After-Dinner Digestifs

Dinner is over but the guests are lingering at the table. The host brings out a bottle he’s been saving — not more wine but something to sip and savour. Our resident expert James Chatto is enthusiastic in his appreciation of this tradition. We invited him to play favourites.

A friend of mine owns a small rural restaurant in Greece and dinner there always ends with an indulgent ritual — tiny glasses of a bittersweet local liqueur. “To help digestion,” says my friend. I don’t know if that’s scientifically true but the notion of following a big meal with a nip of something precious is ancient and widespread. Herbal bitters like Amaro Averna are certainly the direct descendants of medicinal elixirs made by medieval monks; indeed, the original recipe was given to Salvatore Averna by a Capuchin monk in the early 1800s. But the meaning of digestif is much broader these days, embracing all manner of spirits from liqueurs to grappa to single-malt Scotch. Perhaps the only characteristic they all have in common is quality — that and a degree of complexity. After all, this is a moment to sip and savour, to appreciate the nuances of whatever is in your glass.

Here are three of my favourite digestifs. Amaro Averna is closest to the treat we enjoy at that restaurant in Greece, though my friend wouldn’t dream of serving it over ice, as I suggest here. Calvados, the great French apple eau de vie, is more famous as a shot taken in the middle of the meal in traditional Norman circles, but it’s great after dinner. And if apples work, why not blue agave?