Fortified Wines:These wines are made by fortifying wine with a spirit (most often brandy) to impart a richer flavor and potency. Many are also aged after fortification. Here are some examples:
Port: A fortified wine made in Portugal’s Douro Valley, port comes in sweet, dry and semi-dry styles. Ruby ports are typically brighter, fruitier and younger, whereas Tawny ports are darker, richer, sweeter and velvety in texture. You can find bottles of port in liquor stores that are anywhere from 10 years old to 20 years old. Vintage Ports are generally bottles that have been set aside, and aged in glass for 20 years or more. Though it can be made with a white wine base, red wine is far more common in Ports.
Sweet Madeira: Often served with dessert, sweet Madeira has rich, complex flavors of nuts, dried fruits and chocolate. By law, it can only be produced in the Madeira Islands off the coast of Portugal.
Sherry: Made in the region of Andalusia, Spain, sherry comes in a variety of styles and flavors. The three most common styles served post-meal are rich, nutty and umami-packed amontillado, complex oloroso, which comes in dry and sweet styles, and unabashedly luscious and sweet Pedro Ximénez. Anything produced by Equipo Navaros—be it amontillado or an En rama sherry—is always exceptional. For Oloroso sherries, Bodegas Gutiérrez Colosia Sangre y Trabajadero is a one of our favorite bottlings. One of the best sweet, dessert sherries in the Pedro Ximénez style (it’s actually a blend of Oloroso and PX) is Lustau’s East India bottling.
Brandy and Other Distilled Liquor: Whether straight, herb-free spirits aid in digestion the same way bitter liqueurs and fortified wines do is unclear, but a snifter of something strong and aged is always a fantastic way to prolong the evening. Here are some examples:
Brandy, Cognac, Armagnac: Brandy is wide-ranging category of spirits that can be made anywhere in the world from a variety of fruits. Most often, however, it is distilled from grapes. Two common varieties of brandy are made in the Cognac and Armagnac regions in France, which both produce eponymous spirits. For bottles of Cognac, we recommend buying are Hennessy Master Blender’s Select, Louis Royer Force 53, Gourry de Chadeville Overproof Cognac, or Delamain Grande Champagne Cognac XO.
Calvados: An apple-flavored brandy from the Normandy region of France, Calvados has an alluring fruity, spiced flavor and aroma. Do not be fooled. Calvados is not the same thing as apple brandy, its American counterpart, though they are technically made in the same way. If you’re just beginning with Calvados try bottles of Lemorton Selection Calvados Domfrontais (which is the brand’s younger expression and more appropriate for cocktails) and Christian Drouin Calvados XO (which is more dessert-y, complex and aged in both ex-sherry and Cognac casks). For an American apple brandy, try Laird’s Straight out of New Jersey, one of the oldest distilleries in America.
Grappa: Made by distilling all parts of the grape, grappa is a Greek or Italian brandy with a flavor that varies wildly depending on the quality and type of grape used. Traditionally made from grape must (the pressed grape scraps leftover after making wine or grape juice), Grappa is high proof, raw and incredibly complex.
Aquavit: Similar to gin, aquavit (or akvavit) is a Scandinavian spirit made by infusing neutral grain spirit with caraway seeds. There are both American and Scandinavian Aquavits on the market in the US, and both categories of the spirit are worth seeking out. One of the best American-made aquavits is House Spirit’s Krogstad Aquavit, which is made in Portland,Oregon. Another favorite aquavite of ours is Linie, which is made in Norway and has a more caraway and dill-heavy flavor. The Linie Aquavit is also aged in ex-Oloroso sherry casks which gives it a complex, tart nuttiness unlike others we’ve tried.
Scotch: You probably wouldn’t think it, but Scotch—the whisky spelled without an “e” from Scotland—is one of the only whiskies that is typically drunk after dinner, not with a meal or before it. Once you think about that for a second though, it makes total sense why you see Scotches at the back of a cocktail menu with other dessert liqueurs. Unlike bourbon or Irish whiskey, Scotches are best served at the end of the night.
A Scotch’s region it’s from will determine its flavor. The two reigning styles are blended Scotch whisky and single malt—made from 100 percent malted barley at a single distillery—which ranges in flavor from smoky to briney to earthy. If you want the notoriously smoky flavored Scotch, look to Islay, where bottles like Laphroaig are produced. If you want something less smoky, other notable bottles to try are Black Bottle Blended Whisky, Johnnie Walker Green Label, Great King Street Artist’s Blend, or Pig’s Nose Blended Scotch Whisky. Single Malts to try are The Balvenie 12-Year Doublewood, Glenmorangie (the original), Highland Park, or The Glenlivet.
Añejo tequila: Like Scotch, añejo tequilas are also typically served as a nitecap rather than pre-dinner sipper. Typically richer and heavier than any of the other tequilas on the market, añejo tequilas are meant to be served straight and sipped slow. To be labeled as an añejo tequila, this amber-hued spirit must be aged for at least one to three years in oak barrels, giving it a complex, caramelized flavor. Some of our favorite bottles include Tequila Tapatío Añejo, Casamigos Añejo Tequila and Código 1530 Añejo.