It's Good for You, So Drink Up

Did you know that Jägermeister shots are good for you? It's true. Although the German spirit has become synonymous with those who use "party" as a verb, it's technically a bitter liqueur, or what the Italians call a digestivo. If you complain of a too-full or upset stomach after eating, any Italian will tell you to have a shot of her favorite digestivo. In the United States, angostura bitters and soda has long been the bartender's curative for gluttony. Think of digestivos as a turbo-charged bottle of bitters. The masses of botanicals used in these liqueurs have ties to Eastern and Western herbal folk remedies. Each brand touts the number of herbs and spices infused into it, always combined according to a secret and ancient recipe. The typical list of botanicals reads like the ingredients of a Gypsy charm: angelica, rowan berries, laurel, gentian root, even myrrh. Italians are quietly obsessed with digestion and have cornered the market on alcoholic cures with the likes of Fernet Branca, Cynar, Averna, and Ramazzotti. All are available, along with a small selection of German and Scandinavian bitters, in the state of Washington through your friendly, local, state-mandated liquor store. Most bars carry at least a few. However, some work better than others. Fernet Branca is the best of the miracle workers, with dominant notes of peppermint and cardamom as opposed to the syrupy, black-licorice bomb that is Jäger. Gammel Dansk, from Denmark, has more of a bittersweet, caramel aftertaste. These are the big baddies—the liqueurs that have the highest alcohol content and the strongest bitter kick. You may never acquire the taste. But do a shot of one, then wait 20 minutes, and I swear you'll be able to eat dessert twice. Kinder, gentler digestivos smell more like somebody forgot to sugar the cola. Ever wonder about that bottle behind the bar with an artichoke on the label? That's Cynar, and it is indeedartichoke-based—the artichoke is a natural diuretic, loaded with antioxidants. Don't worry, though, Cynar tastes more of sassafras than its patron vegetable. Amaro Averna and Amaro Ramazzotti are my favorite digestivos; they're the least painful to swallow, mainly due to their tasty resemblance to horehound candy. You can try any of these liqueurs with a little soda water or ginger ale if you find them too strong. I've also used them in place of bourbonto make less-powerful Manhattans, with thesweet vermouth and cocktail bitters yielding sweeter and even more therapeutic results. Just remember: Never put a digestivo in the fridge or freezer; this can cause some of the goodness to precipitate and lessen the tonic's effects. If you can't get past the bitter, herbal flavors of the dark digestivos, try this cure for indigestion: equal parts Coke and Fernet Branca or Jäger, with a splash of cream. Stir—don't shake—and drink it down fast. Tastes like a root beer float. I normally don't advocate such lily-livered things, but I have a soft spot for gluttons.

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