ABCs of Digestivi

Elevate your dining experience with our guide to the best Italian after dinner liqueurs, including Amaro, Grappa, Limoncello and Sambuca.

Unlike the aperitivo, meant to “open the palate,” digestivi are liqueurs served after dinner to aid in digestion. With a long history in Italy, digestivi are usually taken straight and offered in an abundance of variations.


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1. Amaro

The term amari (amaro when singular) encompasses a class of bitter, herb-infused liqueurs. Almost every region of Italy has its own amaro, and enthusiasts say that each version offers the distinct flavour of locally grown ingredients including roots, barks, spices, herbs, fruit peels and botanicals. Amaro is typically served straight at room temperature (or on the rocks), but can also be mixed into a cocktail. Its silky and bittersweet flavour is delicious and captivating, making it a popular drink of choice.

2. Amaretto

Not to be confused with amaro, amaretto is a famously sweet liqueur consumed in a number of ways: as a culinary ingredient, on its own, or mixed with other beverages such as coffee. Dating back to the early 16th century in Saronno, Italy, amaretto is said to have originated as a gift from a young innkeeper to her lover, an artist. The recipe was then passed down from generation to generation. Closely guarded traditions and production techniques are what make an authentic, Italian amaretto truly amazing. The best versions also distill their own essential oil of apricot pits that gives their drinks their distinct flavour.

3. Grappa

This crystal-clear liqueur is traditionally made from vinacce —the solid remnants of grapes pressed during wine making. Its history dates back to the middle ages, and was generally a drink of the working class. It’s got a bit of a kick, making it a treat on a cold night. Now, grappa is enjoyed across the world, purchased plain. It is commonly consumed on its own, as a digestive, or mixed with coffee.

4. Limoncello

Bright yellow in colour, genuine limoncello is a light liqueur infused with the peel of the best varieties of lemons from Italy. Although well-loved throughout Italy (and North America), in the south—no meal would be considered complete without it. The most frequently cited story is that limoncello dates back to the early 1900s with a woman named Maria Antonia Farace, whose nephew opened a bar and created a special liqueur using lemons from her garden. For the best flavour experience, limoncello should always be served ice cold.

5. Nocino

Originally produced in Emilia Romagna, nocino is a strong, aromatic, dark brown liqueur made from the region’s young green walnut husks. Once used for medicinal purposes, today, nocino is casually enjoyed for its sweet nutty flavour. Traditionally, local walnuts are picked on the eve of La Festa di San Giovanni (the feast day of St. John the Baptist) and infused with alcohol and spices for a period of 40 to 60 days. With such close proximity to summer solstice, the consumption of nocino is tied to many ancient rituals; while traditionally consumed on its own, modern bartenders have discovered a secondary benefit by adding it to classic cocktails such as the Manhattan. 

6. Sambuca

This authentically Italian, anise-flavoured liqueur is the most traditional of after-dinner spirits because the restorative properties of ingredients supposedly help one digest almost anything!  The most common version is crystal clear “white” Sambuca in Italy, Sambuca is traditionally served with three floating coffee beans representing health, wealth and happiness. It may also be set on fire for a quick second in order to further enhance the flavour of the beans.

Alla salute!

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