Between the meal and the cigar
With patrons knowing and caring much more about what they’re eating and fresh, delicious food becoming more and more prevalent at restaurants around the country, people are finding more reasons to eat out at restaurants. If you’re too full from a lovely meal to end it with dessert but still want to extend your time at the table, consider a digestif/digestivo instead. In many countries, strong and flavorful liquors are served at the very end of a meal to help with digestion and also prolong any conversations. Here are five lovely spirits and liqueurs to try, depending on your mood and meal. As always, DRINK RESPONSIBLY!
Many people in Italy make their own limoncello (or riffs using cherries or oranges) by putting clean, fresh, organic lemons (without wax) in grain alcohol or vodka, but the store-bought varieties you can get here are consistently good and many Italian restaurants serve it, especially in the spring and summer. In Italy you can get the regular, bright, citrusy version or a creamier version that’s a bit heavier. Most restaurants in the U.S. serve the citrusy version, which is still very sweet and an excellent alternative to dessert. Try Il Tramonto Limoncello, which is sweet but still refreshing. [Make sure you keep this in the fridge or freezer once you open it if you’re buying your own bottle.]
Extremely popular 250 years ago (and supposedly present at the signing of the Declaration of Independence), Madeira is making a comeback in the U.S. Similar to Port but with a bit more character and sophistication, Madeira would pair well with an after-dinner cigar and good conversation. It’s sweet, but not overly so; you can enjoy sipping it and not feel overwhelmed at the end of a meal. Try Rare Wine Co.’s Historic Series, especially the Boston Bual Reserve. [Plus, if you’re buying a bottle for your house, it will keep a lot better and longer than most Ports or other fortified wines, so you can simply recork it and keep it in the dark and enjoy it at your leisure.]
Fernet has surged in popularity recently as a cocktail mixer with the hipster set, but true Fernet aficionados drink it after dinner, straight. Fernet is perhaps more of an acquired taste than other liqueurs featured here, but the herbal, licorice flavor and the dark color make for a practical after-dinner drink that isn’t too sweet or cloying. The most popular and well-known brand is Fernet Branca, but other brands have varying levels of the herbaceous and licorice flavors.
Grappa is made from pomace, the seeds, stems and skins of grapes leftover from winemaking. Like many liquors, the cheap stuff feels like fire going down, but the expensive, carefully crafted versions can be quite smooth and delicious, with the added advantage of helping you wake up a bit after a long meal. If you’re new to Grappa, maybe start with the artisan Giovi Moscato di Pantelleria; it is both softer and has a lot more character than anything from industrial production.
Opt for Scotch instead of bourbon if you want something to sip after a meal. Although Scotch isn’t as sweet, many people find the smoky or peaty flavors immensely satiating, and the flavors pair naturally with many cigars (or at least ready your palate for one). Try Laphroaig 15 year old for something smooth that’s both smoky and mellow.
For more, here’s some alternatives to green beer!