The custom of a course-wise meal, followed by a special after-dinner drink is a popular custom in the Western countries, especially in Europe. Also known as a digestif, this alcoholic beverage is used to aid digestion and is generally high in alcohol content, with a deep, rich flavour profile. It is also usually taken neat. Spirits like brandy, including Cognac and Armagnac, grappa, sherry, port, single malt, whisky and liqueurs like Amaretto, Limoncello, Cointreau, Sambuca and Kahlúa are commonly served as a nightcap post-dinner.
However, culturally, we are not a country that drinks alongside our meal, or even after. Most of our drinking is done before we progress to dinner. A party at home usually boasts of a lavish spread of dishes, but the meal is short, and followed by quick goodbyes.
In a candid conversation with Nikhil Agarwal, Founder and CEO, All Things Nice, and Karina Aggarwal, Director, Gigglewater Beverage Concepts Ltd. and Vice President of India Craft Spirit Company, LuxeBook tries to comprehend the lure of an after-dinner drink.
Popular in India
A small percent of the population indulges in these special drinks, if you ask Karina from Gigglewater. She describes an after-dinner drink as a consciously cultivated choice. “As far as liqueurs or dessert-drinks are concerned, people may have one if its something they see as an occasion at home, or if they are going to a fine-dine for an exclusive experience,” she says. On the sweeter side, port wine or dessert wine are popular amongst people who enjoy honeyed liquors.
All Things Nice, a wine and spirits consulting and marketing agency, while hosting course-by-course meals with Michelin star chefs prefers to close events with cognacs like Hennessy XO, an extensively aged type of liquor, or even rums. When it comes to the latter, Nikhil has noticed an excitement among diners, as rum is an unexpected way to end a meal. “Popular choices in India have always been spirits like cognac, whisky; even rum is catching on in a very big way right now,” says Nikhil. Another addition to the after-dinner beverage menu is tequila, under the Añejo (aged for 1-3 years) category. He recently hosted a dinner that ended with glasses of Codigo 1530, a high-end sipping tequila being passed around.
How you a pair an after-dinner drink depends on the level of sweetness and acidity of a single drink, explains Karina. For example, a dessert wine works well with everything from a blue cheese to a dark chocolate ganache, to even mithai. She describes two ways to pair spirits, contrasting or complementing. Contrasting involves pairing a sweet liqueur with a salty cheese, while complementing requires identifying the notes of the beverage, and pairing the nutty notes of a wine with a praline-based dessert.
Since these are served after one’s main meal, the food with after-drink drinks must be something to nibble on. Nikhil advises hosts to stay away from spice, and embrace light and clean dishes. His go-to choice is cheese, in particular, a Parmigiano Reggiano drenched in honey. The salt and crust of the cheese counteracts wonderfully with the soft sweetness of the honey; it is also a great way to end a meal. One can balance out those flavours with a well-rounded rum or mezcal.
“I don’t see us moving towards the global trend of drinking after dinner anytime soon, but I think there is a growing curiosity about it,” says Karina. For it to become a regular practice, she stresses the need for greater availability of these types of liqueurs, at a price point that is not completely prohibitive. While there is a precedence set for whisky drinkers, who are conditioned to drinking a snifter of their favourite peaty malt post-dinner with a cigar, there is a larger market waiting to be explored. Nikhil mentions an example of how friends who went for a nice dinner at a popular eatery in Mumbai wanted a glass of sake post their meal and asked him for suggestions for the same.
A drastic change Nikhil has seen in the past two or three years is consumers drinking better but less. “People don’t want mass brands anymore, they want brands that they can align themselves with, which are normally craft brands,” says the founder Nikhil, in addition to importing and retailing spirits, also sells glassware. He talks with confidence about Indians updating their glasses and bar tools thanks to an increased preference for well-mixed homemade cocktails.
Director of Gigglewater, Karina feels that wine is a category which could make headway in India when it comes to after dinner drinks. Referring to the Indian palate’s love for all things sweet, Karina also credits her statement to the precedence set for ending the day with glass of dessert wine, sherry or port. She recommends Niepoort, a wine maker since 1842, or Calem, another Portuguese wine.
For your next party
Surprise your guests with a high-quality spirit to sip on post-dinner. Nikhil recommends India’s very own Paul John XO brandy. “You have some great single malts coming out of India right now, and I think that the whisky is produced in India will only get better,” says the founder of All Things Nice. Glenmorangie – A Tale of Cake is another whisky that could make for a great sweet treat for guests. It encapsulates the magic of cake in a single malt whisky and is finished in Tokaji dessert wine casks.
Fullarton Distilleries’ Segredo Aldeia Cafe Rum is also a great option for rum and coffee lovers alike. The homegrown rum is made with single origin coffee beans and is best had with a huge block of ice. On the gin front, Nikhil suggests Edinburgh’s small batch distilled botanical gins in flavours like rhubarb and ginger or pomegranate and rose. Back home, gin brand Stranger & Sons is making waves with a single-batch limited edition cocktail called Perry Road Peru. Bright pink in colour, chock full of guava, it comes with red chilli and salt powder one can rim a glass with. Bottled at 30 per cent ABV, it’s the perfect light and relaxing drink to sip on at leisure.
Even tequila is seeing an uptick of interest; All Things Nice is importing mezcals, with infusions such as vanilla and chocolate, another great option to savour in lieu of a fancy dessert.
After-dinner drinks can also cater to the season, and as winter approaches, a hot toddy could be an ideal way to round off the night. Mulled wine, or whisky and brandy with warm water are great for a cosy night in.
“In today’s day and age an after-dinner drink could be anything and everything, the staples of before still matter, but rum and tequila are catching on right now,” says Nikhil. He also senses a shift in culture in big cities; the younger generation seems to be moving from binge drinking and eating, to having a few drinks with dinner, then going out to party the night away.