Apéritif and Digestifs 101

An apéritif is something that you have before the meal. It’s a cocktail that’s meant to really inspire thirst and hunger that is lighter and refreshing! The name is derived from the Latin word “aperire” which means to begin, and they are extremely common in Italy.

The most famous one in Italy when it’s a warm day is Campari. A lot of people thrown it in within a couple of ice cubes in their glass to brighten up their appetite, as it also it relaxes your stomach and gets you ready for a meal. Campari has a beautiful bitter orange kind of pomegranate note to it. It’s unique on its own and needs a little bit of relaxation to kind of enjoy it as a sipping drink and not in a shot glass to be chugged. The classic cocktails Aperol Spritz and Negroni are both made with Campari.

Another apéritif is Pernod. This is an anise-flavored liqueur from France, which lends a licorice-y flavor to whatever it's added to. Some people call it the step-brother to absinthe. They can both be used to balance cocktails and also give it a brighter note. Usually used for rinses or for glass washings so you get the aromatics for it but not actually the liquid. After a glass, you’ll be ready for a meal.

Let’s move on to digestifs: spirits you drink after a meal whose purpose is to help aid in digestion. They fall into two categories: either on the very strong side like grappa or on the bitter side like Fernet.

Grappa is from the distillery called poley, and it’s based on pumice which is everything that’s leftover after you’ve made wine from the seeds, skin, and pulp. In the past, grappa has had the reputation of being a really harsh product, but it’s come a long way and is very delicious nowadays.

Fernet Branca is a Swedish style cordial that’s made from over 50 different herbs and bitters. This is definitely one to focus on only as a digestif so if you’ve had a really big full meal and this is exactly what you should drink. Originally Fernet was used for almost medicinal purposes. If anyone has had Angostura Bitters those have also found their way into the cocktail realm but originally they were made in the islands so that if you had an upset stomach you could take that and it helps settle everything and let you relax. Fernet Branca has that same approach: sip it warm, maybe a few cubes after dinner and your stomach will rest well and you won’t be feeling so full.

Now you know what to drink when both before and after a large meal!