Sunday, November 15, 2009

Bartenders Guide to After Dinner Drinks

It has become a practice over generations to have an "after dinner drink". These are commonly pousse-cafes, coffee drinks or pony glasses filled with liqueur. Snifters of Brandy or Cognac are also traditional conclusions to a meal. This became a practice after it was discovered that certain foods or herbs helped the body digest food. It also became known that certain drinks could soothe the stomach after eating. The most often used of these include mints or peppermint. This was, in truth, the advent of the creation of stomach medicines that include mint like chewable tablets and flavored liquids. But the true soothing qualities of cocktails not only include their abilities to settle the stomach but also to calm both the stomach and the body as a whole.

Most of the after dinner drinks we drink today are based on liqueurs and can actually be drank at any time, not just after eating. A fine after dinner drink should inspire conversation, cause the body to relax and wipe away the worries of the day. I will try to give you an overall understanding of the after dinner drink and an example of the kinds that are preferred today. Bartenders in restaurants should have full knowledge of the after dinner drink menu, while bartenders in nightclubs will only encounter them on the rare occasion with someone orders them as a standard cocktail.

Liqueur drinks made with Coffee are popular in most restaurants. Spanish Coffee, Mexican Coffee, Viennese Coffee or any other great drink made with Coffee make a superb ending to any good meal. Mixed Liqueur drinks like B&B, Jelly Bean, Dirty Mother or Sicilian Kiss are good for aiding digestion and will entertain those diners who are looking for something exciting. Of the Pousse Cafes the best choices include a Rainbow Cafe or a Traffic Light. Cordials are varied and many and cover territory from Amaretto to Drambuie to Frangelico, delicious liqueurs that make fantastic after dinner drinks. However, do not forget the liqueurs ranging from Grand Marnier to Chambord to Tia Maria not only as cocktails but as shots and coffee drinks, as well.

The most favored of all after dinner drinks is Brandy. It wins the contest, hands down. It is mellow and mature. Don't forget to offer Brandy in a Snifter, an old fashioned, time proven, method of offering it. Brandy is prepared by a method of burning Wine so it can be served in many of the ways that Wine is traditionally served. The highest class and most expensive Brandies include Cognac and Armagnac, both from France. These Brandies have an alcohol content from 40-45% and are best drank by themselves, in a big snifter. Armagnac has a sweeter flavor than Cognac and can be a big hit with people who usually like Wine or liqueurs like Schnapps or Frangelica. Armagnac is also aged, like Wine, so be careful when choosing the year. The older the better and the more expensive, of course.

Cognac is also a law unto itself in the land of drink making. The better known brands include Courvoisier, Hennessy, Remy-Martin and Martell. It can be drank alone, in a snifter like all Brandy, but it is also great in mixed drinks. Get to know the labeling on the bottles of Cognac so that you can differentiate the various qualities. There is a rating system particular to this brand of alcohol and it is important for every bartender to understand it. Here it is:

V.S.= This is "Very Special" or "Very Superior", equivalent today to a "5 star" rating. This is the least expensive blend, having been aged no more than 2 1/2 years.

V.O.= This is "Very Old". This blend has been aged at least 4 1/2 years.

V.S.O.P.= This is "Very Superior Old Pale". This means it has been aged at the very least 4 1/2 years but most commonly between 7 and 10 years.

Vielle Reserve= This is a finer grade of Brandy. It is aged as long as 7 -10 years, as well.

Extra or Napolean= Designates the very finest of Brandies, usually aged 6 1/2 years or more.

Now that you understand the grading system on Cognac and Armagmac, you should also understand that there are other Brandies as well. These include Brandy made from Apples, such as Calvados (from Normandy) and Applejack (from the U.S.). There is also a strong, woody tasting Brandy that is called "Marc" in France and "Grappa" in Italy. Spain also produces a Brandy but it is sweeter and heavier.

There are also fruit Brandys. These are known as Eau-De-Vie or Alcools Blanc. These are not the same as the colored, sweet flavored Brandys familiar to Americans. You might hear them ordered in bars where many Europeans frequent. They are often called for in Miami and New York. They are unsweetened, clear Brandys and depending on the type of bar you are serving in, they may be behind the bar and they may not. They mostly come in fruit flavors like Cherry, Plum, Pear, Raspberry or Strawberry. They are purer and more sophisticated than the more common Brandys and should always be served chilled.

Moving on from the world of Brandy, cordials and liqueurs are another group of after dinner drinks that will be called for. These are sweet and are flavored with herbs, fruits, nuts, seeds and other special flavorings. Cream liqueurs, such as Baileys Irish Cream, add cream to the spirits as a stabilizer. Then there is the category of liqueurs known as "cremes" which do not include cream but have such a high sugar content that they have consistency of cream. These include Creme de Menthe, Creme de Cassis and Creme de Cacao. These are often drank as shots or tooters but can also be served in a mix as a cocktail. They are often considered useful as after dinner drinks that help the body digest food faster.

Other popular liqueurs are Aquavit, which is distilled from Rye and Caraway seeds; Benedictine, made from a secret mix of herbs; Galliano, a piquant herb based liqueur; Peppermint Schapps, a great alternative to Tums and Maalox! Don't forget Creme de Fraises, which is made from Strawberries; Creme de Banana; Danish Cherry Heering, made from Cherries; Cointreau, distilled from Orange peels. Other big favorites include coffee flavored Kahlua and Southern Comfort, a whiskey based drink with Peaches.

All liqueurs are served in pony glasses after a meal but can also be drank at any time. Over time, they have found their way into drinks like the Grasshopper, which is made with Creme de Menthe and Kahlua and Cream, a popular mix. Liqueurs are also found in great tooters like the Good and Plenty, made with Orzo and Anisette as well as the Jelly Bean which is also made with Anisette but with Blackberry Brandy. These are drinks that are often enjoyed at a party or on a special night out with friends but can always be counted on as that aperitif when needed after a delicious and filling meal.

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