by In the PourLast Updated: 09/08/2017
The words Apéritif and Digestif refer to drinks that are served before and after dinner. The words are French as this is where they were introduced in 1846*. The Italians call them Aperitivo** and Digestivo. As the words suggest, apéritifs serve as appetite stimulants and digestifs serve as digestive stimulants. To determine which liquors are which, you can usually assess by identifying the sugar and alcohol content.
To stimulate the appetite, you will want a drink that is dry, therefore low in sugar and also low in alcohol. You are easing into the evening slowly, as you will likely be drinking during dinner and you want to avoid getting too drunk before then. Furthermore, drinks with a high alcohol content can dull your taste buds, which should be avoided before eating. Dry, low alcoholic drinks that fit into the apéritif category are vermouth, aromatized wine, pastis, gin, ouzo, and dry sherry. Dry white wine and champagne also work well as apéritifs. Kir, Campari & Soda, and Aperol Spritz are popular apéritif cocktails.
To help with digestion, you want a drink that is slightly sweet and a tad more alcoholic to settle the stomach and finish off the evening. These are usually drunk neat. Drinks that fit into the digestif category are Amari (Fernet Branca, Cynar), brandy, port, whiskey, bitters and sweet liqueurs (Grand Marnier, limoncello). Amaro and bitter digestifs are especially adequate as these are made by distilling carminative herbs and spices which enhance the digestive properties.
*Joseph Dubonnet, a French chemist is the creator of Dubonnet, the sweet, aromatized wine-based apéritif. It has a 15% ABV and is made from fortified wine, spices, and quinine. Joseph Dubonnet created a formula of quinine to serve as a malaria remedy. The initial concoction was so bitter that he added herbs and spices to the formula. This was so successful that the recipe gained popularity and remains secret and unchanged to this day.
**As early as the 19th Century, Italians were already imbibing in aperitivo in cafés in the major cities.. Apéritifs became very popular in Europe in the late 19th century.