Aperitif or Digestif?

Every now and then you might find yourself leafing through a fancy leather-bound drinks menu that has sections for “aperitifs” and “digestifs” full of strange names you may have never heard of.  And, since most of us prefer the familiar, we quickly swerve away towards drinks we know well and order those.  But these strange-sounding names are worth your time and attention, and can really enhance your next meal or just evening out.


Both of these words are French, though there’s enough French in English (thanks to the Norman invasion in 1066) that their meaning is recognizable.  An aperitif is meant to “open” things and stimulate the appetite.  It is generally dry, like vermouth, gin, dry white wine (still or sparkling) and has a low alcohol and low sugar content (sugar limits appetite).  If you do want to munch on something while enjoying these generally light-in-color beverages, savory snacks or cheeses work well.


A digestif is meant to do precisely that: help you digest your meal.  It’s the type of drink that signals to your body that it’s the end of the meal and will feel like a warm cap is being put over your stomach, almost like it’s getting ready for bed.  These drinks are generally going to be higher in alcohol percentage, with a touch of sweetness.  While they can function as their own dessert, they can be served alongside (or after) chocolate or a dessert.  Brandy, port, and sherry are the most obvious ones, but whiskey and bourbon also can function in this role.

Some of these, like Chartreuse, are the centuries-old recipes (often secret) of monks who blended herbs and spices into these drinks for the sole purpose in serving as a digestive aid.  One of the more famous ones in Germany is Jagermeister, which, contrary to the “expertise” of American college students is not ordinarily put into the freezer and then dropped via shot glass into a glass of beer, but can be enjoyably sipped at room temperature after a good meal, to allow its many floral and aromatic components to be enjoyed along with its taste.

Aperitifs and digestifs are more common in countries in which dinner isn’t a hassle to be gotten through, but something to be enjoyed and savored.  It’s a perfect way for a Gent to bring a bit more refinement and adventure to his alcohol consumption, and to enjoy the rich culture and traditions of many countries that make their own unique versions of these drinks.

Do you have any favorite aperitifs or digestifs to share with fellow Gents Blog readers?  Share them in the comments below to get 20% off your next cologne purchase at any of our clubs.

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