Finessing the Grand Finale

Irish Coffee
Irish Coffee

After-dinner drinks explore new directions.

On many restaurant menus, after-dinner drinks are also an after-thought. But as the cocktail renaissance continues, bartenders are rethinking the dessert and digestif menus from the ground up. Some are pairing cocktails with desserts so that the drinks are better integrated into the overall dining experience. Others are collaborating with the artisan coffee roasters to boost the buzz. Yet others have expanded their menus to include unusual after-dinner spirits, are trying new flavors beyond whipped cream and Kahlua, and have found new ways to offer dessert drinks to diners without holding up tables.

Grin and Pair It

At Firefly, a restaurant in Washington, mixologist Jon Harris pairs a cocktail with each dessert on the menu. The drinks are only $6 each, less than the desserts themselves, and are served in small glasses.

“It’s enough to satiate you; you don’t have to be committed to a full drink to help you get settled after your meal. We thought it might be a good way to make an extra last sale. It’s a relatively easy buy-in compared with a full-size cocktail,” Harris says.

For most of the drinks, Harris matches flavors in the drinks with those in the desserts. A strawberry ice cream sandwich is paired with a drink containing strawberry gin; a bourbon bread pudding, peanut caramel, and coffee ice cream dessert can be served with a cocktail containing bourbon, coffee liqueur, and almond syrup. Harris also makes an effort to pair with the texture of the dessert—for example pairing a fluffy fizz-style drink with cheesecake.

Harris says, “I think it’s easier to pair with dessert than it is with entrées. You have savory, sweet, or sour desserts and those really mimic cocktail flavors anyway. Personally I don’t like spirits with entrées; they can be overpowering. But at the end of your meal, the spirit will help settle it a little bit.”

At The Storefront Company in Chicago, they offer a special Kitchen Counter dining experience. As part of this program, a three-course dessert tasting menu is offered, along with a drink-pairing option. Rather than cocktails, the desserts are paired with regular and fortified wines by wine director John Dalesandro.

For example, a dessert with chocolate might be accompanied by Graham’s 20-year-old Port, a white cheese might go with Steinfeld Gruner Veltliner, and a bleu cheese with a Triennes St. Auguste Bordeaux Blend.

A different pairing is on offer at Comstock Saloon, a bar-driven restaurant in San Francisco. There the pairing flight is with local TCHO Chocolate and various spirits. Citrusy, fruity, and nutty chocolates are paired with pisco brandy, aged rum, and bourbon, respectively. The three-course pairing is available for $19.


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