugar and 2 oz. of lemon juice. Bake 25 more minutes.
  • For a brandy pairing, B&B cocktails take 2 oz. of brandy for every 1 oz. of Benedictine. Stir and strain into a glass of ice. Garnish with citrus of your choice.

Cake and Creme de Menthe

  • Chocolate cake comes as you like. Combine 1.5 cups of flour with 1 cup of sugar and 1/4 cup of cocoa powder. Mix in 1 tablespoon baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add water (1 cup), oil (1/3 cup), and a splash of vanilla.
  • For the Creme de Menth, a thyme-infused, sweet mint cocktail, simply strain the digestif through a tumbler of cubed ice and top with whipped cream and chocolate shavings.
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Frequently Asked Questions About Digestif Drinks and Sweets

Find answers to the most common questions about digestifs and desserts. Learn everything from pronunciation to great herbal liqueurs to have after dinner.

What is an after-dinner dessert drink?

Another name for an after-dinner cocktail or alcoholic beverage is a "digestif." Pronounced "dee-jest-eef," these beverages are used to increase ease of digestion. They have been used for centuries, first as pharmacy-sold tonics and later as a traditional post-meal remedy.

What drinks are digestifs?

The most common digestifs are often fortified wines like sherry and vermouth. Other popular options include herbal liqueurs such as Chartreuse or bitter liqueurs such as amaro. Today, whiskey and bourbon as much as sweet liqueurs like limoncello can act as digestifs in after-dinner drinks as well.

What is the best after-dinner drink?

As far as alcohol is concerned, the most common class of traditional "digestives" are Italian bitters (or "amari"). These bitters are made from a blend of brandy and the essence of herbs, botanicals, roots, spices, and sometimes citrus peels.

Get more guides for how to pair digestifs and desserts or build unique cocktails for a better business.
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