Wines and other digestifs

by Marta Burgués

Grappa, cognac, brandy, malt whiskey or Armagnac are just some of the members of the large family of digestifs, those drinks revered for its ability to assist the digestive process, mainly because of their high alcohol content and even the herbs or oils that make them up. Those who enjoy these drinks call them ‘pousse café’ (after coffee), due to the moment they usually are drunk, and advise to serve them, almost everyone, at room temperature, except the grappa, which is used to drink cold, and cognac, which should be served at the same temperature as the body, 36° C.

Often confused with aperitifs, motivators of appetite, the digestifs differ by their body, given generally by the high alcohol content, and their dry and bitter character. However, not only the spirits are part of this select group. They are also fortified wines like port and sherry. These wines receive, before finishing their fermentation, the addition of a higher volume of alcohol, and therefore are generally sweet. Similarly, it is also possible to consume as digestifs dry liquors, such as type Chartreuse, Bénédictine, Cointreau, Drambuie, Grand Marnier, Curaçao and Frangelico, i.e. alcohols infused with aromas, flavors and even properties, like Fernet, a popular bitter drink based on carminative herbs.

The digestifs, also called “water of life”, are known by this name because with their discovery was found an alternative cure to the plagues contracted by ingesting contaminated water. In contrast, another is the reason why they are called ?spirits? at the same time, which responds to the fact that in the distillation of liquid which always remains is the ‘heart’ or ‘spirit’ of the beverage. This essence is obtained by subtraction and concentration of alcohol and added flavors such as orange, herbs or nuts. This extraction is done by condensing the macerated brew vapors after heating.

These miraculous waters come from diverse origins yet possess a particular characteristic in common: they are almost all products distilled in small stills or boilers. For this reason, their elaboration requires a careful craftsmanship. Such is the case of wine distillates known as cognac, Armagnac and brandy, which take their denomination depending on the area where they are produced. For example, the first and the second belong to a specific region of France, and brandy is the generic name which get all the distillates of wine from any other location. Additionally, there are also spirits made of fermented fruit juice, such as plum or pear. Among these perhaps the best known is the Kirsch, made of cherry or the Calvados, elaborated with apple, also named after the region where it is produced.

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