Many people consider Hierbas Ibicencas to be a true representative of the typical gastronomy of the Spanish Balearic Islands. It is in fact a drink which is protected by the Regional Designation of Origin and has been made on the islands for over 200 years.
Hierbas Ibicencas is an aniseed flavoured drink which is made with a combination of the extracts and flavours of a variety of plant that contain aniseed. The colour of this Spanish drink should be between amber and green. In truth, the mixture of the plant extracts can often be so strong that it can actually mask the smell of the aniseed base of the drink. However this depends on the mixture and what ingredients were used. It is often the case that one particular aroma tends to dominate - such as fennel, rosemary or thyme.
This Spanish drink is very popular among the Balearic Islands, just off the East coast of the Spanish peninsular, as it is the place where the drink is made. The drink is also deeply rooted in the cultures and traditions of the people living in the Balearics, and it is often made at home. Every family has their own recipe for Hierbas Ibicencas and many claim to have the secret to the best version of the drink.
History of Hierbas Ibicencas
Liqueurs actually have a long history on the Balearic Islands. Monks living there were already developing them during the Middle Ages when they used wild herbs and alcohol for medicinal purposes - or so they say! However, true manufacturating of liqueurs did not start until the 19th century.
In the latter years of the 19th century, curiously on the island of Formentera, what we would now call the first spirit like drink manufacturing business in Las Pitiüses. Back in those days, a lot of the people living on Formentera would combine working as a fisherman, farmer and livestock breeder just to get by.
However, someone from the island was not content, and in around 1880, and decided to travel to Barcelona. Here, the islander learnt about the technologies for making alcohol such as the alambique - a still used to create distilled alcoholic beverages, among other things. Once they returned from their travels, they set up a small factory using all the knowledge they had gained about making alcoholic beverages. Later this factory would move to Eivissa, the Catalan name for Ibiza, where it still exists today. If you ever happen to visit Ibiza, make sure you go and check it out.
By the end of the 19th century, Hierbas Ibicencas liqueurs were being exported to other countries, including to South America, hence their fame and appreciation spread.
The Hierbas Ibicencas drink was approved for Regional Designation of Origin status in 1997, which means that it is now a protected drink which has guaranteed quality and is no longer threatened by competing drinks from outside of the designated region. The production of the liqueur is restricted to the islands of Ibiza and Formentera.
Production of Hierbas Ibicencas
According to the official description of the Spanish liqueur, Hierbas Ibicencas is defined as being an aniseed-flavoured liqueur which is mostly made using the extraction of aromas from various plants which can be found in the region in which it is produced. These plants include thyme, lavender, fennel, juniper, oregano, rosemary, mint, oranges, lemons, sage, eucalyptus, rockrose and camomile, among others. These are combined with other plants such as hierbas ibicencas, Balearic star aniseed and green aniseed.
The plant aroma extraction process begins with a period of distillation which is normally done in large, gas-fired copper stills for around 18 hours. Then the maceration process takes place which sees the plants put into a hydro-alcoholic solution for about 2 weeks. Finally there is an infusion process which sees the plants put into boiling water and then the mixture is then allowed to cool.
The resulting product is then mixed in order to create a liqueur which has an alcohol content of between 24 and 38%.
Today there are only 8 registered producers of the liqueur on the islands. According to the Ministry of Agriculture in Spain, the yearly production rate of the drink reaches a total of 1.2 million litres. So there will be plenty for you to try if you ever visit Spain.