Enjoying a drink with dinner is one of life’s simple pleasures. A drink before the meal, or one following with dessert, can transform even the most basic of meals into a royal experience.
With the Thanksgiving holiday meal just around the corner, what better time to add a little something special to the menu. Yet you don’t have to wait until the food is served: apéritifs are meant to be enjoyed prior to eating, as a means to prepare yourself to eat. (Of note, “‘apéritif’ is a French word derived from the Latin verb aperire, which means ‘to open.’”)
Apéritifs and digestifs have long been enjoyed in European capitals for their purported assistance with digestion. Today, these pre- and post-dinner drinks are now a part of the meal itself, a fitting introduction and conclusion to a delicious culinary experience. So to get you thinking of a fine holiday meal addition – Thanksgiving, Christmas, or even New Year’s – here are a few of my favorites.
Pastis – An anise-flavored liqueur mixed with ice cold water and usually poured from a clay pot bearing the insignia of Pernod Ricard, the Frenchman responsible for commercializing and popularizing the milky white drink. Refreshing on its own, or best before a meal of traditional French fare.
Lillet – Fortified wine that comes in blanc and rouge varieties. Like its cousin vermouth, it is marvelous poured on its own over crushed ice or used alongside a spirit in a cocktail. As in, how James Bond preferred his Vesper Martinis: Lillet, gin, and dry vermouth.
Dubonnet – A darker and more mysterious fortified wine than Lillet, Dubonnet’s flavors of cinnamon, herbs, and quinine make for a moodier, more brooding drink than the lighter flavors of pastis and Lillet. (I prefer it after dinner instead, with a small piece of dark chocolate.)
Absinthe – Once spooky and prohibited, absinthe can now be freely enjoyed without fear of hallucination. Perhaps that takes a little fun out of it. Regardless, enjoy a glass as well as the process – the slotted spoon, the sugar cube, the fountain, and emulsification – of preparing the drink.
Becherovka – Though Prague is known for absinthe, it’s this drink – a spicy-sweet cinnamon liqueur sometimes enjoyed neat or mixed with tonic water – that Czechs truly enjoy. Originally made with a combination of secret ingredients by the Becher family in a small Bohemian town, Becherovka still remains largely unknown outside the Czech Republic.
Fernet – Another near-unknown outside Argentina and Italy, this surly, dark, and bitter amaro is enjoyed by both young and old alike. Here in the states, enterprising bartenders and adventurous drinkers have helped Fernet’s popularity quickly grow in places like San Francisco, New York City, and even here in Washington, DC.