Style Observer

Apéritifs & Digestifs — What’s the difference?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

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After enjoying several very long lunches and slow late dinners, I am reminded why I prefer the relaxed European way of dining to the hurried style that some of my friends subscribe to. Easter holidays in
Europe proved to be emotional, educational, exciting and delicious. Our first meal in Paris was a two-hour lunch which began with an Apéritifs and ended with a digestif (aperitivo and digestivo in Italian). One of the interesting things about visiting this region is the culture of the Apéritifs  and digestifs, and every country seems to have its own version.


An Apéritif/aperitif is served before a meal to stimulate the appetite. This category includes drinks like Lillet from France, Fino Sherry from Spain, and an entire range of "bitters" such as Aperol and Campari from Italy, to name just a few. An Apéritif (the word comes from the Latin aperire, "to open") is a light, usually dry alcoholic beverage served before a meal to stimulate the appetite without filling you up too much. In other words, it is a liquid appetiser. Because an apéritif is meant to stimulate the appetite, the drink should be very dry (low in sugar/not sweet) since the taste of sweet actually limits our appetite, as well as low in alcohol, because no one wants to get too drunk before dinner. Classic apéritifs are drinks such as dry vermouth, gin, Champagne or other dry sparkling wines, and dry white wine.


The digestif is served after dinner and its main purpose is to aid in digestion. After a multi-course dinner, a touch of sweetness and a higher alcohol percentage are welcomed as the drink helps our bodies settle the meal and bring everything to a close. Many options abound for digestifs, from smooth whiskey and bourbon to brandy, port, sherry, and liqueur. Many concoctions have even been created for the sole purpose of aiding one’s digestion. Digestifs are popular all over the world and there are countless regional takes and "secret" recipes. In France, they like their Cognacs and other brandies. In Italy, it’s bitter, herbal amari, like fernet, one of the very few digestifs that are low in sugar, and sweet grappas. Spain likes fortified wines, while Germany has their own bitter variety, too.

Not the typical cocktails

Cocktails and other strong mixed drinks are not ideal for stimulating the appetite, and hence do not make the best aperitifs. Their typically high alcohol content and strong flavours tend to overpower and dominate rather than prepare your palate for the delicious food to come. My last meal in Italy included an Aperol Spritz as an aperitivo, a split-bottle of Chianti Classico with dinner and grappa as my digestivo.

Christopher Reckord - Information Technology Entrepreneur & Wine Enthusiast. Send your questions and comments to You can also follow me on Facebook, Instagram @chrisreckord and on Twitter: @Reckord





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