An aperitif, according to Webster’s Dictionary, is “an alcoholic drink taken before a meal as an appetizer.” Its counterpart, the digestif, is meant to do just the opposite: aid in digestion after a meal is through. All technicalities aside, no holiday meal is quite complete without a little somethin’ somethin’ to kick off or top off the night. Every corner of the globe seems to have its own signature varieties, but with the holiday season coming up quickly, the options can seem paralyzing. We chatted with Bridgit Loeffelholz, who—fresh out of college and working with her brother and fellow Edina High School grad, Christian—runs the bar and whiskey program for The Dampfwerk Distillery in St. Louis Park. There, the Loeffelholz family has created a line of traditionally made German spirits meant to be savored. Here are some of her suggestions for boozy bookends:
Kick Things Off
“When I think of aperitifs, I think of things that have a lower ABV (alcohol by volume) like vermouth. Things that are going to get the appetite started, but sweeter. Flavors that dissipate quickly on the palette,” Loeffelholz says. Here are a few of her favorites, starting with a cocktail recipe:
Spritzer on Steroids
- 1/2 oz. Dampfwerk Pear Brandy
- 1/2 oz. 100 proof apple brandy
- 1/4 oz. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
- Number 12 dry cider
- Stir the brandies and lemon juice then pour over ice to quickly cool and dilute the mixture.
- Pour into a glass and top with the cider.
You could also go a little more straightforward and mix any dry prosecco—a $10 bottle is fine—with the Dampfwerk Pear Brandy. Warm a bit and add a squeeze of lemon. “It’s wonderful in the cold months,” says Loeffelholz.
Go a little bit different direction—like, South—with a sipping tequila before your meal. While mezcal tends to have some smokiness that’s perfect for after a meal, tequila is crisper and gears up the palette for heavier, traditional holiday meals.
This is a French drink made from apple juice or cider mixed with apple brandy. Because it’s not carbonated, it won’t rile up the stomach too much. “Before a meal, you want something a little simple. This does the trick,” says Loeffelholz.
Wrap Things Up
At Dampfwerk, there’s a decided focus on old-world distilling techniques and equipment—even taking cues from a tattered, 200-year-old German recipe book with scripty, handwritten notes deciphered and translated into modern ingredients and measurements. “Those old recipes were really just over-steeped tea! And they’re not all super heavy. The Swiss had pine liqueurs, the Italians went sweet, the Germans went herbaceous. But they all had some kind of spirit for after heavier meals,” says Loeffelholz. “What people did back in the day was take roots, herbs, flowers, whatever they had—and let it sit. They realized that alcohol preserved it and that sugar made it taste better. Fernet, for example, made with saffron and rhubarb, was great for calming an upset stomach.”
For starters—and especially for meals featuring poultry or pork—go for this sweet, caramelly favorite from the Dampfwerk recipe collection:
- Pernod absinthe (or any French absinthe)
- 1 oz. Dampfwerk Barreled Immature Grape Brandy
- 1 oz. Nikka Coffey Grain Whiskey
- 1/2 oz. Giffard Banane du Brésil
- 1/2 oz. Demerara Gum Syrup
- 1 lemon twist
- Rinse a chilled old-fashioned glass with the absinthe and dump any remaining absinthe in the glass.
- Stir all the remaining ingredients on ice and then strain into the glass.
- Garnish with the lemon wedge.
The Dampfwerk Helgolander is a German-style herbal liqueur perfect for sipping. “It lingers—and it has a stronger flavor,” says Loeffelholz. “But when you add tonic, it turns into a kind of a spritzer. You can really take any whiskey, for that matter, and dilute it into a low-ABV cocktail. There’s lots of opportunity.”
This is a lesser-known, carraway-driven, Scandinavian spirit the Loeffelholzes serve frozen, in shots, following meals. “In the colder months, frozen aquavit sounds weird, but the brain picks up alcohol as heat. It’s a cool experience, that warming that comes from something cold,” Loeffelholz explains. Especially if there’s something spicy or hot in the meal, this is a great way to introduce a contrasting experience later on. “Ours is [directly infused with bourbon], so it takes on a little bit of a umami effect,” she says.
Want to leave things up to the experts? Take a quick drive and enlist some more experienced help on crafting the perfect pre- or post-dinner round. Dampfwerk recently took over the space next to its distillery and is opening its own tasting room. “It’s really an extension of our distillery,” Loeffelholz says. “We know there are lots of people in the area doing cocktails really well, so we’ll focus on neat spirits, sipping shots and flights of our products.”
A large bar in a moody, modern setting can accommodate groups, and the team at Dampfwerk has planned a Sunday “Kaffeeklatsch,” a nod to the German tradition of gathering for sweet treats and conversation. Visitors can grab a piece of torte—like a pound cake, specially created by local Honey & Rye Bakehouse—to enjoy with a coffee and shot of brandy. With this airier morning event, the Loeffelholzes are introducing a new tradition that’s unique for the area but centered on the same goal as the rest of the distillery: “to bring drinking culture back,” says Loeffelholz. We’ll drink to that!