A digestif is an alcoholic drink consumed after a meal to assist in digestion. Although the medical world is divided on whether or not these potent nightcaps actually do help digestion, it sure feels good and settling, warming and calming to have a nip at the end of a meal and bring close to a possibly gluttonous evening.
Big, herbaceous beers with more hops and bitterness, as well as beers with low carbonation levels are perfect as an after dinner dram.
Traditionally, digestifs are associated with higher proof spirits. Warming whiskies like Scotch and bourbon, refined brandies like Cognac and Armagnac, fortified wines like port or sherry, and liqueurs like anise-tinged Sambuca, bittersweet Amaro, and herbaceous Chartreuse. But what about beer as a digestif?
Actually, beer contains digestive properties like soluble fibers, which promote healthy blood-sugar and blood-cholesterol levels. Beer has also been shown to trigger the production of gastrin, gastric acid, pancreatic enzymes and a peptide hormone responsible for stimulating the digestion of fat and protein called cholecystokinin.
But which beers make the best digestifs? Because a digestif’s alcohol content helps to provide that sense of warmth and well-being that feels so good after a heavy meal, bigger, maltier beers serve as great digestifs. Big, herbaceous beers with more hops and bitterness, as well as beers with low carbonation levels are perfect as an after dinner dram. A digestif beer should also be treated and consumed like a digestif, which means a three to four ounce pour swirled in a wide mouthed Cognac or brandy glass so the carbonation can readily release and the beer can be savored and sipped.
Beers to drink after dinner
Barleywines, the strongest of the English ales, are made with extra malt, which is boiled for an extended period of time, allowing reduction and deep caramelization. Elevated malt levels lead to a high ABV, anywhere from 8 to 14 percent, and a rich sweet flavor. Because of this intensity, Barleywines should be sipped slowly. Bourbon drinkers love the typical Barleywine flavors of dried fruit, coffee and chocolate, and the chewy and warm alcohol presence. Barleywines can be heavily hopped or contain no hops at all, with English varieties tending to be less hoppy and American styles tending to be much more so. Barleywines are often aged in barrels and saved for a special occasion or consumed during the holidays. Try the seasonal Bigfoot Ale from Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., a 9.6 percent ABV American-style Barleywine with rich dark fruit notes and a huge bang of big, wet hops.
The beer world is full of happy accidents, and one such example is a delicious style of German Bock beer called "Eisbock." As the story goes, a German barkeep or a Bavarian brewer (depending on who is telling the story) left casks of Bockbier outside during the winter and they partially froze. Not wanting to throw the beer away, the barkeep tossed the ice and tasted the beer. What he discovered was a concentrated, fractionally distilled, strong and delicious brew that became known as "ice beer" or in German, "Eisbock." These beers are dark, malty and hearty, with significant alcohol content. Perfect for port drinkers to quaff at the end of a meal. Kulmbacher Eisbock has concentrated malt sweetness, but is exceptionally clean tasting and comes in at a deceptively high 9.2 percent ABV.
Fruity Armagnac fans will love this extreme beer style from the Belgians. Big and burly, fruity and full of spirit, Quadrupel is a name sometimes given to super strong Trappist, Abbey and Abbey-style ales to differentiate them from the Dubbel and Tripel styles and to alert the drinker to the beer's strength. There is much debate as to whether a Quadrupel is actually a "true" beer style, with dissenters relegating many of these beers to a "Belgian Strong Ale" or "Belgian Specialty Ale" category. Regardless, the word "Quadrupel" indicates a super malty and viscous sweet beer that channels notes of cherry, plum, fig and sometimes chocolate with lots of heat in the exhaust. The ABV on these Belgian bad boys usually starts at 9 percent, so settle in by the fire with this delicious style. The malty 10 percent alcohol by volume La Trappe Quadrupel Trappist Ale (aka Koningshoeven Quadrupel) is the beer that supposedly coined the Quadrupel name. This brew boasts bananas and clove on the nose, flavors of raisin, cranberry and a shot of whisky at the finish.
An all-American invention, an Imperial IPA, aka Double IPA, boasts nearly double the hops and nearly double the alcohol of a traditional IPA. These beers are bigger and much more bitter, an intense experience all around. The hop flavor profile can vary depending on the variety of hops incorporated: grapefruit, grass, apricot, and more. The secondary flavor behind the hops in an Imperial IPA varies from caramel to deep toffee to rich fruit. Many of these beers have a resinous and herbaceous pine-tree quality of Northwest hops reminiscent of digestifs like Chartreuse and Fernet Branca. Try Dogfish Head’s 120 Minute IPA, brewed to a massive 18 percent alcohol by volume with notes of fig, citrus peel, pine needles and a warm boozy finish.