Brian Preston – The Travelling Sommelier
The digestif was created for precisely what it sounds like – to aid digestion. One key difference between aperitifs and digestifs is that while dry and bitter helps create an appetite, a little bit of sweetness helps end the meal.
Sipping on a vintage Port from Portugal or a rich oloroso or sweet Pedro Ximénez Sherry from Spain is a fine way to end the evening. Many Canadian military organizations, including the RCMP, use Port to toast the Queen at Mess Suppers.
Port and Sherry
Taylor Fladgate First Estate Reserve Port at 20% abv and $17.15 for 750ml has a deep ruby red colour with dried fruit and spice aromas; sweet, rich, dried fruit flavours; and it’s a full-bodied vintage character port with a long finish.
For an inexpensive Olorosso sweet sherry, try Osborne Santa Maria Cream Sherry, at 19% abv and $13.80 for 750ml. It is copper amber colour with complex aromas and flavours of date, prune, sultana raisins, orange, demerara sugar and spice; medium-bodied, honeyed style with a long finish and a fine seam of balancing acidity.
Calvados named after part of the Lower Normandy region of France, this apple brandy with wafting aromas of apples tastes like distilled cider and is a perfect digestif for a cold evening. Many varieties of apples are pressed into a juice that is fermented into a dry cider. It is then distilled into eau de vie and aged for a minimum of two years in casks but the longer it is aged, the smoother the drink becomes. As calvados ages, it may become golden or darker brown. The nose and palate are delicate with concentration of aged apples and dried apricots balanced with butterscotch, nut, and chocolate aromas. And there is a Canadian connection! Calvados is the regimental drink of The Royal Canadian Hussars, Le Régiment de Hull, and Le Régiment de Maisonneuve, having been taken up as the units passed through Normandy following the D-Day invasion. It is normally taken between courses at a regimental dinner.
This is a grape-based brandy that comes from the Cognac region of France. It follows an evening of wine quite well and is a great traditional digestif. My favourite is Hennessy and their 200ml, 40% abv, Vs Cognac at $21.10 is the least expensive one to try with a sweet, medium and fruity profile. It has intense character and full-bodied flavours of toasted almond, fresh grapes, and citrus zest. If you like this one, try the Hennessy XO!
This is France’s oldest spirit, having been around for over 700 years. It is also a grape based brandy and comes from the Armagnac region, comprising up to 10 different grape varietals and usually made in alembic stills. Marie Duffau Bas Armagnac Napoleon at 40% abv 750ml will cost you $48.85 and has intense sweet caramel and vanilla notes on the nose with flavours of caramel, fig, and vanilla. Armagnac is a best kept secret as it is less expensive than cognac but equally tasty!
This is from Germany is served at room temperature and it consists of a closely guarded secret recipe of 56 herbs, fruits and roots that make up this complex this powerful anise-scented digestif (35% abv), which has a tendency to kick start digestion and signal an end to a meal. This mysterious liquid is aged for up to a year in German oak barrels before bottling.
Expect some sweetness on the palate along with a myriad of flavours that include citrus, spice and a hint of bitterness. It’s no wonder Germans seem to have an endless appetite for a variety of cased meats and fermented cabbage and have this elixir to really aid in digestion!
Sambuca and Grappa
This Italian beverage is anise and elderberry flavored, tastes excellent with coffee after dinner and is actually often served in restaurants with a flaming coffee bean on top for effect. Frankly, I say why burn your lips and burn off the alcohol when you would rather drink it!
Anyone who has ever dined with an Italian family may recall being given a glass of homemade Grappa, which is an eau de vie made from fermented grape juice and seed pulp… not the best experience. To truly enjoy it, you have to buy a good quality one from Italy which costs more than many of the base priced versions.
This is a quick tour of the world’s most popular expressions of digestifs, so explore and try these as a part of our enjoying food and spirits! Just as we enjoy wines and beers for thirst and enjoyment, digestifs can be enjoyed on their own or with an appropriate dessert after a meal!
This article was first published in the March 2018 issue of Hometown News. For more articles from our March 2018 issue, pick up a print copy at a local retailer (find a list of locations here) or read our digital version.