A former pastry chef and owner/ chief drink slinger in Birmingham, Alabama, Laura Newman is just about the perfect person you’d want to fix you a drink after dinner. We caught up with Laura to get her top tips on how to create the perfect digestifs to delight your customers.
DIGESTIFS VS DESSERT COCKTAILS
At the end of a meal, most people will scan the dessert menu or call for the check. However, to properly finish off an early evening repast or a multi-course feast, another liquid option awaits: a dessert cocktail or digestif is the perfect finishing touch.
Just like the period at the end of a sentence, the bow on a present, or the garnish on a perfect cocktail, a designated drink gives a meal a defined, delicious note on which to end. They are also a great way to boost your customers experience, up your profits and are the perfect addition to your menu.
While dessert cocktails and digestifs can sometimes be lumped into the same category, they are two very different options at the fork (or spoon) in the road known as “what to drink after dinner”.
While a dessert cocktail is dessert – a sweet, small finish to a meal – in liquid form, a digestif is a flavorful option that can come from a wide range of spirit families (amaros, brandies, liqueurs and more) and is usually served neat.
Plenty of spirits, amari and cordials make for solid digestifs. Neat spirits (look for something that’s spent time aging in a barrel, such as an aged rum, añejo or reposado tequila, whisk(e)y, or brandy, fortified wines - sherry, port, madeira) and herbaceous or citrus-y cordials (orange liqueur, etc.) are all excellent digestifs. Bitter liqueurs, known in Italy as amari, have historical roots as medicinal liquids and often contain herbs, roots, and spices known to aid digestion and calm the stomach.
Good examples of these include the subcategories of fernet, unicum, and kräuterlikör. Finally, any of the above categories can be combined to create a digestif cocktail that is more than the sum of its complex parts and is a delightful end to any meal.
How to recommend
I'll often jump right into recommending a digestif if I notice that a guest isn’t too keen on eating a dessert.
When I’m recommending a digestif to pair with what someone just ate, I often follow one of my favorite rules of wine pairings: what grows together goes together. At the end of the day, you’re going to like what you like, but take a chance on a digestif with the same provenance as the rest of your meal.
Just had a soul-warming ratatouille with a ’95 Languedoc? Armagnac would be a great option. Wondering how you’ll ever eat again after antipasti, pasta all amatriciana, and osso bucco with eggplant caponata? Amari can be a flavorful alternative to coffee or cocktails.
Cooper & Cash
I created this drink for a guest who wasn’t too keen on dessert but was still looking for something delicious to end a meal. It combines the herbal properties of Amaro Sfumato, Bigalet China China, and Cardamaro with the smooth, smoky, complex notes found in Johnnie Walker Black Label. It's a bold after-dinner drink that serves as a great nightcap.
1 1/2 oz. Johnnie Walker Black Label
1 oz. Cardamaro
1/2 oz. Bigalet China China
1/2 oz. Amaro Sfumato
3 dashes Angostura Bitters
- Combine ingredients in a mixing glass with ice
- Stir and strain into a chilled coupe
- Garnish with an expressed & discarded orange twist.
*One standard drink contains 8g of alcohol
DESSERT STYLE COCKTAILS
On the other hand, dessert cocktails are a way to keep the party – and meal – going past the last savory course. As a former pastry chef who is now a bartender, I’m drawn to dessert cocktails as a mechanism to give my guests an elevated, post-dinner experience that’s different from the usual, expected after-dinner options.
I’ve often found that guests who aren’t interested in the time commitment of a kitchen-created dessert will still be open to a dessert cocktail. As an added bonus, liquid desserts usually have better margins than those that come out of the kitchen. And anything that diversifies my menu offerings while padding my bottom line is a win for me.
How to recommend
I'll often ask a guest what type of dessert they enjoy in order to create the perfect dessert cocktail for them. Fruit tart or lemon meringue? I'll make them something with cream and citrus as key flavor elements. More of a chocoholic? Instead of hitting them over the head with chocolate syrup, I'll use a base spirit with notes of cocoa - such as Ron Zacapa - to more subtly integrate those notes into the cocktail.
Devil May Care
This cocktail was originally inspired by a molten chocolate cake with creme anglaise. However, I wanted to create the sense of "chocolate" without including any actual chocolate in the cocktail.
The cacao notes that I get on the nose and palate of Zacapa combine with the other ingredients to create a drink that gives the sensory experience of dark chocolate while staying light, balanced, and drinkable to the last drop
1 1/2 oz. Ron Zacapa
1/2 oz. Fernet Branca
1/2 oz. Cold brew coffee
1/2 oz. Cinnamon syrup*
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
2 dashes Bittered Sling Malagasy Chocolate Bitters
- Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice
- Stir and strain into a chilled coupe
- Top with a sweetened whipped cream* float and shaved chocolate.
One standard drink contains 8g of alcohol
*cinnamon syrup: combine 1 cup water, 1 cup sugar, and 6 cinnamon sticks in a pot over high heat; stir until sugar is dissolved and remove from heat; store with cinnamon sticks.
*sweetened whipped cream: combine 180ml heavy cream with 30ml Bailey's in a shaker; shake well for around 45 seconds or until cream is frothy and light.
One standard drink contains 8g of alcohol.
OH! SWEET NUTHIN’
As I like to remind my staff: a guest’s experience begins the moment they walk in the front door and ends only when they depart our space. Digestifs and dessert cocktails are one more way we can elevate our guests’ experience to make it a memorable one from start to finish. A great after-dinner drink can be the perfect end to a great meal. This means better customer experiences and longer time spent at venues (more spending), so high fives and blue skies for everyone involved.