Apéritif vs. Digestif: What's the Difference?

Posted by Helena Hambrecht on

In America, eating is often seen as a means to an end. In Europe, it’s a totally different story. Food is meant to be enjoyed from beginning to end. 


An everyday dinner in Europe is like when families gather for a holiday meal.


The food isn’t even the beginning or end of the affair. The drinks are. Apéritifs and digestifs are often spoken of together. This can cause confusion because they’re two separate types of drinks.


Apéritifs and digestifs are so much more than just drinks to sip on. They’re part of an entire culture and lifestyle with a long history. It’s a lifestyle you may adapt for yourself by the end of this article.


What Is an Apéritif?

We should probably define what an apéritif is. It’s a drink meant to encourage hunger and makes the meal you eat after drinking it even tastier. 


They’re low in alcohol because drinking too much alcohol can dull all your senses, including your sense of taste. They’re also on the bitter side because too much sugar can also dull your sense of taste.


An apéritif not only helps stimulate appetite but also encourages people to relax and enjoy each other’s company before a meal — kind of like happy hour, but it sounds fancier. 


Apéritifs are often served with small savory snacks, like crackers and cheese, pretzels, chips, and nuts. 


The History of the Apéritif 

The word apéritif has been around for a long time, potentially even dating back to the fifth century. However, apéritifs started becoming much more popular in the 18th century, after the invention of vermouth. Apéritifs only grew in popularity from there. 


In fact, some apéritifs even incorporated a malaria-fighting medicine. A specific apéritif called Dubonnet included quinine, a bitter substance that could help fend off this disease, as well as plenty of herbs and spices to cover the rather unpleasant flavor. 


As time passed, apéritifs continued to become more and more popular, especially in Europe.   


The Different Types of Apéritifs

While there’s no strict definition of apéritifs, they tend to fall into one of two main categories: wine-based and spirit-based. Each has its own flavor and appears in different cocktails and mixed drinks.


Wine-Based Apéritifs 

Wine-based apéritifs are probably what most people will be familiar with.

  • Dry Sherry: While some sherries are fairly sweet, a dry option will serve you better as an apéritif. 

  • Champagne: This is probably the apéritif you’re the most familiar with. They can range from sweet to dry. For an apéritif, go for dry versions to really whet the palate. 

  • Prosecco: This Italian wine comes in a variety of styles like sparkling, semi-sparkling, dry, or sweet. Choose a dry, sparkling option for an apéritif. 

  • Cava: This is Spain’s version of champagne. It can also be dry or sweet. You’ll want the dry version. 


Spirit-Based Apéritifs

Spirit-based apéritifs are lower in alcohol content than traditional spirits and can be drunk as is, on the rocks, or in cocktails.

  • Ouzo: Anise flavored liquor that’s popular in Greece.

  • Campari: A fruity and herbal version of an apéritif liquor.

  • Aperol: Campari’s sibling in style, except it’s lower in alcohol and a little sweeter.

  • Pernod and Pastis: French liquor with an anise flavor. 

  • Raki: A traditional Albanian or Turkish liquor that has a licorice flavor. 


Apéritif Cocktails

Here are some classic drinks that use an apéritif as an ingredient.

  • Negroni: This drink is made of gin, a wine of your choosing, and an apéritif.

  • 50/50 Martini: This drink is made of gin, an apéritif, and orange bitters.

  • Aperol Spritz: While it has Aperol in the name, it was originally the Italian Spritz. That means you can easily sub in many other apéritif options. This particular mixture is made of an apéritif, prosecco, and club soda.


What Is a Digestif?

A digestif is the opposite of an apéritif. It’s meant to help with digestion and settle the stomach after eating. Many digestifs help with digestion because they contain ingredients like ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, and other botanicals that may help with settling stomachs. 

Digestifs tend to have more alcohol in them than apéritifs and are usually drunk as is. That said, they do work in mixed drinks and cocktails occasionally. If you drink a digestif straight, it should be room temperature or slightly chilled. In general, no snacks are eaten with it. 

You should sip your digestif slowly over the course of the evening. They tend to have a heavier body and herbal taste, so they really don’t need to be accompanied by anything else. 


The History of Digestifs

Digestifs were originally considered a cure-all medicine for most ailments. It wasn’t until the 18th century that the digestif became a drink to enjoy after a meal, which is generally how we view them today.


The Different Types of Digestifs 

There are many different types of digestifs. Some may seem familiar.


Fortified Wines 

  • Port Wines: This type of wine is sweet, dry, or semi-dry. Ruby ports are bright, fruity, and well… red. Tawny ports are dark, rich, and velvety. 
  • Sweet Madeira: By law, this wine can only be made in the Madeira Islands, off the coast of Portugal. They tend to incorporate flavors of nuts, dried fruits, and chocolate. 
  • Sherry: Slightly different from the dry sherry previously mentioned, these are also wined-based but have certain distinctions that set them apart. Three common types are Amontillado, Oloroso, and Pedro Ximenez. All three are full of complex flavors that are wonderful post-meal. 

Aged Liquors 

  • Brandy: Two common styles are made in the Cognac and Armagnac areas in France. 
  • Calvados: This brandy comes from around the Normandy area in France. It has fruity flavors — apple in particular — and herbal aromas. 
  • Grappa: This option is made using every part of the grape. 
  • Aquavit: This is a Scandinavian spirit made from caraway seeds and neutral grain spirit. 

Apéritifs vs. Digestifs

The difference between an apéritif and digestif is like night and day. One is meant to be the start of a great meal, and the other is meant to end the night on a high note. 


Apéritifs are more bitter and herbaceous to help whet your appetite before a meal. Digestifs are a bit sweeter and heavier, helping you digest the meal you just had. 


Haus Apéritifs

We’re sure that after hearing all about apéritifs and digestifs, you’re eager to try some. We have a great selection of apéritifs that are sure to catch your attention.


Citrus Flower

This apéritif is crisp and full of citrus and cinnamon flavors. The top flavors are lemon, orange peel, and elderflower.


This Californian take on an apéritif is great on its own or mixed into a light, fruity cocktail.  


Ginger Yuzu

Including ginger as the main ingredient in this apéritif ties it back to its historical medicinal use, though this apéritif doesn’t taste like medicine. Instead, it has a naturally compelling herbal taste thanks to its lemongrass, yuzu, and rooibos tea. 


Grapefruit Jalapeño

If apéritifs are about waking up the sense of taste before the meal, this drink will energize all your senses. Sharp citrus and spicy jalapeño work together to be delicious on their own or in mixed drinks.


The main flavors are grapefruit, jalapeño, and Makrut lime leaves. 


Spiced Cherry

Featuring spices and fruit flavors, this apéritif is great for a night in. You’ll taste dried cherries, cocoa nibs, and Tellicherry pepper. 


Rose Rosé

This apéritif is perfect for a warm day, thanks to its refreshing flavors of rose, raspberry, and cherries. The top ingredients are strawberries, raspberries, and dried wild roses.


There Is No Need for the Apéritif vs. Digestif Debate

These outstanding styles of alcohol are both parts of a culture of taking your time and enjoying your meals. They stretch out the meal beyond just eating and encourage people to relax and enjoy each other’s company. 


There are a lot of similarities and differences between apéritifs and digestifs, but most importantly, they're both delicious. It’s about enjoying the experience. 


Sources: 


Crash Course in Apéritifs | LoveToKnow


11 Impressive Aperitif Cocktails to Serve Before Dinner | The Spruce Eats


What Is a Digestif? | The Spruce Eats