Let’s face it: You’re going to eat too much this Thanksgiving. And when faced with the unpleasant symptoms of overindulgence, there’s one pleasant solution: a little more indulgence—of the alcoholic variety.
For centuries, epicurean Europeans have followed large meals with a shot of brandy, fortified wine or bitter liqueur to settle the stomach. This digestif (or digestivo if you’re Italian) tradition is a lovely one that for some reason just hasn’t caught on widely in the States. Well, this year, you’re going to change that. Break out one of these bottles and you’ll feel so much better while you doze in front of football.
Hine Antique XO Cognac ($200)
While younger VS and VSOP bottlings are best for cocktails like the classic Sidecar, heavily aged XOs go well with slow postprandial sipping from a snifter (and a cigar, if you’re so inclined). This bottling is a blend of more than 40 different brandies, each at least 10 years old and all from the highest-quality Grande Champagne region. It’s hugely rich, with an almost creamy mouthfeel and lots of spice and vanilla notes.
Croft 2011 Vintage Port ($93)
Only in exceptionally good years do port producers declare a vintage, and 2011 is widely regarded as one of the best vintages in decades, if not ever. Luckily for you, the 2011 bottlings haven’t been on the market too long, so they’re relatively easy to find. Croft’s offering combines vibrant fruity sweetness with a nice earthy character that’ll be tasty now and even more amazing 10 or 20 years down the road. Buy two bottles and save one for a special occasion.
Bartenders love to trade shots of this intensely bitter-and-sweet liqueur from Milan. With an extremely complex mix of flavors that’s heavy on citrus, mint and anise, it’s like a way classier version of Jagermeister. Sip it slowly to appreciate the full depth of its taste and you’ll also see how potent a digestif it can be. A shot of Fernet-Branca is one of nature’s best remedies for indigestion. If you like it, you’ll want to dive further into the world of amaros, bitter Italian liqueurs that offer crazy variety in flavor.
Christian Drouin Pays d’Auge VSOP Calvados ($80)
If cognac is the king of grape brandies, the neighboring kingdom of apple brandies is ruled by calvados. It’s made in the northern French region of Normandy, where it’s part of the wonderful digestif tradition of the trou Normand: a shot of calvados taken between courses to create a hole (trou in French) in the stomach and make room for what’s next. With notes of cider, cinnamon and gingerbread, this tasty brandy would be perfect between turkey and dessert or after coffee and pie.
Galliano Ristretto ($24)
If you’ve heard of Galliano, you probably think of the sweet-and-herbal yellow liqueur that goes into the ‘70s-favorite cocktail the Harvey Wallbanger. However, the same distillery also makes this delicious espresso liqueur from four different types of coffee beans. It’s like sweet black coffee with booze in it—what more could you want? It’s tasty neat or on the rocks, but for a real treat, mix a shot into a cup of coffee for a double buzz.
Lustau Pedro Ximenez San Emilio Sherry ($25)
Sherry can be both an aperitif and a digestif: the austere, nutty fino and manzanilla styles are perfect before eating, while the rich and syrupy-sweet Pedro Ximenez is for after. Lustau’s excellent and value-priced bottling offers deep fig, raisin and molasses flavors with a nice acidity to keep it from becoming cloying. Try drizzling a little atop slices of pumpkin pie for a special treat.
Green Chartreuse ($55)
You’ve probably seen Chartreuse on mixology menus—it’s a trendy craft-cocktail ingredient lately. But when it was first created at a monastery high in the French Alps 250 years ago, it was intended to be drunk straight, as a medicine, in fact. It’s still made by monks today, and only two people on Earth know the full recipe of 130 different plants that go into this complex liqueur. The flavors meld together beautifully into a combo that’s hard to describe but unmistakable as anything but Chartreuse. As a digestif, pour it chilled, and stick with the green bottling, rather than the milder and slightly cheaper yellow.
Jason Horn is Playboy.com’s spirits columnist. He lives in Los Angeles and you can follow him on Twitter @messyepicure.