Liz Barclay
Liz Barclay

3 Things to Know About Apértifs and Digestifs

Liz Barclay
Liz Barclay

Tucked away in the back of cocktail menus are the mysterious drinks known as apéritifs and digestifs. (In 1846, French chemist Joseph Dubonnet mixed malaria-fighting quinine with wine, adding herbs and spices to cut the bitter flavor. Voilà! The modern apéritif was born.) They might seem like intimidating, acquired tastes, but these traditional pre- or post-meal sippers are favored at all hours by bartenders—and for good reason.

Just ask Sother Teague, founding cocktail director of New York City bitters bar Amor y Amargo (“Love and Bitters”). “There are dozens of botanicals, herbs, and florals in here,” Teague says, pulling a bottle of Amaro Montenegro, one of the most ubiquitous digestifs, off the shelf. “It starts off with notes of bitter orange and orange blossom, has a center that’s very floral, and finishes with wet vegetables like cucumber and celery. It doesn’t need to be in a cocktail—it is a cocktail!”

No two drinking bitters are alike. After the base of a grain alcohol or wine, each is its own proprietary blend of herbs, florals, fruits, vegetables, or aromatics. A drinking bitter can be thick, syrupy, bittersweet, and downright tart, or light, airy, and ethereally delicate. They have one thing in common, though: Between their variety, mystique, and incredible range of flavors, they’re a taste anyone can acquire.

Here are three things to know:


“You’re hardwired to perceive bitterness as poison,” Teague says. Even if they don’t taste completely bitter on your tongue, these herbs are detected by your brain, which then sends your stomach signals to, as he explains, “get that stuff out of here”—hence, helping the digestive process move a little more swiftly along.


They generally have similar flavor profiles and are 16-24 percent alcohol. “Truthfully, there’s no difference,” says Teague. “It’s just tradition. We just decided that lighter drinking bitters (Lillet, Campari, Aperol) are apéritifs. The darker, richer ones (amari, Fernet, Jägermeister) are digestifs.”


The college hangover-giver gets an unfair rap. It’s actually an excellent digestif, and one of Teague’s go-tos. His advice: Stop freezing it like they do in college! Cold compresses Jäger’s aroma, which means you miss its floral nuances and only taste bitterness. Keep it room temperature, sniff, then slowly sip. It’ll become one of your favorite bottles in the liquor cabinet.

The starter kit: Teague suggests stocking these bottles in your bitters bar. From left, Aperol, Jägermeister, Lillet Blanc, Amaro Nonino, Meletti, Amaro Montenegro, and Campari. Photo credit: Liz Barclay

Bibo Barmaid
Bibo Barmaid Is Like a Keurig for Cocktails—and You Can Buy It Now
Bibo Barmaid
Bibo Barmaid

To make great-tasting cocktails at home, you could take a bartending class, or you could just buy a fancy gadget that does all the work for you. Imbibers interested in the hands-off approach should check out Bibo Barmaid, a cocktail maker that works like a Keurig machine for booze.

According to Supercall, all you need to turn the Bibo Barmaid system into your personal mixologist is a pouch of liquor and a pouch of cocktail flavoring. Bibo's liquor options include vodka, whiskey, rum, and agave spirit (think tequila), which can be paired with flavors like cucumber melon, rum punch, appletini, margarita, tangerine paloma, and mai tai.

After choosing your liquor and flavor packets, insert them into the machine, press the button, and watch as it dilutes the mixture and pours a perfect single portion of your favorite drink into your glass—no muddlers or bar spoons required.

Making cocktails at home usually means investing in a lot of equipment and ingredients, which isn't always worth it if you're preparing a drink for just yourself or you and a friend. With Bibo, whipping up a cocktail isn't much harder than pouring yourself a glass of wine.

Bibo Barmaid is now available on Amazon for $240, and cocktail mixes are available on Bibo's website starting at $35 for 18 pouches. The company is working on rolling out its liquor pouches in liquor stores and other alcohol retailers across the U.S.

[h/t Supercall]

Is There Any Point in Letting Red Wine Breathe?

by Aliya Whiteley

At the end of a long day, few things beat simple pleasures like watching a good film, eating a bar of chocolate the size of your head, or drinking a big glass of red wine.

By this point in the evening, most people don’t want to be told that they need to uncork the bottle and let the wine sit for at least 30 minutes before it becomes pleasantly drinkable. Yet that's (by the letter of the unwritten law) what you're supposed to do.

But why? Well, let's start with the assorted historical reasons.

Red wine has been around since the Stone Age. In fact, in 2011 a cave was uncovered in Armenia where the remains of a wine press, drinking and fermentation vessels, and withered grape vines were uncovered; the remains were dated at 5500 years old. Early winemaking often had a ritualistic aspect: Wine jars were found in Ancient Egyptian tombs, and wine appears in both the Hebrew and Christian bibles.

The concept of letting wine "breathe" is, historically speaking, relatively new and probably has its roots in the way wine was once bottled and stored.

Traditionally, sulfur is added to wine in order to preserve it for longer, and if too much is added the wine might well have an ... interesting aroma when first opened—the kind of "interesting aroma" that bears more than a passing resemblance to rotten eggs. Contact with the air may have helped to remove the smell, so decanting wine may once have been a way of removing unwelcome odors, as well as getting rid of the sediment that built up in the bottom of bottles.

It’s also possible that the concept springs from the early 1860s, when Emperor Napoleon III asked Louis Pasteur to investigate why so much French wine was spoiling in transit. Pasteur published his results, which concluded that wine coming into contact with air led to the growth of bacteria, thus ruining the vino. However, small amounts of air improved the flavor of the wine by "aging" it. In bottles, with a cork stopper, the wine still came into contact with a small amount of oxygen, and by storing it for years the wine was thought to develop a deeper flavor.

However, how much of that actually matters today?

Many experts agree that there is no point in simply pulling out the cork and letting the wine sit in an open bottle for any period of time; the wine won’t come into enough contact with oxygen to make any difference to the taste.

However, decanting wine might still be a useful activity. The truth is this: It entirely depends on the wine.

Nowadays we don’t really age wine anymore; we make it with the aim of drinking it quickly, within a year or so. But some types of wine that are rich in tannins (compounds that come from the grape skins and seeds) can benefit from a period of time in a decanter, to soften the astringent taste. These include wines from Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley, for instance.

If you really want to know if a particular wine would benefit from being given time to breathe, try your own experiment at home. Buy two bottles, decant one, and let it breathe for an hour. Do you notice a difference in the taste? Even if you don’t, it's an experiment that justifies opening two bottles of wine.

One word of warning: No matter where a wine comes from, it is possible to overexpose it to oxygen. So remember Pasteur’s experiments and don’t leave your wine out of the bottle for days. That, friends, would be one hell of a waste.

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