Anisette varieties

Two questions, easy first:

  1. What causes the cloudy precipitate when mixing water with the various Mediterranean anise liqueurs (Pernod, Ouzo, Raki, etc…)

  2. Most of these are actually complicated herbal recipes, generally with fennel, mastic, anise, elderberry, etc…, even some insect derivatives. But they are all rather similar. What is the history, and why didn’t they spread beyond the Med. ? [Was it spread by Venetians duirng the Renaissance ? Turks during the Ottoman Empire ? Brought back by Crusaders ? Around since Ancient Greece ? Any medicinal aspects ? etc…]

“Proverbs for Paranoids, 1: You may never get to touch the Master, but you can tickle his creatures.”

  • T.Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow.

I’ll answer the easy one:

Clear eau-de-vies turn cloudy when chilled. This happens because of leftover essential oils from the final blending. I suspect you are mixing them with cold water. The same happens to Cointreau as happend to Ouzo.

“Eppur, si muove!” - Galileo Galilei

Works for me, Gaudere, thanks.

That poses yet another twist to the second question: Mediterranean liquormakers must also be spending quite a bit of time distilling oils from all these various herbs which go into all these herbal drinks. Is this perhaps a clever use of leftover oils distilled for the perfume industry ?

Oh, and neither Cynar, Campari, or Fernet Branca turn cloudy when chilled, to name a couple (although these are not of the anisette vaiety). Small maounts of very bitter oils ? or no oils at all ?

“Proverbs for Paranoids, 1: You may never get to touch the Master, but you can tickle his creatures.”

  • T.Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow.

Well, I dumped some Campari on ice to test, and no, it doesn’t appear to turn as cloudy. I suspect we just can’t tell the effect of the ice as easily since it is so vividly colored. I have looked at it now (2 min later) and it appears much more opaque. Do you have the others on hand, and can you test them?

As an aside to your second question: I wish they would NOT use anise in so many liquors. I hate it. Anyone want to buy a bottle of Galliano off me? There are a ton of anise-flavored liquors, and I hate them all. I guess in the Meditarranean area they liked the taste of anise.

“Eppur, si muove!” - Galileo Galilei

I agree with Gaudere about anisette. I can live with Grand Marnier (though other orange ones aren’t so good), and B&B is great. But top-of-the-line has to be Drambuie! Honey and fire! Nectar of the gods! Is it cold enough yet to go pour myself one?

But back to the topic. Many liqueurs started out as medicinals, back in the days when most ‘physic’ was herbal. Probably people flavoured their brandy from the time distilling was invented; they probably didn’t invent aging right away, and freshly-made booze needs all the help it can get! Then people started to like the taste of their medicine, and the rest is history.

Bob the Random Expert
“If we don’t have the answer, we’ll make one up.”

Gaudere, been drinking one or another of these types of hooch for years, but I’ll gladly go through the testing process again. Hic. Few but the anise-based ones do, perhaps because there’s more essential oil {more easily produced from anise/fennel ?) but I never saw Campari, Fernet, Cynar, et al. go cloudy. All of the “would be absinthe but for the wormwood oil” do (Pernod, Gauthier, etc…) and all of the anise-flavored (ouzo, mastixa, raki, etc…)

RJK: True enough, but why are they still prevalent in the Med ? Other than one or two rare Dutch liqueurs, and I suppose Jaegermeister, there aren’t any in Northern Europe, where they surely used herbal remedies as well. Most of the Northern European varieties tend to use honey or fruits - which are equally, if not more, available in the Med. (Flavored wines, such as Lillet, or vermouths, are also So. European.)

So I’m still wondering why such things persisted there ? (again, left-overs from perfume industry ? or maybe needed for anti-malarial and other health concerns limited to So. Europe ?)

You caught me, Jorge! I only know the stuff I answered, and hoped I could get by without admitting it.

Why mostly southern Europe? WAG: IIRC, distilling started in the south where there were major (and prosperous) cities, while the north stayed mostly rural and low-tech for a long time afterward. Maybe the situation lasted long enough for southerners to develop a taste for liqueurs and northerners to like the straight brandy.

Similar preferences show up elsewhere: westerners gag at aged eggs, while easterners think cheese is spoiled milk, even though those foods are easily made in the “wrong” place. The only difference is national taste.

Bob the Random Expert
“If we don’t have the answer, we’ll make one up.”

I dunno, RJK…your WAG is as good as mine (besides, you admit in the signature to making up as necessary). Hence the debate forum of the SD, que no ? So take your WAG a step or two further.

Reading anthropologist Marvin Harris’ works provides the comfortable thought that there usually is a rationale, and that “national tastes”, although perhaps not so obvious in these days of rapid transfer of goods and technology (FedEx, refrigeration, etc…)

No to go too far on a tangent, aged eggs and, say fish paste, were ways of storing necessary protein in warm climes w/out refrigeration. All around the Med, blessed with olive oil, we got anchovies. In Scandinavia, you got lutefisk, and so on …

So what might be the local need or advantage in acquiring that particular taste in So.Europe as opposed to say, quince liquor ? (assuming everyone wanted to have some kind of alcoholic drink around, a safe assumption)

[Hence my WAG about perfumeries, an oil-distillation industry, a major export for So.Europe for centuries. Perhaps influenced by the Moors, accounting for Mediterranean locales for these weird drinks.]

PapaBear ?

Maybe just availability? Grapes don’t grow very far north, so northerners mostly drink beer, and flavoured beer sucks.

Also, the ingredients for sweetened drinks would be more expensive farther north (honeybees do better in a warm climate), and until recently the north was closer to a subsistence economy than the south. Given that distilled liquor of any kind is a luxury, maybe the relatively rich cities of the south were the only ones who could afford to mix a batch of herbal brandy and lay it down for several years to mature.

(I also remember reading someplace that the Greeks started adulterating their wine with pine gum so invaders wouldn’t steal it, and we ended up with retsina. I certainly wouldn’t steal it!)

Bob the Random Expert
“If we don’t have the answer, we’ll make one up.”

My WAG is, since it is native to the Mediterranean, they make lots of use of it (much like dill is in northern climates). Same thing with fennel (Which has a very licorice or anise-like aroma). Here’s some info on anise from

Generally people will make use of plants that they have always been growing (in this case, anise). So, since it is native to the meditteranean, they would be using quite a bit of it (Just like they do with olives). A lot of things other cultures turn their noses up to are aqquired tastes that you grow to love over time. I think drinking that stuff is more tradition than necessity now.

As the little quote says, it was valued for medicinal qualities. I suppose they thought “if drinking it when we are sick helps, then i guess drinking it all the time couldn’t hurt”, thus a tradition is born.

I always wondered what was the attraction for using juniper berries for gin :).
BTW: Fennel grows as a weed here in Monterey. As a kid I used to call it licorice plant. A lot of the Sicilian housewives and grandmas would go out and harvest it from the empty fields where it grew wild.

My slightly less WAG:

The recipes for the anise liquors were originally for absinthe. When people started getting leery of absinthism, they just took out the oil of wormwood and put in a little more anise.
“Wormwood had been used medicinally since the Middle Ages, to exterminate tapeworms in the abdomen while leaving the human host uninjured and even rejuvenated by the experience. At the end of the 18th century – the age of revolution and skeptical humanism – the herb developed a recreational vogue. People discovered they could get high off it. The problem was the means of delivery, as it was unacceptably bitter in taste.”

"An undocumented distiller – perhaps in a pastoral convent or monastery – found the answer by inventing absinthe, which delivered both the herb and alcohol in a stunningly tart beverage, with a flavor resembling licorice. "

“Pernod is basically absinthe without the wormwood. It is named after Henri-Louis Pernod, an individual who ran an absinthe factory in France in the early 1800s. As a substitute for wormwood, the modern drink Pernod uses increased amounts of aniseed. Ricard is the name of another modern wormwood-less absinthe.”

"After its banning, imitations, using anise and other legal herbs in place of wormwood, appeared. "

WAG: So people got used to the taste of anise from the absinthe, and started putting it in anything (ouzo, etc.).

BTW, I also dislike fennel and dill (except on salmon). I must have some strange antipathy for that plant family. I will tenetively agree with rjk about Drambuie (although there is a bit of anise in that too…grr) if you mix it w/ equal parts scotch for a rusty nail. It’s too sweet on its own.

“Eppur, si muove!” - Galileo Galilei

Mostly I follow, except for this quote. Herbs are as common in northern climes as southern, but are not much used in drinks (although, juniper berry - good point Doobieous). Whereas the honey or fruit flavored drinks are almost all northern, even though just as many fruits are available in So.Europe.

Perhaps the availablility of the raw materials based on land-ownership or access to wild lands forest resources ?
I.E. raspberries, etc… grew wild in publicly accessible forests in Holland, Germany, etc…, but in Italy and So. France all “wildlands” crops (fruits, honey) were cash crops & more closely held, so the only free materials were herbs/weeds ?

The main point I was making was that the most widespread drink in the north was beer, which doesn’t take to other flavours as well as wine, and doesn’t keep.

In the paragraph you quote I just intended to say that maybe only southern distillers (or their customers) could make the relatively long-term investment required to age their liqueurs properly. Northerners might not have been able to do so, and could have been used to drinking up their liquor fresh, which would tend toward using flavourings that don’t need so much aging.

Can’t anybody out there stop this WAGging for us with some real facts?

Bob the Random Expert
“If we don’t have the answer, we’ll make one up.”

rjk writes:

Actually, these are misperceptions.
The use of the herb hops is ancient, dating back to Talmudic times and probably before. An unhopped commercial beer is so far outside the experience of most of us that we are led to believe that hops are an essential for beermaking. Possibly the Reinheitsgebot further influences us in this direction. As an aside, I note that the Reinheitsgebot originally applied only to the territories of the Bavarian Wittelsbachs, and has never been held to restrict the making of beer (as opposed to industrial pseudo-lager, which should be opposed at every opportunity) in Germany; I mention weizens as an example of alternate styles, often flavored (after fermentation, granted) with such things as woodruff syrup.
Besides hops, many other pre-fermentation flavorings (collectively known as gruit) have been used in beer on a frequent basis. Spruce shoots are but one gruit that is still fairly popular.
Keeping ability appears to be almost entirely alcohol-content driven; there are “barleywines” (alcohol 12% by weight) that can be, and have been, kept over a decade. Contrawise, there is Beaujoulais, last year’s being unsuitable for washing the dog in. Need for aging appears to be related for the need for dissolved oxygen and surviving to change tannins, esters, etc., into something that the average imbiber can stand. Naturally, a style that goes from too harsh and astringent to consume, to vinegar, without an intermediate drinkable stage is a style that won’t be preserved.
The question of flavored/unflavored fermented and distilled beverages is probably better rephrased as: why are there so few unflavored beers, and so few flavored whiskeys. Here, I admit, my own prejudices probably begin to cloud the answers (I think that Dutch gin is one of the nastiest things in the world).

“Kings die, and leave their crowns to their sons. Shmuel HaKatan took all the treasures in the world, and went away.”

Also there’s Xtabentun, a drambuie-like honey anise made by the Maya in Oaxaca, in southern Mexico.