Herbero de la Sierra de Mariola, which is more commonly known just as Herbero, is a Spanish spirit that is made in the province of Alicante in the South of Spain. This aniseed flavoured drink is produced by distilling and/or macerating various plants that grow in the Sierra de Mariola region, with alcohol made from an agricultural product.
The end product has an alcohol content of between 22 and 40%, and can be anywhere from transparent to light yellow to green and even to pink in colour. The aroma can depend on the plants used in the recipe, but in general it should smell rural. Herbero can be served either at room temperature or cold, and should taste dry with a background taste of aniseed.
This Spanish alcoholic drink from Alicante is also often drunk as part of a cocktail from the region called 'mesclaet'. This cocktail is made of half herbero mixed with half cantueso alicantino. If you ever happen to visit Alicante, keep an eye out for this cocktail in the bars as well as the drink by itself as well.
History of Herbero
The origins of this Spanish drink are mostly unknown, and there is an added difficulty in the fact that it is hard to separate the actual creation of the drink and its link with the popular tradition. There are a number of different drinks that are made in the various areas of Alicante, each with their own specific identities based on the plants used in them, their production method, and the climate needed to produce them correctly. Herbero, like most of the distilled beverages from Alicante, can therefore be traced back to the times of the Moorish occupation of Spain as it was the Moors that brought the technology of stills and the distillation process to the Iberian peninsular.
The Sierra de Mariola area of Alicante is particularly famous for its wonderful flora. In the driest areas, there are no forests, but the flora is made up of hardy, adaptable plants which grow well in the dry, arid terrain. The majority of these plants are aromatic plants and were most likely first used for medicinal purposes. However, with the introduction of distillation, the Herbero de la Sierra de Mariola was born.
It is therefore likely that this Spanish drink was made by a resident of the region in their kitchen before passing into tradition and common knowledge across the region. It was only at the end of the 19th century that Alicante herbero began to be manufactured commercially.
Production of Herbero
The main plants used in the recipe vary from place to place, but the most common are sage, thyme, pennyroyal, bulrush, lemon verbena, agrimony and fennel. Any of the plants that are used to make the drink should be collected when they are at their maximum flowering point. They should then be washer and dried before being used. The number, type and quantity of plants used are completely up to the person or company making the Herbero.
However, the original version would have depended on whatever plants were growing in the area. Hence traditional, home-made herbero can contain at least four of any of the following plants: peppermint, thyme, anise, chamomile, fennel, sage, lavender, savory, lemon verbena, pennyroyal, Blessed Thistle root, bullrush, melissa, agrimony etc.
The process of making Herbero de la Sierra de Mariola starts with the maceration of the various plants in an alcohol which will have been produced by fermenting an agricultural product. After this, the mixture is then distilled in copper stills. During this process, they remove any of the impurities which float to the top or sink to the bottom of the liquid.
Following this, some more alcohol and a little bit of water is added to the mixture which is then allowed to rest for a while. After resting, the herbero is ready to drink. For the commercial product, the liquid is often filtered before being bottled and sold to consumers.
This process and the drink itself is regulated by the denominación de origen 'Distilled spirits of Alicante', the same body that also protects the other drinks which are made in the region including the anise paloma, cantueso alicantino, and the café licor of Alcoy. If you ever decide to visit Spain, make sure you try out some of these Spanish spirits and liqueurs - you won't be disappointed.