Apéritif vs. Digestif

By James Madeiros


Every once in a while the sensible drinker may be faced with a leather-bound cocktail list that likes to tart up its offerings with fancy names. Among the categories there may be found drinks described as apéritifs and digestifs.

This should be no cause for worry. Simply put, these are French words used to describe alcoholic beverages that are meant to be enjoyed before a meal (apéritifs) and after a meal (digestifs, or digestives). Specifically, apéritifs are supposed to prepare the palate for tasting a meal, and digestifs are supposed to aid in digestion.


Common apéritifs are wine-based or are light and bitter, like Campari. They can also come in the form of actual an actual cocktail, like a martini or Manhattan. Serving suggestions with these drinks include savory snacks and cheeses.


As for digestifs, grappa is very common, as are bourbons taken neat (no ice) and many liqueurs, including Sambuca, Jagermeister (fancy!) and cognac. As these are desserts after a fashion, one should expect to enjoy a dessert along with them, although chocolate is favored by many.

Believe it or not there is actually some science behind this, although the subtlety is lost on many and not felt by most. Apéritifs are meant to stimulate hunger as well as “cleanse” the palate to prepare it for the flavors of the meal, and should be rather light. Digestifs, on the other hand, are usually heavier (or more powerful) and should either coat or cut through the heaviness of the meal.

The fancy names suggest it should be more complicated, but it’s really that easy. The only hard choice now is deciding whether you should drink before and after your meal as well as during it.

If you have any favorites apéritifs or digestifs, be sure to share in the comments sections.


Of course, I should remind everyone that our blog entries are for your information only and are not intended as medical advice. Because everyone is different, you should work with your medical professional to determine what’s best for you. If you’re going to drink, do it legally and responsibly; don’t be stupid =).

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