After-dinner drinks: cheers!

SIPS

Spirits feed senses, not the stomach

Sips

March 10, 2004|By Sara Engram | Sara Engram,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Long past the traditional cocktail hour, when dinner has been eaten and the dishes cleared away, a sip of spirits can take the chill off a cold March evening.

Some drinks intended for after-dinner consumption are designed to aid digestion. But the real purpose of after-dinner drinks is "pure pleasure" - or so says Andrew Jefford, author of After-Dinner Drinks: Discovering, Exploring, Enjoying (Ryland Peters & Small, 2003, $12.95).

"No one need ever take an after-dinner drink; appetite has, by then, long been satisfied," Jeffords says. "What you sip, once dinner is over, feeds the senses and the soul rather than the body." After-dinner drinks encompass a wide range of spirits and fortified wine. For the connoisseur, there is much to study and savor - from grades of fine cognac to the subtleties of port or the grandeur of a great madeira, which Jefford describes as "a kind of slow, vinous firework." Although almost anything worth sipping and savoring can serve as an after-dinner drink, some beverages are more traditional than others.

Jefford's book is a quick and useful overview for those who are not well acquainted with brandies, bitters, eaux de vie, port, madeira, French marc or Italian grappa. More advanced connoisseurs will want more detail, available in many books and, of course, from other connoisseurs.

One of my favorite references is Alexis Lichine's Encyclopedia of Wines & Spirits (Alfred A. Knopf, 1968). You can still find copies in used bookstores or from used-book sources on the Internet.

Many after-dinner drinks could sustain years of study. Consider the lore that has grown up around the great brandies of France. (Brandy is the distillation of wine, as opposed to the distillation of grains that produces whiskey and other spirits.)

Two brandies, cognac and Armagnac, are distinct to particular regions of France. No other brandies can carry those names - although brandy is made in virtually every winemaking region.

If you're curious about after-dinner drinks, a book like Jefford's is a good place to start. But the best education, of course, is through your own tastings. Just remember: These drinks are purely for slow-sipping pleasure, for completing an evening, not revving it up.

Brandy Alexander

Makes 1 drink

2 ounces cognac

1 ounce chocolate liqueur (creme de cacao)

2 ounces light cream

grated nutmeg, to garnish

Shake the ingredients (except nutmeg) together with ice and strain into a martini glass.

Garnish with nutmeg.

-"After-Dinner Drinks," by Andrew Jefford (Ryland Peters & Small, 2003, $12.95)

Per serving: 347 calories; 2 grams protein; 11 grams fat; 7 grams saturated fat; 14 grams carbohydrate; 0 grams fiber; 37 milligrams cholesterol; 25 milligrams sodium

Godfather

Makes 1 drink

2 ounces Scotch whisky

1 ounce almond liqueur or amaretto

Shake the ingredients together with ice and strain into an ice-filled tumbler.

Note: A Godchild is made in the same way, using cognac instead of scotch.

-"After-Dinner Drinks," by Andrew Jeffords (Ryland Peters & Small, 2003, $12.95)

Per serving: 163 calories; 0 grams protein; 0 grams fat; 8 grams carbohydrate; 0 grams fiber; 0 milligrams cholesterol; 3 milligrams sodium

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