Digestifs come in a rainbow of flavors and colors, but they’re all intended to do one thing: help you digest, and possibly find an excuse to take another small nip (vital around the holidays). Unlike apertifs, which are often more acidic, bitter, or bracing to whet the appetite, digestifs tend to incorporate depth, spice, herbs, bitterness, and sweetness. Aperitifs are also usually lower alcohol, while digestifs can be higher alcohol since, theoretically, you’ll be sipping less, and sweet mercy the day is done.
Not every digestif will appeal universally, so we collected a motley crew of after-dinner drink possibilities. Some of them are bartender favorites, the type of thing your favorite intimidating mixologist likes to knock back after a long shift. And some are the kinds of spirits you’d expect to see in the large snifter of an important business tycoon after a long day of tycooning. But they’re all equally up for regular-people-grabs. It’s just a matter of price point (they vary pretty drastically) and your own particular tastes. So read on, eat on, and take a sip.
Bracingly bitter, devilishly dark, bit of a minx of a spirit that’s entranced, like, all of Argentina, plus most of the embedded bartending community. Part of the family of Italian amaros (or bitters), it’s an acquired taste, but once acquired, generally adored, for just $25 or $26. Made with 27 different herbs from four different continents, including gentian, chamomile, saffron, galangal (the list goes on), you’ll get a nice cool licorice kick outright and almost no sweetness. Plus an invaluable hip quotient.
On a very different end of the flavor spectrum, here’s an apple brandy from Lower Normandy. Unlike typical brandy, Calvados is distilled from cider (not wine), and aged for 2 years in oak minimum. This bottle—which should run you well under $40—is oak-aged for 4 years, resulting in less bright fresh fruit and something approaching richer, spicy apple pie.
Yep, the famous 130 herbs, plants, and flowers French liqueur made by Carthusian monks in the Chartreuse Mountains of Grenoble, France. Enough romance in the story alone to relax you after dinner, but the liqueur—especially the green—has a hypnotically complex mix of floral, herbal, spicy, and even vegetal flavors. It’s around $55, but at 55% ABV, you just need a little sip to feel blessed.
The Nonino brand tends to get most cred for its grappas, but this amaro is worth a taste, even at around $40. Distilled from grape pomace—like grappa—the amaro is infused with herbs and spices and aged in barriques (or smaller barrels, traditionally used to age Bordeaux). Technically a liqueur, you’ll get bittersweetness with spice, orange, and caramel borrowed from the wood.
Don’t be scared—we’re not talking cream sherry, or even the complex (but maybe intimidated Olorosos or Finos). Pedro Ximenez is made with at least 85% Pedro Ximenez grapes, all picked super-mature and/or sun dried, resulting in a sweet, spicy, molasses-dark spirit with a velour raisiny body. Acid keeps the sweetness in (some) check, but you can still treat this as a liquid dessert, and at just $25, it’ll last.
A lot like Fernet, but German, and then there’s the Barbie’s Playhouse size of the bottles, which can (yes) be worn as a belt. But the central magic of Underberg is its power—and it packs it. Aged in Slovenian oak, it’s hyper-herbaceous and anise-y (with herbs sourced from 43 countries), rocketing down with a hot dose of alcohol and alleged notes of “Christmas.” It’ll hit you hard, but purposefully—for 169 years, a favorite digestif, and hangover relief, in Germany, where they know how to eat and drink.
There’s certainly good entry-level Armagnac to be had for under $25 dollars, but if you go about $10 higher you can get a really supreme Armagnac. In case you were wondering, Armagnac, like Cognac, is a brandy distilled from white wine grapes and aged in Monlezun black oak. Unlike Cognac—which is and has been ultra hip—Armagnac is distilled only once, with more time in oak, meaning a consistent uptick in complexity, usually at a lower price point. Here you’ll get cocoa, peppercorns, buttery nuts, tropical fruit and even smooth, fruity custard. Serve it with some jazz on and blow your guests’ minds.