Dessert may be some folks’ favorite course, but here at VinePair, we believe the best way to end a meal involves a tipple or two. From cocktails and cordials to wines and digestifs, the act of consuming after-dinner drinks is a long-standing tradition. And thanks to the rise of craft cocktails and the resurgence of amari in recent years, the nightcap has returned with vigor.
Today’s after-dinner drinks take many forms and range from customary digestion-aiding drinks and dessert wines to intricate specialty cocktails. If you’re new to the movement and are just entering your grown-up after-dinner drinking phase, finding the right sip to fit your preference can be daunting — especially in today’s Espresso Martini-laden landscape. To help guide you, we’ve polled a team of experts. Ahead, bartenders, sommeliers, and other beverage pros share their favorite drinks to sip post-meal.
The Best After-Dinner Drinks, According to Drinks Pros
- Jean-Marc Roulot L’Abricot Liqueur
- Palm wine
- Chartreuse V.E.P
- 2000 D’Oliveiras Malvasia Colheita Madeira
- Francoli Antico Amaro Noveis Liqueur
“My cocktail of choice is always Negroni, and is, of course, served over one big ice cube. The most interesting Negroni I think I’ve ever had was in Positano a month ago. It was fermented in butter for 24 days before serving.” —Justin Moran, founder, The Hidden Sea, South Australia
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“An after-dinner drink should be a crowd-pleaser — something anyone and everyone can enjoy after a wonderful meal. Lately, I’ve been reaching for Jean-Marc Roulot’s L’Abricot liqueur. It’s made from apricots grown on the estate of J.L. Chave in Hermitage which are then shipped to Meursault, where they are macerated in a brandy made from Roulot’s own grapes. It has a pure apricot flavor that anyone will love and isn’t as polarizing as whiskey or amaro.” —Jon Adler, beverage director, Shinji’s, New York City
“My favorite after-dinner drink is palm wine. Palm wine is a traditional African beverage that is made by tapping the sap of a palm tree. The juice then hangs from a bucket attached to the side of the tree and naturally ferments for up to six hours. Afterward, you are left with a slightly sweet and creamy ‘wine’ that has a low ABV of just around 4 percent.” —Mathew Scherl, beverage director, Lagos Restaurant & Lounge, NYC
“The bracingly herbal Underberg digestif is my top choice for after-dinner drinks. Not only does the slogan on their label hold true — ‘After a good meal… to feel bright and alert’ — but the adorably unique mini bottles make it the most fun after-dinner out there, and if you collect the signature green plastic caps, you can redeem them for prizes, like this enviable leather belt holster that costs 480 caps.” —Bryan Schneider, bar director, Quality Branded restaurants, NYC
“I think Forthave is the star here. Not only do I love the gents from Forthave, Aaron Sing Fox and Daniel de la Nuez, but it is an extremely local product coming out of Brooklyn.” —Gabriel Maldonado, beverage director, The Wesley, NYC
“The Carajillo is made many different ways in many different parts of the Spanish-speaking world, and asking five people how they like theirs would probably yield five distinct specs. But the basic formula — espresso with a nice, hearty spirit — is always a winner for an after-dinner drink. I also enjoy a Ferrari cocktail as an after-dinner drink. Fernet-Branca and Campari are polarizing amari — many people either love them or hate them. If you’re in the former camp, this 50/50 concoction brings you the best of both worlds. It retains Fernet’s bracing minty bitterness, but the Campari softens and lightens the overall flavor profile, turning what sounds like an overly intense combination into a uniquely refreshing one. Ferraris are typically consumed as a shot alongside a cold can of Tecate beer, but they’re just as good sipped over ice.” —Noah Manskar, head bartender, Colonia Verde, Brooklyn
“My favorite is Chartreuse V.E.P (Yellow Label). After a heavy meal — especially during this season, or even if you have a hard time with your digestion — Chartreuse, like many other herbal-based spirits, works best. It is also one of the only liquors that ages and improves in-bottle.” —Simon Sebbah, beverage director, The Lambs Club, NYC
“I love Drambuie as an after-dinner drink. The combination of aged Scotch, Heather honey, spices, and herbs is the perfect end to a delicious meal.” —Paula Lukas, bartender and beverage consultant, NYC
“At the end of a meal, a glass of amaro is my go-to. While its pharmaceutical benefits may have been debunked centuries ago, there is something civilized and soothing about ending a meal with a beverage with a bit of a bite and a touch of sweetness to keep it in balance. While I enjoy sipping it on its own, a Shakerato is the perfect way to make an amaro convert or please a crowd. Two of my favorites served in this manner are Braulio or Branca Menta. Bitter and brutal on their own, shaking them vigorously in a mixing tin with ice and straining them into a glass aerates them and tames the alcohol which brings the refreshing restorative alpine qualities to the forefront.” —Sabato Sagaria, sommelier and restauranter, Peasant, NYC
“Personally, I like to have a dessert wine after dinner. Although Pineau is not a dessert wine, it is a fitting and complex alternative that is easy and enjoyable to drink after a good meal — like sipping on a brandy.” —GN Chan, co-founder, Double Chicken Please, NYC
“Pineau des Charentes not only pairs well with after-dinner mainstays like cheeses and sweets but can also replace a traditional dessert course as well.” —ms. franky marshall, bartender and educator, NYC
“My go-to after-dinner drink is Kijoshu, a special sake made with some of the brewing water replaced with finished sake. The result is a rich, luxurious, and lightly sweet sake with balanced acidity that also lends itself to aging. Compared to other types of sake, Kijoshu drinks more like Sauternes or sherry. You can pair it with a dessert or cheese course, drizzle over vanilla ice cream, or just enjoy it on its own.” —Kenta Goto, beverage director, Bar Goto & Bar Goto Niban, NYC
“My go-to after-dinner cocktail has to be a Migration. It combines all my favorite things: molasses-y rums, amaro, and fortified wine. A cocktail from those cool kids at Attaboy, it’s essentially a stirred Junglebird, and it has a perfect balance of boozy sweetness to settle your tum-tum after a meal.” —Trevor Easton Langer, head bartender, Bar Calico
“For the ultimate ending to a meal, I would definitely choose an old, vintage sweet Madeira wine, 2000 D’Oliveiras Malvasia Colheita Madeira. Madeira is a rare and unique fortified wine made on the island of the same name in Portugal. The special process that defines the style of this wine is related to the heating and oxidation that occurs when the casks of wines are left directly under the sun for several years. This magnificent wine presents a complex palate of aromas that include dried fruits, nuts, desiccated orange peel, dried flowers, toffee, molasses, and more. Its sharp acidity balances the sweetness, driving your palate to a transcendental experience of taste and feel. It harmonizes beautifully with dark chocolate desserts, dried fruit, nut cakes, or a cheese platter made with varieties of blue and aged Parmesan.” —Nicolás Andrés Martinhes, sommelier, Balvanera, NYC
“After dinner, I look to finish the night with something a touch sweeter, lower proof, and with bitter herbs to settle the stomach. I always reach for Antico Amaro Noveis. Like many Piedmont amari, it is rich and full-bodied with gentian, bitter orange, yarrow, and a traditional oak barrel finish. It is absolutely delicious neat or in a Negroni variation.” —Laura Unterberg, head bartender, The Fox Bar and Cocktail Club, Nashville
“Personally, I find green Chartreuse to be an excellent digestif. Chartreuse contains over 120 different herbs and botanicals, so it’s perfect for after dinner.” —Hernan Trujillo, head bartender, J.Bespoke, NYC
“The best after-dinner drink has a range of options. If you had a heavy meal, for me, the best option is a digestif like an amaro. I love Braulio as an alpine version or Averna as a more bitter and darker option. For someone that wants to continue the chat over the table, I would suggest a brandy. There are great examples of Spanish brandies in the market, and the king of all is Cognac. One last option would be a fortified or sweet wine if someone has that sweet tooth. A glass of port or Madeira is always a great way to finish a meal.” —Nial Garcia, beverage director and sommelier, The Conrad Hotel, Washington, D.C.