What Is The Difference Between Aperitifs and Digestifs?

The realm of alcoholic beverages is vast and varied, with an array of choices that can enhance any dining experience. Aperitifs and digestifs hold a special place. These two types of drinks, often overshadowed by their more popular counterparts, deserve a closer look, especially for bar and restaurant owners looking to elevate their guests’ dining experience.

To fully grasp the concept of digestifs, it’s essential first to understand aperitifs. Aperitifs are alcoholic beverages typically served before a meal. Their primary purpose is to stimulate the appetite, preparing the diner for the culinary adventure ahead. With their dry and often bitter flavor profile, aperitifs like white wine, vermouth, gin, and ouzo set the stage for a memorable meal. Paired with light snacks such as cheese and crackers, these drinks create an ambiance of anticipation, priming the palate for the flavors to come.


Now, let’s delve into the world of digestifs. These are the beverages that grace the end of a meal, aiding in the digestion process. Typically richer in alcohol content than aperitifs, digestifs are usually enjoyed ‘naked,’ without the accompaniment of food. Rooted in traditional European dining, digestifs are the ideal conclusion to a hearty meal, offering a moment of relaxation and aiding in the digestion of the feast.

Distinguishing Between Aperitifs and Digestifs

While both aperitifs and digestifs are geared towards enhancing the dining experience, they serve distinct roles. Aperitifs, with their dry nature, are designed to whet the appetite, while the sweeter and stronger digestifs are intended to aid in digestion. The timing of consumption is another key difference: aperitifs are pre-meal drinks, whereas digestifs are post-meal indulgences.

The tradition of consuming aperitifs and digestifs dates back approximately 1500 years, with a notable surge in popularity in 19th-century Italy and France. Originally, these drinks featured a blend of various herbs and spices. Digestifs, in particular, have evolved from their medicinal roots, where they were once prescribed for a range of ailments, to their current role as soothing post-dinner beverages.

A Guide to Popular Aperitifs and Digestifs

To better understand these beverages, let’s examine some popular examples. Aperitifs often include dry sherry, vermouth, dry champagne, and dry white wines. Regionally, preferences may vary, with drinks like pastis, calvados, and kir being popular in different parts of France:

  1. Dry Sherry:
    • Tio Pepe: A widely recognized Fino sherry, known for its light and dry character.
    • Lustau Solera Reserva: Offers a range of dry sherries, perfect for an aperitif.
  2. Vermouth:
    • Martini & Rossi: They are Famous for their dry vermouth and are ideal for Martini cocktails.
    • Noilly Prat: Renowned for their original French dry vermouth.
  3. Dry Champagne:
    • Moët & Chandon Brut: A leading brand offering balanced and dry champagne.
    • Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label: Known for its crisp and dry taste.
  4. Dry White Wines:
    • Chablis (Domaine William Fèvre): A classic French white with a crisp, mineral flavor.
    • Sauvignon Blanc (Cloudy Bay): From New Zealand, known for its dry and aromatic qualities.
  5. Regional Specialties:
    • Pastis (Ricard or Pernod): Popular anise-flavored aperitifs from France.
    • Calvados (Boulard or Père Magloire): French apple brandy from Normandy.
    • Kir (made with Aligoté and Crème de Cassis): A traditional French cocktail mixing white wine and blackcurrant liqueur.

As for digestifs, the list includes the following:

  1. Fortified Wines:
    • Port (Taylor’s or Graham’s): Famous port houses offering a variety of styles.
    • Madeira (Blandy’s or Henriques & Henriques): Offering rich and complex flavors.
  2. Various Brandies:
    • Cognac (Hennessy or Rémy Martin): Renowned for their smooth and refined taste.
    • Armagnac (Château de Laubade or Delord): Known for their depth and character.
  3. Bitter Liqueurs:
    • Fernet-Branca: A bitter herbal liqueur, famed for its digestive properties.
    • Jägermeister: A well-known German herbal liqueur with a distinct taste.
  4. Whiskey:
    • Scotch (Glenfiddich or Macallan): Single malts that serve as excellent digestifs.
    • Irish Whiskey (Jameson or Redbreast): Known for its smoothness and complexity.
  5. Mezcal:
    • Del Maguey: Offers a variety of artisanal mezcals.
    • Monte Alban: Known for its smoky flavor, typical of traditional mezcal.

How To Serve Aperitifs and Digestifs

Knowing how to serve these beverages is crucial. These beverages, when paired correctly with food, can elevate the flavors of both the drink and the accompanying snacks or desserts.


Aperitifs are all about preparing the palate for the meal ahead. The key is to choose pairings that complement the drink’s flavor without overpowering the appetite.

  1. Pairing with Dry Sherry:
    • Ideal with light tapas, such as marcona almonds, manchego cheese, or olives. The nutty and salty flavors create a delightful balance with sherry’s dryness.
  2. Vermouth Combinations:
    • Serve with a simple bruschetta or light seafood canapés. The freshness of these appetizers enhances the herbal notes in vermouth.
  3. Champagne and Sparkling Wines:
    • Perfect with smoked salmon blinis or caviar-topped crackers. The bubbles and crispness cut through the richness of the salmon.
  4. Dry White Wines:
    • Pair with goat cheese crostinis or fresh oysters. The acidity and crispness of the wine complement the creamy cheese and the brininess of the oysters.
  5. Regional Specialties:
    • Pastis pair well with light Mediterranean snacks like tapenade or anchoïade.
    • Calvados can be accompanied by apple slices or a small slice of pâté.
    • For Kir, consider pairing with gougères (cheese puffs) or a light salad.

Serving Digestifs

Digestifs are about concluding the meal on a high note. They are usually served alone but can be complemented with a small, sweet treat.

  1. Fortified Wines:
    • Port and Madeira are often enjoyed with blue cheese or chocolate truffles. The sweetness of the wine contrasts beautifully with the saltiness of the cheese.
  2. Brandy and Cognac:
    • These are traditionally served in a snifter to enhance their aromatic qualities. Pair with a simple dark chocolate or a small, buttery biscuit.
  3. Bitter Liqueurs:
    • Fernet-Branca and Jägermeister can be served neat or over ice. A slice of orange or a small, spiced cookie can complement their herbal bitterness.
  4. Whiskey:
    • Ideal with a square of dark chocolate or a small serving of crème brûlée. The richness of the dessert balances the complexity of the whiskey.
  5. Mezcal:
    • Serve neat with a slice of orange sprinkled with chili salt. The citrus and spice bring out mezcal’s smoky character.

Considerations for Service

  • Use appropriate glassware for each drink. Aperitifs like vermouth and champagne are best served in stemmed glasses, while digestifs like brandy and whiskey are often served in a snifter or a rocks glass.
  • Serve aperitifs chilled to enhance their crispness. Digestifs are typically served at room temperature to allow the flavors to unfold fully.
  • Keep aperitif servings small to stimulate the appetite. Digestifs can be slightly more generous but should still be moderate to avoid overwhelming the palate after a meal.
  • Serve aperitifs shortly before the meal to stimulate the appetite. Digestifs should be offered after the meal has concluded, providing a moment of relaxation.

Aperitifs and digestifs are like the opening and closing notes, each playing a vital role in the harmony of flavors. Aperitifs served before the meal, awaken the senses and set the stage for the culinary delights to follow. Digestifs, on the other hand, provide a soothing finale, aiding in digestion and leaving the diner with a lingering sense of satisfaction. Together, these beverages encapsulate the essence of a well-rounded dining experience.