Aperitif vs Digestif: What’s the difference?

As a cocktail connoisseur or fine dining enthusiast you’ve probably come across the terms “aperitif” and “digestif” before. These little alcoholic beverages grace the menus of Italian and French restaurants worldwide. Maybe you’re wondering, though, what exactly is it that makes a drink fit into one of these two categories?

Introducing the Aperitif

The term “aperitif” hails from the Latin “aperire” which means “to open”. Yes: it’s a drinking tradition that goes all the way back to the fifth Century! An aperitif is consumed before the meal to stimulate your appetite.

If you get the terms easily mixed up (as I do) a handy way to remember is that an aperitif “opens up” your dining experience - so you always drink it before you eat. They’re best served within half an hour of your meal with some light snacks like bread sticks or cheese and crackers.

Negroni aperitif cocktail on a wooden desk. It has ice cubes and an orange peel garnish.

Introducing The Digestif

If the aperitif is a pre-dining drink then the digestif must be consumed - you guessed it - after your meal.  The clue is in the name for this one. It’s intended to aid in digestion after a hearty meal. This is particularly useful for the rich cuisines of Italy and France. Do you ever get that bloated feeling after eating a whole plate of pasta and cheese sauce? Try sipping on a digestif next time. It might be just what you need. Best served after dessert as your dinner is winding to a close.

Aperitif vs Digestif: Characteristics and Taste

Aperitifs are typically light, dry and even slightly bitter. Their alcohol content is usually on the lower end, designed to ease you slowly into your evening of wining and dining.

Digestifs are richer, sweeter, more herbal and have a higher alcohol content. This high alcohol content is said to help stimulate your digestive organs, helping you to break down your food easier after a particularly heavy meal.

Common Aperitif and Digestif Drinks

As they’re defined by when you drink them and the other characteristics which I mentioned above, there is actually a fairly eclectic mix of drinks that fit into the two categories.


Dry Vermouth

An effortlessly elegant, fairly low-proof liquor, it makes for a light pre-meal drink.


Gin, vermouth and Campari, served on the rocks. This is one of my favorite aperitif cocktails.

Aperol Spritz

Prosecco, bitters and soda water, this Venetian creation is a refreshing aperitif.


Great for a special occasion, champagne also helps to cleanse your palate and prepare your appetite for the meal ahead.



A fantastic after dinner option. Not only does Brandy taste best when savored slowly, it adds sophistication to the occasion and its high alcohol content helps to stimulate digestion.

A man holding a glass of brandy in his hand, with a black background


A potent fortified wine, port can help settle your stomach after a large meal.


We’ve all had a “Jager Bomb” but did you know before it became synonymous with college parties, this German digestif had already been consumed for decades as an after-dinner tipple?

Parting Words

Now that you know the difference between an aperitif and a digestif you can confidently order the correct drink the next time you dine out.

Next time you host a dinner, consider serving an aperitif or a digestif (or both!) to showcase your intimate knowledge of this important aspect of European dining culture.

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