Pacharán is a Spanish liqueur which is made from crushed and fermented sloes, the black-purple coloured fruits of the blackthorn tree. This particular alcoholic drink is almost exclusively made in the Spanish region of Navarre where it is also known as Patxaran in the Basque language. The drink has been made in the region since the Middle Ages and has since, begun to expand.
Although little is known about the actual invention of the drink, it is known that the drink was produced and drunk by the Middle Ages. We know this as there are records of the liqueur being served as part of the wedding menu for the marriage of Gonofre de Navarre, the son of the Spanish King Charles III, with Doña Teresa de Arellano, which took place in 1415. We also know that the Queen, Blanca I, took pacharán for its medicinal properties when she fell ill at the Monastery of Santa María de Nieva in 1441.
The Blackthorn tree, which produces the sloe fruit used to make the drink, has been growing wildly across most of Europe for many centuries and has only recently begun to be cultivated in a controlled form in Navarra. In 1988, the Regulatory Council of Navarre Pacharán was established which to this date is the only organisation that regulates the production quality and bottling of the Spanish liqueur.
This regulatory body also oversees which companies are included in the Designation of Origin of the liqueur, which is now part of the larger Designation of Origin of the Artisan Products of Navarre.
Today, the liqour is almost exclusively made in the Spanish region of Navarre and is mostly consumed in the region of Navarre, the Basque Country, La Rioja and Aragón. Pacharán liqueur is not well known in the rest of the country although you may find some in important cities in Spain such as Madrid or Valencia. However, the drink in these areas tends to be known as 'licor de Zoco', which was the name of one of the first brands to be sold outside of the region of Navarre. In 2000, the amount of pacharán sold in the country reached a total of 7.7 million litres!
In the last few years however, manufacturers of the drink have noticed an increase in the amount of bulk orders of the drink although many people refuse to pay the duty on the alcohol which is hurting the law-abiding producers. It is thought that around 1.5 million litres of pacharán sold is actually illegal. Of course, nothing beats the true liqueur from the traditional producers!
Manufacturers also have the issue of home-brewing to deal with. Due to the fact that the drink has been around in the region for so long, many people make their version at home - something which may also explain the amount of illegal pacharán on the market.
The Pacharán from Navarre should be red or an intense pink in color. Home-made versions which have been refined and filtered less will look a lot more cloudy. True pacharán should have an intense, fruity smell and you should not be able to notice the smell of alcohol.
Pacaharán is normally drank from a glass and should be served cold, around 6-8°C. Sometimes it can be served with ice, but make sure that there is not too much ice as this can dilute the flavour.
Normally, people drink this Spanish liqueur after a meal as it is said to help with digestion. The sloe contains Vitamin C which is good for you and it is also said that the drink has medicinal properties, especially for curing stomach problems and pains related to old age. However recently, people have begun drinking pacharán just as a stand-alone drink during the evening. Its sweet flavour is very tasty hence the drink is often drunk neat. However, some people prefer to mix the drink with a soft drink as well. Despite this, the drink is very strong, having an alcohol content of between 25 and 30% and it can give you a very bad hangover. So drink with moderation!