Big meals are one of the great joys of the holiday season. Especially if you have family and friends present. Roast meats served by drunk uncles, spice-laden desserts made by know-it-all cousins, and cheese plates paired with cheesy dad jokes.
All that heavy food and quality family bonding require serious digestion time. That’s why the holidays are perfect for playing cards, watching Christmas movies, or lying on the floor in the pronel position with your belt unbuckled. Or you can keep it simple by sipping an after-dinner digestif.
Casey Faden, bartender at Sabroso+Sorbo in Philadelphia prefers a sweet sipper after feasting. “I like a sherry or a dessert cordial like an Amaretto on the rocks,” he says. “It’s sweet, yet light, and a great sipping cocktail to enjoy after a heavy holiday meal.”
“Nothing says ‘let’s just sit by the fire and luxuriate in our opulent gluttony’ like a glass of fine Cognac,” says Cole Newton, bartender at Twelve Mile Limit in New Orleans. “But it’s hard to enjoy without feeling like a modern-day robber baron. Mitigate some of that late-stage capitalist holiday guilt by choosing an overtly eco-friendly brand, like Park Bio Cognac, an excellent Fins Bois, Single Cru VSOP that’s also certified organic and dedicated to sustainable practices from top to bottom.”
Like Faden and Newton, bartenders around the nation rely on after-dinner drinks to help them digest a heavy meal. We asked some of our favorites to tell us their go-tos.
FEW Cold Cut Bourbon
Tony Morelli, head bartender at Miller’s Pub in Chicago
I just tried FEW’s brand new Cold Cut Bourbon, and I can’t wait to sip it after Thanksgiving dinner this year. It’s cask-strength FEW Bourbon ‘cut’ with locally sourced cold brew coffee. Who knows? Maybe it’ll counteract the effects of all that turkey?
Glenfiddich Fire and Cane Scotch Whisky
Benjamin Rouse, head bartender at Henley in Nashville
After a heavy meal I am looking for scotch and a cigar. Glenfiddich Fire and Cane is my current obsession for this event. This rum cask finished mingling is a match made in heaven for a nice smoke, a comfy chair, and conversations that run a little too late into the evening.
Patrick Turner, bartender at B & O American Brasserie in Baltimore
Underberg is a great herbal digestif that works. After that, I’ll be sipping Lagavulin 16 neat. It’s a perfect nightcap with similar tryptophan effects.
Hennessy XO Cognac
Danny Caffall, lead bartender at The Mansion Bar in Dallas
Hennessy XO. It brings me to my ‘Happy Place’. Tasting of caramel, vanilla, cinnamon, grape, oak and some other descriptive sounding things that I may or may not taste such as mahogany and leather-bound books. At any rate, it’s just a fantastic way to compliment your meal and your evening.
Laphroaig 10 Year Old Scotch Whisky
John Walter, lead bartender at Outlier in Seattle
Laphroaig 10 year or on the complete opposite spectrum Green Chartreuse. I’m very simple and like very overt flavors without subtlety. Either wildly peaty and smoky or cloying is my go-to.
Armagnac Delord 25 Year
Drew Hairston, beverage manager at Dirty Habit in Washington, DC
Armagnac Delord 25 Year is an amazing post-meal sipper! Due to its age, the heavy and smooth oak forces you to take your time and enjoy the nuance of the spirit, allowing you to relax and digest slowly. It’s so smooth and balanced that it can take the place of your dessert.
Dalmore 25 Year Old Scotch Whisky
Manager Jeremy Allen, general manager at MiniBar in Hollywood, California
Scotch is my go-to after a heavy holiday meal. Something expensive and decadent, old and rare, like a Dalmore 25 year. It’s soft and velvety, with chocolate and orange notes, big and viscous and rolls around your tongue. It almost smells too good to sip, almost tastes too good to swallow. It’s an indulgence, and that’s exactly what you should want. Leave the dessert for everyone else, take the scotch and retire to your quiet place.
Weller Special Reserve Bourbon
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Graham Courter, bar manager Main Street Meats in Chattanooga, Tennessee
A glass of Weller Special Reserve on the rocks after a giant meal always sets me right. It settles my stomach just enough to get ready for seconds!
Lustau Px Sherry
Sean Arterberry, assistant bar manager at Doug Fir Lounge in Portland, Oregon
Our pick here is definitely going to have to be Lustau Px Sherry. This sherry has a nice sweet velvety texture with a rich dark raisin finish. Perfect for a nice low proof sipper after dinner.
Balvenie 14-Year-Old Caribbean Cask Scotch Whisky
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Matt Catchpole, general manager at Terra in Columbia, South Carolina
If I’m sipping on one thing after a holiday meal, it’s probably either Speyside Scotch or Madeira. Balvenie is one of the great Scotch whiskies. I go to the 17-year Doublewood or the 14-year Caribbean cask if I can’t get my hands on a cool rare release.
Daniel Dameron, bar manager at Husk in Savannah, Georgia
Fernet-Branca all day. My coworkers and I coined the phrase “Fernet Reset” after a gratuitous holiday dinner at work eating like it. Every year after we would eat like it was our last, then — “Fernet Reset.” Plus, Digestif.
Keith Zintakmon, bartender at JRDN in San Diego
When it comes to after-dinner drinks, I reach for Amaro Nonino. On the rocks with an orange slice, the amaro will help combat your food coma and save room for dessert.
Don Papa 10 Year Old Rum
Ben Rojo, bartender at Black Emperor in New York City
I aspire to end up on the La-Z-Boy next to the fireplace, with a bottle of Don Papa 10, a Terry’s chocolate orange, and a plateful of sliced ham at the end of just about every holiday meal. The cacao, coffee, and citrus notes of the lush dark rum pair impeccably with the aromatic chocolate and the salty-sweet decadence of the ham; tiptoeing between dessert and savory next to the fireplace is my preferred way to end the year.
Will Witherow, beverage director at Live Oak in Alexandria, Virginia
Templeton rye is the best after a big holiday meal. Templeton holds a special place in my heart because it’s the only Whiskey a friend’s dad will drink. At Christmas, we would get done stuffing our faces and he would pour us a healthy glass of Templeton and say “here this will help burn the food down.” Drinking will always invoke feelings and I love the thought of those holidays in my younger days
Maxwell Reis, beverage director at Gracias Madre in Los Angeles
I bring a bottle of Braulio Amaro to every holiday meal, because lord knows you need a delicious digestive to sip on to cure your post-meal “itis.” Plus, most people don’t know what it is, so more for me!
Corralejo Triple Distilled Reposado Tequila
Austin Doiron, beverage director at NEAT Bottle Shop & Tasting Room in Alys Beach, Florida
Corralejo Triple Distilled Reposado is my go-to after-dinner sipper. It’s a clear reposado that has notes of honey, vanilla, and pear. Do not let the family make margaritas with this or more family drama will ensue.
Yamazaki 12 Year Old Japanese Whisky
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Bryan Mayer lead mixologist at Azabu in Miami
Yamazaki 12, Suntory’s single malt Japanese whisky, is an amazing drink after a heavy meal that makes you feel great anytime.
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Jarhn Blutstein, area beverage manager at Gurney’s Star Island Resort & Marina in Montauk, New York
After a large feast with the family I like to finish strong with Green chartreuse. It’s complex and a little bit strange to the senses, kind of like my family.
Willett Pot Still Reserve Bourbon
Melissa Crisafulli, bartender at Salt Wood Kitchen & Oysterette in Monterey County, California
My favorite after-dinner sipping brand would be Willet Pot. It is by far my favorite bourbon and the warmth in your stomach is a perfect match for colder winter and fall nights.