For those unaware, an apéritif is an alcoholic drink or cocktail that is served prior to a meal with the goal of stimulating your appetite and preparing your belly for the food journey to come. Its counterpart comes after dinner: the digestif — a drink imbibed after a meal to help aid in digestion. You’ve surely seen sophisticates drinking them slowly while relaxing after a nice meal in a movie somewhere. In some parts of the world, this is a common practice and if you ask us, it should be common everywhere. (Similar to bidets — everyone should have bidets.)
When we talk about digestifs, we’re talking about amaro, port, calvados, sambuca, Italian bitters, and other drinks specifically created to be enjoyed after a meal at the end of a long, likely tiring day.
“European bitters and amaro have gained popularity in the past couple of years in America,” says Rene Voteller, food and beverage director at Wequassett Resort and Golf Club in Harwich, Massachusetts. “While most bartenders use them in various craft cocktails, the proper application in Europe, where they have been consumed for centuries, is as a digestif to aid digestion.”
Since we can’t think of a better way to end a day, we figured it was important to actually help you find some of these flavorful after-dinner drinks. To do that, we went to the professionals for help. We asked a handful of well-known bartenders to tell us the best digestifs to imbibe after a heavy meal. Keep scrolling to see them all.
Gary Mennie, food and beverage director at The Mills House Hotel in Charleston, South Carolina
Average Price: $30
My go-to digestif has always been Sambuca, specifically Molinari Sambuca. It’s an Italian anise-flavored liquor that really deserves more attention than it gets.
The licorice flavor profile combines the spirit of youth and the adult punch of health, happiness, and prosperity.
Jonathan Cano, lead bartender at Amara in Paraiso in Miami, Florida
Average Price: $30 for a liter
Cynar has been my go-to for years now in the amaro category. Years ago, when I used to drink behind the bar, Cynar was kept at arm’s reach. I’ve always been a light drinker, so this was a way for me to hang with my colleagues and guests.
I find it to be the perfect balance of bitterness and sweetness, not overly viscous, with light vegetal notes. It’s absolutely perfect for after-dinner.
Greg Coll, food and beverage director at Dawn Ranch in Guerneville, California
Average Price: $25
For those of us who like to drink our dessert, Meletti Amaro is an easy choice. If you prefer it bitter this may not be for you, as it is sweeter with a mild bitterness.
Full-bodied with floral, fruity notes, and a rich flavor profile of anise, saffron, and caramelized sugar.
Raul Ayala, lead bartender at Shelby’s Rooftop in San Francisco
Average Price: $30
Fernet Branca is my go-to for an after-dinner drink because of the intensity of bitterness and aromas that brings joy to my senses.
With an intense mélange of spices and herbs. Chamomile, dried plums, and mint with a touch of coffee make it so different almost medicinal.
Taylor Fladgate 30-Year Port
Melissa Chaney, bartender at Agua Caliente Casino in Cathedral City, California
Average Price: $159
I recommend the Taylor Fladgate 30-Year Port. This memorable, warming port is a great way to end dinner. Unless there is a Souffle available, then I prefer both.
It is made out of butterscotch and caramel and packs a nutty, custardy, lush flavor profile. It’s underrated, yet over-delivers.
Colin Berger, bar manager at Rare Society in San Diego, California
Average Price: $32
My first question to almost every server as the dinner plates are cleared is always, ‘Do you have Averna?’ I worked for a restaurateur for several years who was famously in love with Averna. It was our company’s Kool-Aid, and I drank enough to fall in love.
I was asked to describe the flavor of Averna to someone who had never had amaro before, and the best I could do was, ‘It tastes like flat Coke if it were delicious. And had a lemon twist in it.’
Kirk Paganelli, taproom mixologist at The Clancy in San Francisco
Average Price: $40
A go-to digestif is one San Francisco’s very own, Cannella Amaro. The digestif was inspired by the founder’s voyage through Sicily. This Amaro is best enjoyed when mixed with Pellegrino sparkling water and a splash of flavored soda water.
Its flavors are balanced with spices such as anise and coriander, followed by light citrus notes and a variety of herbs and botanicals.
Mike Donaldson, bar manager at ChoLon Restaurant Concepts in Denver
Average Price: $48
Amaro Nonino is always my favorite. It is barrel-aged grappa infused with a magical blend of herbs and spices. It has a nice mix of sweet and bitter on the palate.
It’s not as bitter as other amaro out there but is balanced with sweet, candied orange peel, thyme, and menthol.
Josh “Yoshi” Lee, lead bartender at YumCha in Denver
Average Price: $30
Arak Touma is my favorite. Named after the king of Arak, this fragrant liquor can be served both as apéritif and digestif. Ask for a short rocks glass with ice and a small amount of water. Drop in a shot of Arak and you’ll be surprised to find that it changes colors.
The anise seed flavor and the minty after taste make it a very delightful finish to your meal.
Nick Akira Amano Dolan, general manager at Trick Dog in San Francisco, California
Average Price: $22
Lately, I’ve been loving the categories of Rabarbaros for digestifs. Bitter amaro incorporates rhubarb as one of its primary flavoring agents. I think Sfumato, in particular, is absolutely fantastic.
Some smoke on the nose, some alpine herbaceousness, and generally a bit of a softer amaro that still packs a ton of flavor.
Erica Dimmig, lead mixologist at Hotel Pendry in Chicago
Average Price: $30
The world of amaro and Italian bitters is extensive and my favorite group of spirits to drink and play with. While there’s an impressive list of new and innovative bottles to choose from, Campari will always be my go-to.
Campari is a versatile digestif that has the unique quality to shine its bitter notes while also using those same complex flavors to balance sweeter ingredients. No matter the day or occasion, a Campari soda will always be my go-to drink.
Boulard VSOP Calvados
Roque Medina, executive director of Menlo Tavern at The Stanford Park Hotel in Menlo Park, California
Average Price: $50
Boulard VSOP Calvados. The less-aged calvados distinguishes itself with its fresh apple and pear aromas. The longer the calvados is aged (like in the case of Boulard VSOP), the more the taste resembles that of any other aged brandy.
As calvados ages, it may become golden or darker brown with orange elements and red mahogany. The nose and palate are delicate with a concentration of aged apples and dried apricots balanced with butterscotch, nut, and chocolate aromas.
Andrew Bone, food and beverage manager of Devereaux at Viceroy in Chicago
Average Price: $24
I’ve been playing with 50 / 50 Manhattans at home using Ramazotti Amaro. Bumping the amaro up in lieu of whiskey means I can enjoy two or three of these without ending up on the floor.
Silky smooth with cola notes it goes very well with a high rye whiskey. It’s definitely a unique flavor that propels a Manhattan to new heights. It’s also pretty great on its own.
Linda Garcia, bartender at Tiki Chick in New York City
Average Price: $58 for a liter
Braulio is an alpine amaro from Italy and I love to sip it on the rocks. I do not see this amaro often enough. It’s definitely one worth seeking out.
To me, it tastes like a cross between Fernet and Montenegro. It has a menthol character that softens once mixed with ice along with notes of clove, orange, caramel, wormwood.
Rene Voteller, food and beverage director at Wequassett Resort and Golf Club in Harwich, Massachusetts
Average Price: $33
I have an affinity for a Swiss bitter called Appenzeller Alpen Bitter. Part of Swiss German tradition since the early 1900s, it is consumed after a heavy meal and is made with up to 42 alpine herbs.
It is not as bitter as other popular digestifs like Fernet Branca or Jagermeister. It has a natural sweetness that makes it very enjoyable after a great meal.