Anise-Laced Alcohols Offer Summer Refreshment
Summer is the season when people in Mediterranean countries seek relief
from the heat with a refreshing glass of a licorice-flavored beverage.
Greece, Turkey, Italy, and France are among the countries that like to
cool down with anise-spiked liquors.
Greeks are fanatically proud of their national beverage, Ouzo. The base
product is a powerful alcohol made from fermented grape skins. Once distilled,
it's flavored with licorice and similar herbs such as anise and fennel.
Other herbs, including coriander, cloves, and mint, are sometimes added
to give it a unique personality. The final product is boiled in a copper
still, cooled, and then stored for several months before it's diluted
to a drinkable alcohol content of 40 percent.
Nobody knows when Ouzo was first concocted, but it is believed to have
existed in ancient Greece. It's usually consumed as an aperitif, though
it has found its way into a handful of cocktails.
In Turkey, the national drink is raki, a beverage that takes its name
from the Arabic word for juice. Different fruits are fermented in different
regions of Turkey to make raki. Grapes, figs, and plums are most common.
Like Ouzo, raki is flavored with assorted herbs and spices, especially
There are several ways to drink raki straight, on the rocks, with
a water chaser, or simply diluted with water. Turks call raki "lion's
milk" because, like Ouzo, it develops a milky-white color when mixed
This sudden change in color, from clear to opaque white, is a fun-to-watch
mystery to many. It's the anise that causes this transformation. In strong
alcohol, anise oil is clear. As soon as the alcohol is diluted with water,
the essential oils crystalize so that you can no longer see through them
and the color turns white.
Italians drink Sambuca, a slightly sweeter beverage. In addition to licorice
or anise, elderberry is a key ingredient in this beverage; in fact, "sambuca"
is the Latin word for elderberry. Sambuca is usually consumed as an after-dinner
drink. Traditionally, it's served with three roasted coffee beans floating
on top a symbol for romance. To add spark to their evenings, Italians
sometimes light their Sambuca on fire for a moment, and then extinguish
the flame before drinking it. Galliano is another Italian licorice liquor.
It's enhanced with flowers and vanilla.
The French call Pastis "the milk of Provence." It is one of
several French variations, along with Pernod and Ricard. These drinks
have been around for several centuries. They gained popularity in the
early 20th century after their forerunner, absinthe,
While all of the above drinks are clear or yellow in color, they all
taste like black licorice. Farther north, Finns and Scandinavians drink
a homemade variation that is the true color of licorice. Salt licorice,
a pungent hard candy that's especially popular in Finland, is crushed
and poured into a bottle of vodka. The candy is left to dissolve for several
days, until the licorice flavor overrides the vodka taste. This licorice
vodka is sweeter than its lighter-colored counterparts. It tastes misleadingly
like candy, and it's easy to forget how strong it is... until you wake
up the next day.