Scratch the surface of the Digestivo: the after-dinner cocktail tradition of Italy.
We often talk about the Italian tradition of indulging in a cocktail with snacks before dinner: the beloved aperitivo. However, the after-dinner cocktail tradition that's equally customary in Italian culture. Meet the digestivo - completely unique to the kind of cocktails served before dinner.
Pre-dinner cocktails are meant to be light and dry, intended to get your palate and stomach ready to eat dinner. Digestivi, on the other hand, are intended to aid in digestion and settle the stomach once dinner and dessert is over... and, of course, encourage a bit of a buzz. These after-dinner cocktails tend to err on the side of sweet, bitter, or higher in alcohol than aperitivi.
The Sweet Liqueurs
Once dinner and dessert are over, sweet drinks are more desired, and Italy is home to a few of our favorites.
Limoncello, the lemon zest-infused liqueur of the southern Italian coast, does double duty. It's fairly common to see it enjoyed as an aperitivo with some prosecco or sparkling water as a spritz, but it's most classically considered an after-dinner drink. It is best served ice cold straight out of the freezer in small glasses.
The other most popular sweet liqueur for digestivi is Sambuca, made from anise seed. It is often served "con la mosca" meaning "with the fly" - which translates to being served with coffee beans. The coffee beans are intended to be chewed while drinking the sambuca to help balance and offset the sweet taste.
The Bitter Liqueurs
In Italian, bitter liqueurs are beloved as after-dinner cocktails. These bitter liqueurs are called Amari (literally translates to "bitters"), which contain a lot of botanicals that aid in digestion. There is much more to the flavor profile of a bottle of Amaro than just bitter, due to the myriad of herbs and flowers that are macerated together in order to make the digestivo. It is said that amaro was created hundreds of years ago in monasteries and pharmacies to be used for its medicinal properties. Amari all have different blends of botanicals and herbs, so no two brands of bottles will taste exactly the same.
Amaro can be served straight up or on the rocks, and sometimes will be served with a wedge of citrus and sparkling water to dilute the bitter flavor. Personally, we love it as an addition to cocktails.
Photo credit: Connie Perez
The Strong Liqueurs
Behold, grappa! Grappa's formal name is acquavite di vinaccia, derived from the Latin "aqua vitae" - "water of life". Hovering between 35% to 60% percent alcohol by volume, it is the strongest liqueur typically enjoyed as a digestivo.
Grappa is made by distilling pomace: all of the stems, grape seeds and stalks leftover from wine production. It is often served on its own, used as the base for infusing limoncello, or mixed into a hot cup of espresso for a caffe corretto - "corrected coffee".
Scroll below for a few of our favorite digestivo recipes to get you started!