What Is Licorice Liqueur?

Megan Shoop
Megan Shoop
Star anise may be added to licorice liqueurs.
Star anise may be added to licorice liqueurs.

Licorice liqueur is a distilled, alcoholic beverage flavored with one of many licorice-flavored herbs. The liqueur may be flavored with licorice root, anise seed, hyssop, or star anise. Many different countries produce signature liqueurs flavored with these herbs. Most of them are thick, sugary, and usually only drunk as part of a mixed drink or cocktail. Very few people drink licorice liqueur by itself, except in small amounts, as a shot.

Jagermeister has an anise flavor.
Jagermeister has an anise flavor.

Dozens of countries all over the world produce licorice liqueur. Greece produces ouzo, while Sambuca — both black and white varieties — is Italy’s signature beverage. France produces a wide range of licorice liqueurs, including Pernod, anisette, and pastis. The Arabic countries that allow alcohol consumption distill a beverage called araki, while New Orleans produces a very rough licorice liqueur called herbsaint.

Licorice root may be used to flavor licorice liqueur.
Licorice root may be used to flavor licorice liqueur.

A few of these liqueurs were invented to replace the notorious wormwood-based beverage, absinthe. Flavored with both sugary wormwood and licorice root, this beverage may cause hallucinations and can be toxic in large quantities. For this reason, it is illegal in the United States and a handful of other countries throughout the world. Countries that do allow its production monitor it carefully to try to curtail illegal smuggling.

Sambuca is an Italian licorice liqueur.
Sambuca is an Italian licorice liqueur.

Most licorice liqueurs are interchangeable when it comes to flavor, though some are stronger than others. Ouzo is arguably one of the strongest, though the rare araki may be slightly stronger. The high alcohol content and intense flavor make these liqueurs ideal for cocktails. They add flavor and sweetness to any beverage almost instantly. Mint, citrus, chocolate, and coffee flavors are all very commonly combined with licorice. Water is also a frequent addition, especially for those who love the taste of licorice, but don’t want the alcohol to go to their heads.

Strong berry flavors are also popular companions for licorice liqueur. Black currant, blackberry, and raisin juices or liqueurs are often paired with it. The acidity of these fruits often cuts through the sweetness of the liqueur, giving the cocktail a pleasant intensity rather than an overwhelming flavor.

Those that love homemade tonics and beverages can make true licorice liqueur at home. Makers require a relatively pure grain alcohol, such as vodka, for the base and some fresh or dried licorice root. Anise or Chinese star anise, which is typically stronger than ordinary anise, may also be added. The maker must simply grind or chop the herbs into small pieces, pack them into a jar, and fill it with grain alcohol. The mixture should be allowed to sit for about three weeks, and then be strained to produce homemade licorice liqueur.

What Is a Liquor That Tastes Like Licorice?

There is plenty of licorice or anise-flavored liquors to choose from when picking beverages. Depending on the country and region, almost every area has its anise-flavored alcoholic beverage. The licorice flavor usually comes from anise or star anise. They all give the drink a licorice taste of varying strengths. However, there are subtle differences between these plants. One main difference is that one is a plant, and the other is a fruit.

  • Anise: It is also called aniseed. It comes from a plant with long stems and white flowers. It is known for its taste and digestive properties and comes from certain areas in the Middle East.
  • Star Anise: Star anise is a fruit from a tree related to the magnolia family. It is in southeastern China.

Both anise and star anise contains anethol. It is an essential oil that gives a licorice flavor that is quite strong. The oil is added to candy and savory foods as well. The candy you find in stores has this oil added, which gives licorice candy its distinctive taste.

There are tens of dozens of alcohols and liquors found everywhere with an anise or licorice flavor. Almost every country has its variety. The drink may contain other plants, fruits, or botanicals.

There are several varieties of beverages, like:

  • Sambuca: This beverage is from Italy and is one of the country's most well-known liquors to drink after meals. It has an herb taste and is very sweet. It also contains dill and elderflower. It can be served by itself or mixed with water.
  • Pastis: Created in France, this liquor is one of the country's famed beverages and is a cafe staple. You make this alcohol by macerating aniseed or star anise with licorice root, all of which give the beverage a licorice flavor. There are also notes of fennel, star anise, and other botanicals. It also has added sugar.
  • Ouzo: It is Greek alcohol distilled with aniseed. It has a distinct fennel and licorice taste. It has coriander, clove, cinnamon, and star anise as well. A peculiarity of this drink is that it is cloudy instead of clear. It is the louche effect, and it occurs when you mix the alcohol with water.
  • Absinthe: This famed alcohol has many books and poems describing its taste. It has a high alcohol content, and the dominant flavor is anise. However, there are other flavors present that gives absinthe its classic taste. There is a mixture of plants and botanicals that give the drink complexity. You usually pour this beverage over a sugar cube before drinking.
  • Jagermeister: This alcohol has a sweet and bitter taste that many people find polarizing. Determining its exact flavor is challenging, but it has notes of licorice and anise. It has a bitter aftertaste, and many people do not like it.
  • Anisette: A lighter alcohol similar to Pastis, but has differences. The alcohol content is much lower, the drink is sweeter and flavored like aniseed.
  • Patxaran: This is alcohol from Spain with a red hue. While its distinct flavor is a berry, the aniseed taste comes through at the end. However, if you put it over ice, the aniseed flavor shows up immediately.
  • Raki: This is alcohol from Turkey. It has the louche effect as well. It contains aniseed and grapes. Keep in mind that this beverage has many bootleg varieties, so make sure you buy well-known brands.

What Does Licorice Taste Like?

Licorice has a very polarizing flavor, and generally, you like it or not. Licorice root is quite sweet and slightly woody, and pure licorice has a sweet, woody, slightly floral taste. It is unlike commercial candy you find in stores. There is also a mild bitterness. It also has an intense, bitter-sweet flavor. If you are familiar with tarragon, fennel, or anise, there are notes of these botanicals as well.

As mentioned, the candy that you find in grocery stores has an artificial taste most time, which is one reason why many people do not like it. Manufacturers add aniseed oil to increase the licorice taste in candy because pure licorice extract is challenging to make. While aniseed has a licorice taste, it can be very overpowering and strong.

Many people claim they do not like licorice because they are only familiar with the artificial variety. While the true root does have a bitter, herby, and sweet taste that may also be undesirable to some people, it is worth a try.

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Discussion Comments

literally45

Has anyone here tried herbsaint? I heard that this can be used in place of absinthe in cocktails. What does it taste like? Is it as strong as they say?

serenesurface

My dad makes his own licorice liqueur and it is so good. He uses a vodka base and dried licorice like the article described, but he also includes spices like cardamom, clove, ginger and cinnamon. So the result is a spicy, sweet and warm liqueur that is best for winter nights.

We usually enjoy this after dinner to clean our palate before dessert. I also have a theory that licorice liqueur aids digestion. It's the perfect drink after a heavy and large meal.

ZipLine

Araki is technically not licorice liqueur because it's made of aniseed. I personally think that a liqueur can be consider licorice liqueur if it contains licorice, whether it is in the form of an extract or syrup.

Many products including liqueurs use anise and label it as "licorice." Anise is much cheaper than licorice and the flavor is similar, but they are not the same. The benefits and compounds of licorice are not the same as anise.

Those who want genuine licorice liqueur should check the label carefully to make sure that it is made of licorice.

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    • Star anise may be added to licorice liqueurs.
      Star anise may be added to licorice liqueurs.
    • Jagermeister has an anise flavor.
      Jagermeister has an anise flavor.
    • Licorice root may be used to flavor licorice liqueur.
      By: Hayati Kayhan
      Licorice root may be used to flavor licorice liqueur.
    • Sambuca is an Italian licorice liqueur.
      By: eyewave
      Sambuca is an Italian licorice liqueur.