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Pour Yourself a Sambuca ‘n’ Beans 

Elderflower is very British. But why don’t we make more use of it? Like, make more sambuca with it

Sambuca gives coffee beans a whole new meaning. They are the traditional accompaniment to the anise-flavored Italian digestif which is too often overlooked by fans as well as enemies of Ricard, pastis, and ouzo.   

Sambuca is made from star anise, elderflower, and sugar.  It was first created in Civitavecchia, northwest of Rome, by Luigi Manzi around 1851. 

When in Rome, tipple as Romans. Served neat, on the rocks, it can be drunk after coffee as an “Ammazza Caffe” or added instead of sugar in a Caffe Corretto. Seven coffee beans represent the seven hills of Rome, should be lined up beside the drinker. A shot with one bean is called “con la Mosca” – with the fly. Three beans represent health, happiness, and prosperity. The shot may be ignited to toast the coffee beans. Remember to extinguish before raising your lips.  

Molinary sambuca

Founded in 1945, Molinari is the best-known brand.  As well as the super-premium Molinari Extra, they also own the popular Italian brand Limoncello Di Capri. The company is based in the coastal town of Civitavecchia. Molinari released a limited-edition Sambuca to celebrate its 75th anniversary. The family-owned Italian brand is Rome’s only remaining spirit producer.

Sambucus is Latin for elderberry. Manzi said he named it after the “Sambuchelli” watermen who worked between Ischia Island and Naples. Sambuca, whose most famous fan was Frank Sinatra, the only brand in Italy allowed to have “Extra” after its name. Sambuca doesn’t turn as cloudy as ouzo when water is added.

Sambuca n Coffee

Dr. John Walters’s English Spirit makes scratch-distilled 42% abv £38 English Sambuca. “One of the key things that makes this sambuca special is the base spirit: we’ve opted for the rarely encountered traditional route of using an elderberry eau de vie rather than neutral grain spirit as a base. The difference is obvious in the smoothness, mouthfeel, and intensity of flavor in the spirit.

Dr. Walters was one of the UK’s first premium craft distillers. In 2012, he launched the country’s first rum, “Old Salt Rum”, named after the salt depot in Dullingham, Cambridgeshire where he had his first distillery. As business boomed and the business expanded, he moved to Great Yeldham Hall in Essex and is opening a new distillery at Treguddick Manor, near Launceston in Cornwall. 

Having sold his pharmaceutical company, seeking a fresh challenge, and been inspired by a feature in eau de vie on BBC Radio’s Food Programme, the Oxford University academic biochemist applied for a distilling license.  

We start our Sambuca by distilling from an elderberry eau de vie in a copper pot stills. With no need to mask a fiery base spirit, we add just the right amount of star anise into the still. This means extracting all the flavors we want, without going so far as to leech out the undesirable bits like tannins and bitter oils. Finally, we add English sugar. Just enough to enhance the intrinsic flavors and bolster the luscious mouthfeel. It should revolutionize what many think about aniseed and convert them to staring at the melting ice and the lovely pearlescent haze.” 

Dr. Walters explains that aperitifs drive our blood sugar down. They reduce hunger pangs. A digestif assists with the emulsification of fats in meals to aid digestion. “It’s great paired with Welsh lamb to settle the stomach. Basting the lamb with a few coatings of English Sambuca, mixed with chopped lavender and rosemary, makes for a cracking meal. 

“Burning it seems a complete waste to me. As well as a significant risk to one’s safety.

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