After-dinner drinks are becoming more than just an old boys’ club tradition.
An expanding group of diners is looking to make the most out of culinary outings by extending their meals with inventive after-dinner cocktails and digestifs at hotel bars and restaurants, according to Hilton mixologists.
For some, the drinks are becoming an extension of the dessert menu as less-indulgent diners focus on lower-fat diets. Sipping on a small serving of Port wine, or a coffee or tea blended with liquor and spice, may feel less indulgent than blueberry pie.
For others, the drinks are a way to explore new spirits and variations on dinnertime favorites –all while extending quality time with family, friends and even that date you don’t want to end just yet.
In addition, let’s face it: knowing the difference between a Port, Amaro and Grappa can make you seem more cultured.
Psssst: Port is a fortified wine with roots in Portugal and tends to be red and sweet though there are variations. Amaro, which means “bitter” in Italian, is an Italian herbal liqueur that is often bittersweet and sometimes syrupy. Lastly, Grappa, which is likewise Italian and sometimes called “firewater” for its kick, is a byproduct of the winemaking process, thanks to leftovers such as grape skin.
Hilton’s Thom Caska is the Director of Food and Beverage at Millennium Hilton New York One UN Plaza. Thom is just one of the master mixologists Hilton has at its thousands of restaurants and bars throughout the world – below he offers some tips for how to order with knowledge and suit your palate.
Ask yourself if you prefer spirit-forward or flavor-forward drinks. That’s the first question every after-dinner drinker should answer. Spirit-forward drinks can scream of bourbon, scotch and vermouth-based cocktails while flavor-forward drinks let the fruits, herbs and mixers do the talking.
For spirit lovers: try an Old Fashioned – often made with whiskey or brandy – or a Sazerac, a New Orleans variation of a cognac or whiskey cocktail.
For more flavor-forward drinkers: try an Aviation, a classic cocktail often made with gin, maraschino liqueur, lemon juice and crème de violette that creates a pretty lavender color.
Determine which kind of craving you’d like to satisfy, then get creative. After-dinner cocktails typically fall into four categories: coffee, citrus, bitter and herbal, or sweet and creamy. Determining if you tend to prefer tiramisu or lemon meringue pie, or coffee versus citrus drinks, is a great way to narrow down your perfect after-dinner beverage.
Need sweet satisfaction? A Chocolate Martini or White Russian are indulgent creamy treats.
For coffee lovers, try a Siciliano – a cocktail made with cold brew, vermouth, simple syrup and soda. Mr. Caska created an original that is now on the menu at the Millennium Hilton New York UN Plaza. He calls his concoction the November Red Eye Foam, a caffeinated treat made with Amaro, espresso, butternut squash, anise and cinnamon –all of which he sets in a culinary molecular whipper with soy lecithin powder.
Great Citrus options include Limoncello – the Italian lemon liqueur – or a Sidecar, a cocktail often made with cognac, orange liqueur and lemon juice.
Bitter and herbal more your style? Amaro, the Italian liqueur, qualifies as a digestif – a category of drinks meant to help settle the stomach after dining.
Know your basic terminology. Apéritifs and Digestifs aren’t one in the same: Apéritifs are meant to be enjoyed at the start of a meal to stimulate the appetite, while digestifs are to help digestion after a meal. If you need help ordering, ask your server or bartender for suggestions.
Don’t be thrown by the sometimes-small glasses. Some after-dinner drinks can be quite high in alcohol content so they’re poured in small glasses for portion control (and a pretty display). Grappa, for example, sometimes consists of 40 to 45 percent alcohol. No matter what you order, be sure to sip responsibly.
Thomas Caska is the Director of Food and Beverage at Millennium Hilton New York One UN Plaza. He has consulted on beverage design and planning at establishments all over New York City. Many of his iconic cocktails have been featured in Edible Manhattan, Cosmo, Zoomer, Healthyish, and several other top publications.