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.
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.
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.
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.