The Nightcap: An Old-Fashioned Ritual

published Jan 10, 2014
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(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)

“How about a nightcap?” We’ve heard these words uttered dozens of times in movies, perhaps most memorably in The Graduate between Ben and Mr. Robinson. But what is a nightcap really, and why doesn’t anyone have one anymore?

According to the all-knowing Wikipedia, a nightcap is an alcoholic beverage consumed right before bed. Typically it’s of a higher alcohol content than what might have been enjoyed earlier in the evening, like a bourbon or brandy. Just like the actual cap worn on your head (or on the heads of old men in movies), it’s meant to warm you with a fuzzy feeling in these cold wintry months.

Many factors suggest alcohol may actually disrupt sleep later in the evening (just check out James Hamblin’s piece last January in The Atlantic), so I’m not always a fan of the right-before-bed formula. However, I do enjoy the finality of a nightcap with friends. By setting out to have one final, memorable drink that’s set apart from the others, it’s a nice time to reflect on a fun evening with friends and “put a cap” on the evening. Maybe I’m buying into the nostalgia and romance of a storied tradition, but I find it to be an enjoyable ritual that from time to time I love to embrace.

Even though it’s not traditional, I like to enjoy a digestif like Fernet Branca as my final sip. Do you enjoy a nightcap from time to time? If so, what’s your favorite drink?