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The magic of Hierbas Ibicencas

The essence of Ibiza in a bottle.

Ibiza is an island with many magical properties that combine to make it such a special place. One of those ingredients is the local liquor, Hierbas Ibicencas. Anyone who has visited the island will, at some time, have tried a glass of Hierbas Ibicencas, either after dinner, as a digestif, or lined up along the bar as chupitos (frozen shots) at the invitation of a friendly barman.

There are few drinks that have the power to produce conviviality, as a shot of Hierbas can. It is sweet and smooth, with just the right amount of alcohol to make it easily drinkable and induces an instant feeling of well-being and happiness. Sure, there are some who will recoil at the taste, but the majority keep coming back for more. So, what is the secret of this delicious amber liquid?

Wild aniseed growing in Ibiza

Hierbas making is a tradition that goes back over 200 years on the islands of Ibiza and Formentera and spring is traditionally the time of year when Abuela (grandmother) starts to prepare the homemade brew. The basic aroma is of aniseed, derived from Anisette (Anis in Spanish), an anise-flavoured liqueur that is consumed in most Mediterranean countries, which forms the basis of the drink. Whether made at home, or at industrial scale, it is this basic liquor, to which up to 30 different wild herbs are added, creating a unique blend of flavours.

As the name suggests, Hierbas is made from Ibizan herbs, essentially anything that is found growing in the local vicinity. Flavours of Hierbas can vary quite widely, according to the mixture and concentration of herbs that are added; either in their entirety, macerated or as subtle infusions. Key ingredients are laurel (bay) leaves, rosemary, lavender, frigola (a local wild thyme, Thymbra capitata), fennel tops, camomile and the leaves and peel of oranges and lemons.

Ruta graveolens

Additionally, any preferred combination of the many aromatic and medicinal Mediterranean plants that grow on the island are introduced – such as ruda (Ruta graveolens or rue in English), eucalyptus, oregano, various types of mint, sage, juniper berries, lemon verbena and wormwood (Artemisia absinthium). Plus, many more, to give each blend its own distinct signature.

In 1880 Juan Marí Mayans, a sea trader from Formentera, established the first known industrial distillery of Hierbas Ibicencas in Ibiza and is the most likely the brand you have sampled on holiday. The family business now produces many thousands of bottles of the liquor every year, exporting them around the world (though not to the UK sadly).

Home-made Hierbas by Stivi Stivanello, using Anissat Dolç by Can Nadal.

Nevertheless, there is still a thriving cottage industry producing unique versions of the liquor, which you must check out while on Ibiza. Various vineyards, families, restaurants and bars produce their own Hierbas recipes, in large bottles or copper stills. It is always worth asking for an Hierbas caseras (home-made) if offered a digestive in a bar or restaurant, to do a little of your own research...

And you can make it too, so why not give it a go? Experimentation is the fun part. Find a large, sterilised bottle with a good stopper, drop in your own combination of the fresh herbs, fill it up with anise, then leave it to ferment for around six months. Once opened, strain it into new bottles and serve with ice. Salut!

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