‘Tis the season for overdoing it, which means it’s helpful to have a trusty digestif in your back pocket. These soothing herbal liqueurs help settle the stomach after a big dinner (the bookend to a meal started with an aperitif, which is meant to awaken the palate). We asked this city’s bartenders to tell us what they’ll be drinking after the big feast — sip these neat or on the rocks; you might still want to lay around like a beached whale after dinner, but at least you won’t be afraid you’ll actually perish.
Julie Reiner, Clover Club, 210 Smith Street
After stuffing my face with way too much food, I generally look to either Amaro Nonino or Cynar. Amaro Nonino is pricier than most other amari, but worth every penny! I mix cocktails with so many amari, but this one has so much going on that I prefer to drink it straight. Cynar is very affordable and approachable for someone who is new to digestives. I particularly enjoy the slightly sweet green tea notes in Cynar and the fact that it is relatively low in alcohol in comparison to other amari.
Greg Boehm, Golden Cadillac, 13 First Avenue
After a large meal I like to drink a shot of half rye and half Amaro Nonino. One time after shooting this concoction, my insides made a “glug, glug, glug” noise, and I was ready for dessert.
Allen Burton, A.G. Kitchen, 269 Columbus Avenue
After I’ve had third helpings of oh-my-god-why-can’t-I-stop-eating-the-stuffing, I cap off dinner with something simple that won’t put any extra strain on the pants that fit me a mere hour ago: a bourbon neat, something smokey and delicious like Bulleit. But for my family, none of whom are big drinkers, I would recommend something much lighter and sweeter like Grand Marnier.
Robert Krueger, Extra Fancy, 302 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn
After Thanksgiving dinner, because there is a significant chance that even though I’m “done” eating I’m probably going to go back for a bit more dessert, I would definitely pick an Italian Amaro that gets along with pie; something that has the spice and bitterness that you want to wrap things up but also a little sweetness and caramel so that it cooperates with sweet foods is the right idea. Amaro Montenegro from Bologna would be a perfect choice: A little sweet, a little citric and spicy, and a bit bitter. But if you want to get really fancy, combine a whiskey, rum, or tequila you like with a small amount of an amaro (and a dash of bitters if you have them on hand). Old Overholt Rye Whiskey with Amaro Meletti is terrific. A rich reposado or añejo tequila with a splash of Montenegro is out of this world.
David Giuliano, Market Table and The Little Owl, 54 Carmine Street and 90 Bedford
After Thanksgiving dinner, we always open a bottle Basil Hayden’s bourbon, drink it neat, and watch Charlie Brown’s Christmas. Not exactly a digestive, but it works.
As for a true digestive i’d recommend cardamaro. It’s an Italian amaro made with cardamom. Notes of Asian spice, herbs, molasses, and almond paste. It’s delicious and really helps cut through the stuffing.
Patrick Cappiello, Pearl & Ash, 220 Bowery
Chinatos are the best digestifs. They are fortified wines made in Barolo in the Piedmont region of Italy, and they are fermented with a variety of local herbs and spices. One of my favorites is from Mauro Vergano, appropriately named “Americano” — perfect for Thanksgiving!
Olivier Flosse, A Voce, 10 Columbus Circle
After a grand meal with a lot of good food and wine, I suggest a digestivo that will really soothe the stomach with a dry-herb base, like Averna. The poplar Italian bitter liqueur is still made with the original recipe from 1868. It combines a variety of herbs, roots, and citrus rinds that soak in liquor and a caramel finish. The result is a sweet, thick digestivo with a gentle, herbal bitter bite. I like to drink it neat or on the rocks.
Lawrence Green, Maison O, 98 Kenmare Street
The Italians have perfected the art of the after-dinner drink, from the herbal and bitter Amari to the sweet liqueurs. My two favourite amari are Amaro Nonino — a great blend of bitter and sweet, it has all the complexity of flavors you want without being too overbearing, and it’s also a great entry level amaro — and CioCiaro, which is full of burnt orange and chocolate flavors, making it a very people friendly amaro. Add a little to your favorite lager beer and it makes a great drink.
If the bitter herbal taste is not your thing, then a glass of chilled Limoncello is a great way to cleanse your palate and help digest the rich turkey dinner. My personal favorite is Limoncello di Capri, as it has a very clean lemon taste.
Finally, this is the season for apples, and a glass of Calvados is a perfect end to the feast. These are technically brandies and are made in the same way as the great Cognacs of France; to get the full apple effect try Busnel Hors D’Age 12 year old.
Maxwell Britten, Maison Premiere, 298 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn
Meletti is one of my favorite amaros of all time. It’s dark in profile but still has a beautiful floral touch to the palette. After a really huge meal, any amaro will do; this one will complement most Thanksgiving sweets quite well. Also, Becherovka: The formula has existed since 1807 and hails from the Czech Republic. It is 38 percent ABV, which makes it a touch less strong than a standard gin. The day after Thanksgiving, the U.S. goes straight into Christmas hysteria, and Becherovka is a mixture of herbs and spices that give it a beautiful and full bodied taste with notes like cinnamon and clove. I would be happy with a snifter of this and a piece of pumpkin pie.
Benjamin Wood, Distilled, 211 West Broadway
Amargo-Vallet is a 90 proof bitter liqueur made from Angostura bark and a maceration of cherry fruits, cloves, and other roots and spices. Herbal notes of bittersweet dark chocolate and citrus rind balance an earthly richness to create this delightful elixir. I love this product because even though it is high in alcohol, it goes down remarkably smoothly and is heavy in Angostura flavor. It was introduced to me by a friend and colleague in the industry and has been one of my favorite bitters ever since. It is also not the most well known product so there is a bit of allure because of its lack of familiarity to the masses.
Alexander LaPratt, Atrium DUMBO, 15 Main Street, Brooklyn
Kiuchi no Shizuku Hitachino Nest White Ale is one of my favorite beers of all time, and I drink it regularly. What most people don’t know is that while Hitachino Nest started producing beer just in 1996, it had been making sake and distilling spirits for almost 200 years. It only made sense that at some point they would distill this incredible libation. It is matured with coriander, hops, and orange peel for one month, and then it is diluted with fresh white ale and matured for another six months before it’s finally filtered and bottled with only minor dilution from local spring water. The flavors of this distillate are very similar to the beer itself: spicy coriander, orange zest, and a great balance between tart and sweet citrus with a long sake-like aftertaste.
Kasia Krupinska, The Third Man, 116 Avenue C
After I’m stuffed this Thanksgiving, I’ll probably reach for a little Fernet Branca. It’s almost like a soothing tea for your stomach, Fernet contains over 28 herbs and spices and is the perfect after dinner libation for setting and refreshing your palate for dessert. If you want a double whammy, a cold glass of Coca-cola and with a shot of Fernet will sooth any tryptophan overdose.
Caitlin Doonan, Toro, 85 Tenth Avenue
I was the kid who never stole from my parents liquor cabinet, due in no small part to the fact that I had no idea what anything was. The stock consisted of strange cordials and bottles that looked like they belonged alongside some pirates’ treasure collecting dust. But I later found out that some of those things that I deemed “for old people” were sherries, ports, and madeiras — the same gems that I’ll pile into a suitcase, drag to Connecticut, and enjoy in my parents’ dining room after dinner without any thievery required. Among that crew will be El Maestro Sierra 12 year Amontillado (nutty, rich, dry), Rare Wine Company’s Baltimore Rainwater Madeira (fresh, delicate, nutty, and semi-sweet), and Cesar Florido Moscatel Especial (rich texture, caramel, coffee).
Rick Pitcher, Manzanilla, 345 Park Avenue South
I will be drinking a Chinato after my meal. This is a traditional digestif made in Piedmont, Italy. Many Barolo producers make Chinato, and each guards the recipe. I really like the Barolo Chinato from Cocchi, a spirits producer in Torino. It’s a more sophisticated bitter. That said, if I eat too much then it may be necessary to go right to Fernet!