Appreciation for quality food and drink is more pervasive than ever. Nostalgia for an era in which gentlemen had taste and bartenders were alchemists rather than mere purveyors of cocktails is at an all-time high. As a result, sophistication is front and centre. The aperitif and digestif have entered into the realm of cool again.



The names seem to denote what they are, but confusion abounds when it comes to the two. An aperitif, from the Latin aperire, or "to open," enhances the appetite before a meal. A digestif stimulates digestion once the meal is done. Apéritifs are commonly served with something small to eat, such as crackers, cheese, pate, olives and various kinds of finger food.


While there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to inebriants, personal taste usually dictating what we drink, aperitifs and digestifs are what they are for some very sound reasons.


Because an aperitif is a stimulant for the appetite and the palate, an excess of alcohol dulls the taste buds and causes other unwelcome results on an empty stomach. Thus, brandy and Scotch whisky do not fit the mould of an aperitif. With few exceptions, the best aperitifs are between 16% and 24% alcohol (32 to 48 proof). They are often wine derivatives that producers fortify and flavour, although some, like the popular Campari, are more akin to spirits than they are to wine.


How sweet it is

The singular difference between aperitifs and digestifs is sweetness. It makes perfect sense, really. A syrupy or sweet drink that cloys the palate tends not to stimulate hunger. It can make for an ideal drink on a full stomach, however, although the best digestif cocktails -- as opposed to a pure digestif, such as a liqueur -- temper the level of sweetness and offer a nice balance.


Aperitifs are clean, crisp drinks that are best served cold, but without ice. North American penchant for ice in cocktails and drinks has an unfortunate cloudy effect on many fine aperitifs and contributes nothing to the overall flavour. Instead, chill an aperitif, as well as its glass.


Can you feel that?

Taste and texture are important in both aperitifs and digestifs. Because of the conditions under which one consumes the former, a light, almost astringent character is ideal. Vermouth is the standard in this case.


Digestifs and nightcaps, however, can afford a heavier composition in both departments and alcohol content in line with the tolerance level of a full stomach. Think of cognac or herbal liqueurs such as sambuca or Chartreuse, and you're in the ballpark.


Before you start drinking

There are some additional tips to be aware of when preparing a cocktail, either pre- or post-meal. The first tip has to do with ingredients. Stock your home bar with only the best, and use natural ingredients and colorants. The extra expense is worth it. For example, avoid sugar and fruit juice as sweeteners unless a recipe strictly calls for it. While the use of both is custom with mixed drinks such as a simple Screwdriver, cordials (maraschino) and liqueurs (Triple Sec) offer a more genuine taste and honesty to cocktails.


Good bitters (Angostura) and herbal liqueurs (Anisette) also accent cocktails like no other substitute. When appropriate, chill the cocktail and again, avoid ice unless the recipe calls for it. Use good glassware, as it does enhance the experience from the standpoints of both presentation and taste.



and Digestifs
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