There can be no doubt about the fact that the most famous alcoholic beverage in Spain is wine, and as such there is a large wine industry that exports bottles throughout the world. However, within the country, there is a strong culture surrounding the production of home-made liqueurs. Many of these recipes began life in kitchens up and down the country, before being commercialised and sold by factories.
Although they are popular within Spain, only the occasional bottle makes it outside the borders. Therefore, being a connoisseur of Spanish liqueurs will show that you have truly undergone a Spanish immersion into the culture and gastronomy of the country.
What is a liqueur?
Here at Spanish wines we have decided to make a distinction between spirits and liquors, and liqueurs as they are in fact quite different. Spirits and liquors are alcohols that have been produced from fermenting and distilling an ingredient, such as rum or brandy. However, a liqueur is produced when an alcohol is then flavoured or aromatised with another ingredient such as herbs, fruit, flowers, spices, or beans, among others.
This is the reason why there are so many liqueurs to be found in Spain. Thanks to the diverse climates of the country, as well as the influence of the country's many visitors and expeditions, Spain has an extremely rich flora, and in particular a large number of aromatic plants such as juniper, thyme and aniseed.
History of Liqueurs
The idea of aromatising alcohol with other ingredients was originally used to create herbal medicines and antiseptics. Some of the earliest known examples of this process date back to the 13th century and were made in Italy by monks from various orders such as the Benedictine and Chartreuse monks. The word liqueur actually derives from the Latin word liquifacere which means 'to liquefy'.
However, further on in history, people began realising that they could make delicious, flavoured alcohols for consumption and so began adding more alcohol to the mixture and less herbs. Today, liqueurs are made throughout the world and are used in a variety of ways including over ice, in cocktails, in cooking and just enjoyed by themselves.
The Spanish liqueurs that we have included here vary in their histories. A number of them were developed in monasteries by monks who had originally made them for medicinal purposes as well as personal consumption. The majority however, were developed by people in their kitchens making use of the plants and other ingredients that surrounded them. Recipes and quantities vary between families and everyone claims to have the best one. It is thanks to this that there is such a large variety of Spanish liqueurs as the flora varies from place to place and region to region.
Popular liqueurs that were made in such fashions were then commercialised and began being produced in factories, however care and attention has been shown to preserving the traditional methods and ingredients used in the production of these liqueurs. Many of the liqueurs from Spain are protected by DOs or similar statuses. Despite the industrialisation of these liqueurs, many people still prefer to make them at home. So whether you stay with friends or family, or visit Spain on your own, make sure you try some of the country's most famous liqueurs.
If you feel that alcohol is much more than just wine, perhaps your palate is craving for something different or if you just have a thirst that our sections on Spanish wine can't satisfy, then why not check out our pages on the diverse types of Spanish liqueurs to be found by clicking on the links below:
- Aromes de Montserrat - A herby liqueur made in the Monastery of Montserrat
- Café licor d'Alcoy - A coffee liqueur invented by weavers from Alicante
- Cantueso Alicantino - A liqueur from Alicante made with thyme
- Herbero - An aniseed flavoured liqueur from the South of Spain
- Hierbas Ibicencas - A liqueur from the Balearic Islands
- Pacharán - A Basque liqueur from Navarre
- Palo de Mallorca - A liqueur made from the Quina plant
- Ratafia - A fruity drink made across Spain
- Resolí - A typical liqueur from Cuenca
- Ronmiel de Canarias - Honey flavoured rum from the Canary Islands