Long forgotten by American diners yet still heartily embraced in Europe, digestifs are coming into favor again.
Though traditionally the final bookend to a meal, they are now being paired with food and served throughout the meal. This creates an opportunity for restaurants to expand their offerings and capture additional beverage sales.
"We're selling a lot of Barolo Chinato [an after dinner wine] because we have a really good selection, and it's something wine drinkers can easily wrap their heads around," says Doug Derrick, bar manager of Nostrana in Portland, Oregon.
Nostrana has a wide selection of Barolo Chinato, including Cappellano, Cocchi, G.D. Vajra, and Roagna, and it uses this as a springboard for wine drinkers into the world of digestifs.
Nostrana presents diners with a list of digestifs at the end of a meal. It is broken down by type. In addition to Barolo Chinato, Nostrana features many Vermouths, Amari (herbal liqueurs), and Fernets (bitter aromatic spirits).
Derrick's main cocktail menu also embraces digestifs, often as the centerpiece of the drink. His Ramazzotti Swizzle combines Ramazzotti (a bitter liqueur), lime, muscovado sugar, tiki bitters, and soda water into an approachable and easy digestif.
"The key for us is server education," Derrick explains. "Every day before service I sit down and taste the servers out on our new cocktails. I also have them taste the ingredients on their own so they can understand what goes into [the cocktails] and the thinking behind them."
The results have been very strong, with a staff of servers who have become adept at explaining digestifs to customers. “We sell a lot of Ramazzotti, because the staff knows it’s my favorite, and customers who try it for the first time often love it.”
By looking beyond wine and cocktails, Nostrana has captured additional beverage revenue and cultivated a strong reputation for having an excellent aperitif and digestif program.
At The Bitter Bar in Boulder, Colorado, digestifs are an important part of business. “Digestifs play a significant role in our beverage program and are utilized in over half the drinks on our cocktail menu,” says bar manager Mark Stoddard.
“People often frequent The Bitter Bar for after dinner cocktails and desserts and seem more inclined try post-dinner beverages that they wouldn't normally try or maybe have never heard of.”
For The Bitter Bar, it’s a locally produced fernet, Fernet Leopold, that is the big seller along with the classic French elixirs Chartreuse and Benedictine.
"Digestifs are an easy sell because when you explain to someone that it’s going to help them feel better, that's usually a no brainer," Stoddard says.
In addition to serving digestifs in a traditional manner, The Bitter Bar has innovated and combined after dinner dessert with the digestif.
“A fun thing we're currently doing is Fernet Branca ice cream. We thought, ‘how can we combine our favorite digestif with a popular dessert?’” Stoddard says. “It became our intention to create something that kills two birds with one stone: something that satisfies that post dinner sweet tooth and settles your stomach at the same time.”
As customer awareness increases about the category, the opportunity to expand beverage options after and during a meal will increase. Through selection, education, and innovation, digestifs can become a key element in a successful beverage program.
By Geoffrey Kleinman