The best after dinner drinks
By Dick —
As a professional drinker, I approach any feast with much fretting and pondering of the drink service. I find that many guests are surprised when I proffer an assortment of after-dinner libations that are purpose-built for closing off a meal, as most people are content to continue with the wine. But I feel that a great feast should have a beginning, middle and and end — unless you’re prone to hanging out with Caligula, and the end of the debauchery might be several days hence and could very well involve your untimely demise.
After several rounds of dishes and matching wines, beers or ciders, there are a few ways you can go. Do you want to serve a particular drink to match with a cheese or dessert? Or, when all is said and done and served, how about a night-capper to keep things interesting and, perhaps, kick start the evening’s third act? The French have a term for that very last libation: le trou Normand. Technically, this is an apple brandy, usually Calvados from Normandy, which is intended to aid digestion by boring a trou or hole through the contents of your bursting belly. The French are also known for serving a trou Normand as a mid-dinner cleanser to help you make room for more courses… that’s how the professionals roll.
Below, some of my favourite end-of-the-meal sippers and suggestions on how to serve them.
Sweet and sweeter
A boozy (40%) French orange liqueur for sipping on its own at the end of the meal. Or pour a little over a quality vanilla ice cream. Sip slowly and try not to finish the entire bottle ($48.45/750 ml) — yes, it’s that good.
And by icewine, we mean Canadian icewine because, you know, we do it the best. It’s great with cheese courses and desserts that are not too sweet, so you get a bit a contrast. But it’s also great on its own, and one glass packs enough sugar to get your ticker racing. I like to serve it just about ice cold, and let it warm up as you sip. Try Henry of Pelham Riesling Icewine ($49.95/375 ml) or Jackson-Triggs Reserve Vidal ($39.95/375 ml).
Classic and French
Cognac and Armagnac
A grape spirit (aka, brandy) made in the villages of Cognac or Armagnac, these can be mind-boggling expensive ($100+) or just regularly expensive ($50+). But when you’ll taste where your money is going. Great versions achieve a level of supple texture and exotic dried fruit and spice notes that are quite surreal. Try Damblat Armagnac 10 Year Napoleon ($71.60) or Remy Martin VSOP Cognac ($46.10). Or, blow the budget with Remy Martin XO Excellence Cognac ($249.95) — bloody expensive and bloody good!
Dry and Italian
Much loved by hipster bartenders and sommeliers, this venerable spirit has its roots as a medicinal tonic invented in Italy in the 1800s. It’s also known as an amaro or bitter Italian liqueur. It’s secret recipe includes 27 herbs and ingredients, and it tastes somewhat akin to liquid tree bark. K, that description doesn’t do it justice. Just know that it is very dry (no sweetness at all) — and you can remedy that by mixing it with Coca-Cola, if you like. No judgment. Just try it. You’ll either love it or hate it. ($23.10/500 ml).
Sweet and Italian
It’s kind of hip these days to have at least one if not three or four different amaros on hand. Fernet Branca (above) is one of the driest and most bitter, but there are plenty of others to try, ranging from just a bit sweet to really bloody sweet. Try Amaro Averna ($25.10) or Amaro Nonino ($45.25).
Sweet and creamy
Sweet creamy liqueurs are pretty much a dessert all on their own. Bailey’s Original Irish Cream ($30.95) is still a classic, with its coffee-hazelnut-chocolate tones, but newcomers like Forty Creek Cream Liqueur ($29.95) is a Canadian-made version that’s less sweet and stronger on the booze, with delicious vanilla-chocolate-caramel flavours.