After Dinner Drinking
You know how it is: you've had a lovely dinner and a fine selection of wines; you're not ready to finish just yet as you're enjoying the company and want to relax a little before everyone's on their way, but you're not sure more wine has the right feel about it.
Just as the aperitif developed to "open up" the appetite to the dinner that follows, so many countries have created "digestive" drinks to relax the body and aid digestion, so that diners aren't waddling home uncomfortably full. One for the road needs to be a small one, and small ones are often strong ones. A friend coined the term "sippy-sippy drinks," which I think gleefully captures the style of these strong, sometimes very sweet drinks that are not to be approached lightly. Many cultures serve neat spirit at the end of the evening. It's certainly true that brandy, whiskey and such have a warming, relaxing effect on the way down. Whether they make any difference to your ability to digest probably depends on your own constitution. Fruit and herbal liqueurs were once promoted as medicinal, settling the stomach and giving rest from any indigestion. Now, they're enjoyed in the own right as part of the post-prandial ritual.
Brandies and Eaux de Vie
Of course France is not the only country to distil fruit spirits. German, Spanish and Greek brandies are all popular. They tend to be sweeter than their French counterparts and rejoice in the flavours of the wines of the region. Thus you can expect a lovely rounded flavour from Spanish brandy, which is aged in sherry casks, and a delightful freshness from German brandy, aged in white wine barrels.
Marc and Grappa
So far, all the drinks mentioned have been strong spirits. It shouldn't be a surprise that we gravitate to stronger drinks at the end of the evening. After a decent meal, we're often too full to enjoy longer drinks like wine and beer. Liqueurs are deeply flavoured, delivering a huge dollop of taste in very little liquid. The variety of liqueurs seems almost endless. They can be fruit flavoured, like limoncello, Grand Marnier and apricot brandy, nutty like Frangelico or Nociello, herbal like Bénédictine or crème de menthe, or even flower-flavoured like Saint Germain, rosolio and Parfait Amour. All liqueurs are sweet, although that sweetness is sometimes disguised in the very high alcohol drinks. Liqueurs were traditionally served neat, in very small glasses, but it has become popular to have them over ice in modern times. Given their infinite variety, there is something for every taste and no reason to stick to one style of serve.
|Some of the liqueurs in my cupboard
I'm generally reluctant to serve cocktails after dinner: they can be a bit filling. However, there are some cocktails that suit the late night mood. Brandy Alexander is a creamy mixture of chocolate and Cognac flavours. It can be sipped slowly and adds another couple of layers to the taste of brandy, while also reducing the alcohol. Another popular cocktail that sits comfortably at the end of the evening is the espresso martini, which blends the strength of vodka with the richness of coffee. Just beware of the caffeine in that espresso, though: you do want your guests to sleep! One of my favourite after-dinner cocktails is a Black Forest Gateau. Combining a bit of spectacle, a sip of alcohol and everyone's favourite retro dessert, it can't be beaten. Watch me make it here:
Next time: Bonfire night sparklers