Before and After Drinks

Many traditionalists live by the ‘5:00 is cocktail time’ rule but the less traditional are all too happy to remind the traditionalist that it’s always 5:00 somewhere. The less traditional will advocate the anything-goes routine but the traditionalist is more likely to enjoy a certain order to libations and most other aspects of life, too.

Personal preference has become the key to serving cocktails but the knowledgeable host or hostess will understand that some drinks are better when conventions of time are observed. It’s the dinner hour that dictates before and after drinks more so than anything else.

Cocktail parties are short and simple. Interesting drinks that encourage interesting conversation and a few light hors d’oeuvres to make the drinks go down easier. Cocktail parties are a great way to start a lovely evening but they should end early, allowing guests to take their dinner plans and evening entertainment elsewhere.

Before and after drinks have a bigger impact at dinner parties than at cocktail parties and they are best when they complement the dinner menu. Even so, they may be the easiest drink menus to plan and serve because these beverages are best kept simple.

Before dinner, serve only a drink or two per person. The idea is to whet the appetite, making dinner all the more anticipated. Beer, wine, and champagne have become the most popular before-dinner beverages in the United States but simple mixed drinks are popular, too.

Any of the hard liquors, brandies, or dry fortified wines served straight, on the rocks, or with a simple mixer of club soda, tonic water, or a soft drink is preferred. These drinks rev up the appetite without overpowering the taste buds with sweet, fruity, and rich flavors more suited to cocktail parties.

Simple cocktails based on hard liquors are good before dinner, too. Try Martinis, Manhattans, Mint Juleps, and the like. A Margarita or Daiquiri is good, too, as long as it isn’t fruit based.

Wine, champagne, or beer served during dinner complements the food but doesn’t compete as fruity beverages and hard liquor would. It’s fun to pair beverages to particular courses but it can be complicated, too. Dinner parties are complex enough without the added stress. Stick to one beer or one red and/or one white wine to go with the meal. Or serve champagne with dinner and don’t worry about other choices.

After-dinner drinks do require a little pairing so they complement the dessert. Liqueurs, brandies, and sweet fortified wines are most often served with dessert or instead of dessert.

A simple but elegant way to top off a meal is with a tray of fresh fruit, coffee, and a beverage that’s a little more full-bodied than those enjoyed before dinner. Some excellent liqueurs to serve alongside coffee after dinner are Sambuca, Kahlua, Tia Maria, Bailey’s Irish Cream, Gran Marnier, Cointreau, Frangelico, Amaretto, Drambuie, Benedictine, B&B, Kummel, Tuaca, Advocaat, Chartreuse, and any of the anise-flavored liquors. Some of these liquors are flavored with spices known to aid in digestion and settle the stomach after a full meal and the others provide a luxurious finishing touch.

When a heartier dessert is served, match the dessert’s flavors to those of the liqueur. Kahlua and Tia Maria are coffee-flavored; Gran Marnier, Cointreau, and Tuaca are orange-flavored brandies; Frangelico (hazelnut) and Amaretto (almond) are great with creamy or nut-based desserts; Sambuca and other anise-flavored beverages taste like liquorice. One delicious, very Old-English dessert, flummery, is a creamy pudding with a splash of Drambuie on top.

Fruit-flavored brandies work best with desserts made from the same fruits. Try Poire William with pear-based desserts, Calvados with apples, Kirsch with cherries, and berry-flavored brandies and liqueurs with berries.

Premium-quality rum is excellent served neat with coffee and tropical desserts. Brandy is a classic after-dinner drink served with or without coffee and dessert. In days long gone, men would retire to the smoking room to enjoy brandy and cigars after dinner while the ladies sipped sweet sherry.

Champagne makes a delightful after-dinner beverage but so do fortified wines, such as the sweeter versions of sherry, port, Madeira, muscatel, and Marsala. Coincidently, the dry versions of these fortified wines are excellent before-dinner drinks.

Late-harvest wines and ice wines, made from super-ripened grapes, make excellent after-dinner drinks, too.

Many of the preferred after-dinner drinks are premium-grade beverages and, because they are usually drunk solo, quality counts. They’re also quite rich so a little goes a long way. To explore the many possibilities, buy small bottles to sample in private. Splurge on larger bottles once you’ve established a few favorites and serve these with confidence to your dinner guests.