Anyone who doesn’t save room for a drink after dinner is basically cheating themselves. And no, not just because it’s an extra opportunity to bookend a night of pleasant intoxication with just a bit more pleasant intoxication. After-dinner drinks are often useful to help, er, goose the digestive process and/or calm any calamities of wine plus food plus more food plus ice cream cake currently going on in your stomach.
But what are your basic after-dinner drink go-tos? Surely some image comes to mind of you sitting in front of your massive leather-bound (or pleather-bound, ahem, PETA) book collection, holding a snifter. Yeah, a snifter, which we have to assume is named for the act of sniffing? In that snifter, something rich and warming and possibly spiced — the kind of drink you can “retire to the drawing room” with to discuss politics, or The Bachelorette.
Fortunately there’s a basic — and classic — canon of after dinner drink options pretty much guaranteed to satisfy the diversity of palates out there. Not everyone wants a bittersweet amaro, and only a select, brave few can down Ouzo in company without things getting real weird.
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This one’s a tough category, only because it’s giant. Liqueurs are basically sweetened liquors, often lower alcohol, but otherwise it’s a candy land of flavors. You might have Midori, or Chartreuse, or something like Galliano (the sweet vanilla-flavored Italian liqueur that goes into the Harvey Wallbanger). Not every liqueur is right for after dinner. Midori, for instance, or any melon liqueur, will feel like a day at the beach (the Atlantic City beach). But Chartreuse, especially the yellow variant, should do you just fine for some post-supper sipping.
We’ve gone over amaro at length elsewhere, but all you need to know here is that amari are basically bittersweet Italian liqueuers (see above) intended to help aid digestion. Well, some do. Many amari contain spices and bark and citrus peel, creating rich, dark, and even minty flavors that somehow gang up on your stubborn stomach and induce digestion. But you can also get more citrus-bitter focused amari like Campari, which is a perfect aperitivo. Generally speaking, though, amari are at their best when they’re cola-dark, cool, spicy, and sippable.
Vermouth. Aromatized, fortified wine. Yeah, none of that makes any intuitive sense to a regular drinker, but vermouth would — and should — make sense in your after-dinner drink routine. Vermouths actually are stronger than wines (the “fortified” part), but the aromatization is what you’re looking for in your after-dinner drink — something complex, full of spice and cooling cola flavors but also pert citrus and, in white vermouth, more florals and herbs. Basically, great stuff to slowly sip while you think about how to tell your partner her lasagna was pedestrian.
Yeah, so you’re supposed to be terrified or infatuated with, or powerfully indifferent to, Sherry. Except, it absolutely wants to be friends with you. Sherry is the new kid kind of standing off in the distance, wearing a Flor cap (lame sherry joke), promising nutty-rich complexity but also an approachable and food-friendly buzz, with a thirst-slaking salinity that never fails to draw you back for another sip. For after dinner, you’ll want to go Pedro Ximenez, the sweet but still incredibly complex, variant.
Grappa gets a bad rap, sure, but it’s absolutely an ideal after dinner drink. Above all, it’s strong, anywhere between 40 to 50 percent alcohol. They they actually make tiny glasses for it to ensure we’re sipping, not gulping. But strength doesn’t mean grappa lacks nuance. It’s made from pomace (the solid leftovers of wine fermentation), so it’s gotta have character — smooth, sometimes “raw” grape flavor, more pronounced especially now that grappa sellers are going single varietal.
This is what we all think we’re supposed to drink after dinner, which is maybe why we don’t? There’s a certain intimidation factor with brandy that really needs to go away, so we can all just enjoy the stuff. It’s a simple product: distilled wine, which is to say, you ferment any kind of fruit into wine, then take that wine and distill it into a stronger liquor. Brandy might see some time in oak, though there are also young fruit brandies (Austrian schnapps) that are incredibly fresh and floral without requiring too much time. If you haven’t yet, splurge on a bottle of Cognac or Armagnac, its slightly rowdier cousin.
If you’re not a licorice fan, you won’t be an ouzo fan. Not that the potent clear stuff is just like liquefied black licorice. There’s actually a variety of spices, including fennel, coriander, and cinnamon in addition to the star of the show, star anise. It’s potent and cooling, not unlike an amaro, although yeah, with an entirely different flavor profile. Add a drop of water to turn it opaque, milky white, sit back, and reflect on how dope that meal was.