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There’s nothing like finishing Thanksgiving dinner and plopping down on the couch so the turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie digests in your very full stomach. It’s not uncommon to feel a little bloated, as the average American Thanksgiving meal consists of about 3,000 calories.
To help combat that uncomfortable, stuffed feeling, we suggest digestifs, after-dinner drinks enjoyed in small quantities to aid digestion. Digestifs are either strong distilled spirits or liqueurs with herbs and spices. The after-dinner drinks are designed to stimulate the stomach’s production of the enzyme, pepsin, and move digestion along.
These sips are underutilized in the U.S., but considered a ritual across Europe. Digestifs have been used since the 1700s, originally meant for medicinal purposes and prescribed for dozens of sicknesses. Eventually, the beverages became a regular practice post-dining.
Author and judge for the San Francisco World Spirits Competition Fred Minnick says his favorite digestif is Green Chartreuse.
“I can have a spoiled belly and one taste of that, it’s 100 percent,” Minnick says. “A good digestif is all about the herbal properties for me, and Chartreuse recipe is one of the great recipes protected by monks.”
Below, Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits Director Joe Daily will guide us through five digestifs to sip on after Thanksgiving meal.
Amaro (Italian for ‘bitter’) is an herbal liqueur with a syrupy, bitter-sweet flavor. It can range from dry to sweet and light to dark in appearance and has an alcohol content between 16 and 40 percent. It’s often drunk neat with a citrus wedge, but can be enjoyed with tonic water and ice. There are many varieties of Amaro; popular types include Averna, Cynar, and Fernet-Branca.
“Oh the wonderful world of bitter and sweet!” Daily says. “To be clear, Amaro can be quite tasty on its own once you have acquired the taste for one.
The Amaro category originally hails from Eastern Europe and Italy, but is popping up in markets across the world.
“For instance, Fernet Fransico: If you would like to turn back the clock and try a more traditional amari, look no further than to Fernet Branca, [which] first debuted as a category in Milan in 1845,” Daily says. “Keep in mind Fernet is a subcategory of amari.”
Daily drinks his Amaro at room temperature or as a simple highball of one-part Fernet and four-parts Coke.
Grappa is an Italian grape-based pomace brandy made by distilling pilp, seeds, skins, and stems leftover from pressing grapes. It tends to have a fruity sweet flavor and clocks in at 80-90 proof, making it not a liquor but a distilled spirit. In Italy, Grappa is often called “healthy water” because of its digestif qualities.
“Grappa is produced from pomace, which is the remnants of the winemaking production – think stems, seeds, and crushed grape fibers,” Daily says. “Grappa, traditionally, is served on its own but is very mixable.”
Some say Grappa’s burn has an aggressive bite, but as it’s a more neutral spirit, it can be used in cocktails to cut the taste. Daily says the easiest cocktail to build to utilize grappa would be two-parts spirit, one-part citrus juice, and one-part sweetener of choice.
Strega is a yellow liqueur milled of about 70 herbs and spices such as cinnamon, juniper, mint, and saffron. While the digestif is sweet, its alcohol content 80 percent is comparable to most hard liquors. It’s commonly used for flavoring a type of cake called torta caprese.
“Ah, Strega, the ‘witchiest of the amari in our category of topics,” Daily says. “Get it? Terrible pun – I’ll see myself out. No, if you missed it, Strega is an ancient name for a witch.”
Straga has a golden hue due to the content of saffron and is a softer selection of the digestifs discussed thus far.
“It can be easily used as a base in a spirit given its proof is 80, however, with the depth of Strega, I tend to use it as a modifier in a cocktail,” Daily says. “I live my life with Strega a quarter ounce at a time. It has the complexity to drink on its own, and anything over a quarter ounce can quickly overwhelm a cocktail.”
Port is a Portuguese fortified wine with a sweet, semi-dry flavor. This wine is full-bodied and comes in varieties, boasting notes of berries, cinnamon and caramel. It’s considered a dessert wine for its variability in pairings. Tawny Port and ruby Port goes well with chocolate, pecan pie and even cheesecake. Rose or white Port pairs better with angel food cake, meringues and fruit. While many people only pop Port out during Christmastime, it’s a great digestif to cap off a big meal.
“Oh, my love for port,” Daily says. “Not just for dessert, but also a very popular modifier finding homage in classic cocktails.”
He remarks that port is a lustrous category and there are many subcategories you could explore.
Chartreuse is a French liqueur with a bright jade color and notes of lemon balm, cinnamon, peppermint, and thyme. The drink has been used by Carthusian Monks since 1737, prescribing it as medicine for upset stomachs.
“Ever heard of the color chartreuse? Yes, that’s where the name came from,” Daily says. “If you can visualize that color, then now you know what the spirit looks like.”
Daily tells us that Chartreuse is a secret blend of 130 herbs, roots and botanicals.
“This is a favorite shot among many bartenders including myself,” he says. “Clocking in at 110 proof, you would think this might be a drier spirit. It’s not – it’s actually very sweet with robust flavors of alpine you will not soon forget… Unless you drink three shots of it. (Kidding, please drink responsibly!)”
Green Chartreuse is a great modifier in cocktails and can be twisted into modern classics like The Last Word.
“This is a fantastic cocktail that, if done correctly, will leave you speechless harboring its name,” Daily says.
He makes the cocktail with ¾ Chartreuse, ¾ Maraschino Liqueur, ¾ gin, and ¾ fresh lime juice, shaken and strained.