In France, the traditional "Digestif" is a real gourmet ritual. Sweet equivalents of the Apéritifs, digestive drinks are served at the end of a rich meal, to - supposedly! - help the digestion process. This convivial moment after dinner gives you the opportunity to taste some gems of the French food and gastronomy, including liqueurs, eaux de vie, brandies and other fruity alcohols.
The after dinner accounts for those convivial favoured moments in France when gastronomy is melted with tradition! Typical of family and friend gatherings, the digestive drinks have become an essential part of the French food customs. As opposed to the Aperitif served before a meal and that can be alcoholic or not, the Digestif is an after-dinner drink traditionally strong and tasty.
Food customs in France suggest that digestive drinks are served after a meal because the stomach can bear such great levels of alcohol (at leat 35%!) only when it is full! The French word "digestif" refers to the digestion process; drinking a small quantity of Cognac, Armagnac, Calvados or any Eau de Vie should indeed make you digest more easily.
The word liqueur derives from the Latin "liquifacere", which means to dissolve. The main characteristic of digestive drinks is indeed that they are sweet alcohols often made by distillation. Liqueurs are not usually aged for a long time, but a period of rest during their production is essential to marry the flavours and aromas.
The French gastronomy has a wide range of after-dinner Digestifs on offer, from spirits like Cognac and brandies, to fruity creams and eaux de vie. The regional liqueurs are produced respecting authentic methods and using natural ingredients like herbs, spices, flowers, seeds and even roots, to create genuine, tasty and subtle digestifs.
The Rhone Alpes region has its Génépy, a digestif made out from flowers of the Alps plant "Génépi" macerated for 40 days in a litre of alcohol with 40 sugar cubes. Normandy boasts the Calvados brandy made with the juice of naturally fermented apples, including traditionally two stages of distillation and an aging period of 10 to 15 years in white oak barrels. Whilst the Cognac brandy from Southwestern France is double-distilled to achieve elegance and balance, the typical Armagnac from Gascony is single distilled.
But the most popular after-dinner drinks are certainly the delightful French Eaux de Vie elaborated from fermented fruit (by distilling or soaking called "macération"), like the Mirabelle plum liqueur in Lorraine and the Pear liqueur in Ardèche - among many others. The French sweet creams called Crèmes are other digestifs made from fruit but these fruits brandies have a thicker and denser consistency. Highly concentrated and very sweet, they are generally used in mixed drinks, to complement some Champagne, or poured over ice cream.