Champagne, Lifestyle

Apéritifs vs. Digestifs: A Guide to Before-and-After Dinner Drinks

Nothing elevates an elegant evening quite like pre- and post-dinner drinks. Apéritifs set the mood and kick off conversation before a meal, while digestifs provide a relaxing and satisfying conclusion to a decadent dinner. Both drinks serve as a sophisticated bookend to an enjoyable evening, but they each come with different purposes, flavors, food pairings, and health benefits. 

Let’s compare apéritifs vs. digestifs so you know how to serve the perfect pairing at the beginning and end of an exquisite meal. 


Understanding Apéritifs and Digestifs

Most of us are familiar with the tradition of enjoying a drink before and after a meal, but few of us know why we engage in this custom. It turns out, there is a long history and list of health benefits that explain why apéritifs and digestifs have become a staple for both casual meals and fine dining experiences. 

Apéritifs are drinks served before a meal to stimulate the appetite. The drink is meant to awaken taste buds and set the mood for the meal to come. Apéritifs are typically light, crisp, and refreshing with flavors that range from dry and bitter to slightly sweet. Vermouth, champagne, and sherry are examples of apéritifs.

Digestifs are drinks served after a meal to aid in digestion. They are meant to be slowly savored and sipped at the conclusion of a meal. Digestifs offer a finishing touch to a decadent meal by providing rich and robust flavors that can be sweet, bitter, or herbal. Brandy, cognac, grappa, port wine, and sherry are common digestifs. 

By some estimates, apéritifs and digestifs date as far back as ancient Greece and Rome. At that time, the drinks were used for medicinal purposes. People added herbs and spices to diluted wine to stimulate the appetite and aid digestion. During the 18th and 19th centuries, apéritifs and digestifs became more fashionable than medicinal. Enjoying drinks before and after a meal became a popular custom in France and Italy and eventually spread throughout Europe. 

Now, apéritifs and digestifs have become a popular part of cocktail culture around the world. Enjoying drinks before and after dinner has become a staple at restaurants and special events, and hosts often serve apéritifs and digestifs to offer an elegant touch to home gatherings and dinner parties. 

Apéritifs: Prelude to Dining

Apéritifs, or pre-dinner drinks, are a way to welcome guests and awaken their senses. As the first taste of the evening, apéritifs are light and refreshing. They typically contain alcohol but with a low alcohol content. The alcohol content is usually no higher than 15% to 20%. The flavors are crisp with a balance between sweetness and bitterness which cleanses and prepares the palate.

The herbs and botanicals in apéritifs are said to stimulate appetite and the production of digestive juices that prepare the stomach for the meal to come. The digestive aids lead to less bloating and discomfort after a meal. Some apéritifs may also include antioxidants that help to neutralize harmful free radicals.

Apéritifs can be served as a straight spirit, liquor, wine, or as an ingredient in a mixed cocktail. Vermouth is one of the most well-known wine-based apéritifs. It can be served on its own (as a dry white or sweet red), or used as an ingredient in classic cocktails such as martinis and manhattans. 

Related: What Is An Aperitif?

Digestifs: Savored After Dining

Digestifs, or post-dinner drinks, conclude a meal and relax the stomach. Unlike pre-dinner drinks, digestifs typically have a higher alcohol content. They may range in alcohol content from 25% to 40%. With complex and robust flavors, digestifs are meant to be sipped slowly as guests let flavors from the meal settle in their stomachs and taste buds. 

Digestifs are believed to aid digestion. Their herbs and botanicals stimulate the production of digestive enzymes and relax the stomach muscles. Enjoying a digestif after dinner can lead to less bloating and a more comfortable digestive process.  

Like apéritifs, digestifs are very versatile. A digestif may be served in a mixed cocktail or as a spirit, liquor, or wine served on its own. Brandy and cognac are among the most common post-dinner drinks due to their smooth and complex flavors. 

Related: Hosting the Ultimate Dinner Experience


Apéritifs vs. Digestifs: Key Differences

When comparing apéritifs vs. digestifs, one of the biggest differences is timing. Apéritifs are served before a meal while digestifs are served after eating. Beyond that, differences in their flavors, ingredients, and health benefits add to their uniqueness. 

Flavor Profiles

The flavor profiles of apéritifs and digestifs are suited to their unique purposes. Apéritifs incorporate light flavors to prep the palate while digestifs offer stronger tastes to bring the meal to a conclusion. 

  • Apéritifs are typically lighter and more refreshing, designed to stimulate the appetite without overwhelming the palate. Their flavor profiles often include notes of citrus, herbs, and botanicals. The beverages are usually dry, slightly bitter, or subtly sweet, preparing the digestive system for the forthcoming meal.
  • Digestifs are richer and more complex, designed to aid digestion and provide a soothing finish to the dining experience. Their flavor profiles tend to be sweeter and stronger, featuring notes of spices, caramel, vanilla, and aged spirits.

Ingredients and Production

Apéritifs and digestifs are made in relatively similar ways. What differentiates them is the types of ingredients used in their production. 

  • Apéritifs often start with a base of wine or spirits, which is then infused with a variety of botanicals, herbs, fruits, and spices. In some cases, apéritifs are flavored with bitters created by infusing high-proof spirits with bitter herbs and aromatic spices like gentian root, quinine, and orange peel.
  • Digestifs often start with a base of distilled spirits or fortified wine, which are then infused or macerated with an assortment of herbs, spices, roots, and fruits. Some digestifs, like brandy, are aged in barrels which deepens and matures their flavors.

Health Benefits 

In addition to promoting relaxation and a sense of satisfaction, both apéritifs and digestifs have ingredients that offer health benefits. 

  • Apéritifs include bitter and aromatic compounds that enhance the production of digestive enzymes and gastric juices. The herbs and botanicals stimulate the appetite and prepare the stomach for digesting food. Some apéritifs made from wine or infused with herbs and fruits may also contain antioxidants that combat oxidative stress and support heart health. 
  • Digestifs include a combination of herbs, spices, and alcohol that stimulate the production of digestive enzymes and soothe the digestive tract. The bitter components help alleviate bloating, gas, and indigestion, leading to less stomach discomfort after a decadent meal. 


Choosing the Right Beverage for the Occasion

When curating the menu for a dinner party, including apéritifs and digestifs offers an elevated touch. Consider offering two to three options for guests so they can choose the drink most suited to their tastes. To find the right beverage options also think about: 

  • Time of the year: Lighter, more refreshing drinks may be more suitable for warmer weather, while richer, more complex drinks may be better suited for cooler months.
  • Occasion: For a casual gathering, you may opt for a simple and easy-to-drink option, while for a more formal event, you may choose a more sophisticated and complex beverage.
  • Food pairings: Choose apéritifs that complement the flavors of your appetizers and pre-dinner snacks, and select digestifs that pair well with profiles of post-dinner cheese plates, nut assortments, and desserts.

Examples of Apéritifs 

While there is a wide variety of what can be considered an apéritif, some of the most traditional pre-dinner drinks include: 

  • Campari
  • Aperol
  • Dry Vermouth
  • Lillet Blanc
  • Dubonnet
  • Kina Lillet
  • Suze
  • Chambord
  • Sherry Champagne
  • Prosecco
  • Negroni (cocktail)
  • Americano (cocktail)
  • Spritz (cocktail)
  • Gin and Tonic

Sample Food Pairings: Consider your menu when selecting the perfect drinks to kick off your evening. 

  • Pair briny, salty olives with a bitter apéritif, such as Campari or dry vermouth.
  • Serve a selection of cheeses with a sweeter apéritif, such as prosecco or sherry. Highlight seafood appetizers, such as cocktail shrimp or smoked salmon, with apéritifs that offer citrus or herbal notes, such as an Aperol spritz or gin and tonic. 
  • Complement the rich, creamy texture of liver pâté or the earthiness of roasted nuts with the sweet and spicy flavor profile of Dubonnet.

Related: Elevate Your Dining: Perfect Champagne & Food Pairings

Examples of Digestifs 

Digestifs also come in a variety of forms, but the most traditional drinks served after dinner include: 

  • Brandy
  • Cognac
  • Armagnac
  • Port Wine
  • Sherry
  • Amaro
  • Grappa
  • Limoncello
  • Sambuca
  • Chartreuse
  • Benedictine
  • Grand Marnier
  • Baileys Irish Cream
  • Kahlúa Frangelico Drambuie

Sample Food Pairings: Choose drinks that best complement your assortment of after-dinner treats and dessert items. 

  • Serve a selection of savory post-dinner cheeses and fruit tarts with rich and fruity digestifs, such as a port wine.
  • Pair creamy desserts like tiramisu, panna cotta, or cheesecake with a bittersweet herbal flavor that contrasts the dessert’s richness, such as Amaro.
  • Highlight the flavors of a chocolatey dessert with cognac’s complex flavors of dried fruits, spices, and vanilla or Baileys Irish Cream’s smooth richness.
  • Complement the crunchy texture of biscotti and enhance the freshness of fruit-based desserts with grappa's sharp, intense flavors. 


Apéritifs vs. Digestifs: They Both Win 

There is a reason why people have been enjoying pre- and post-dinner drinks for hundreds of years. The tradition perfectly kicks off and wraps up an elegant evening, while providing a variety of sensory and health benefits that make a meal more enjoyable.  

There is no winner when it comes to comparing apéritifs vs. digestifs. Both are the epitome of elegance, especially when served alongside a beautiful meal in stylish glassware.

See how beautiful a pre-dinner drink can be with these stunning Hummingbird Aperitif Glasses handmade with artisan crystal. Or shop for other elegantly designed glassware to take your cocktail hour to new heights.



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