In 209 B.C., the Roman legions conquered the city of Quart Hadas (now Cartagena, Spain), presumably to acquire a strategic outpost in the Mediterranean. Once they got settled in, they discovered an exotic liquor flavored with local herbs and citrus fruit. The image of this liquor was a bit too exotic, however, and the Romans soon banned its production.
Like most attempts to suppress the creation of alcohol, the ban was ineffective. The tradition of making this particular spirit was entrenched among the locals, and they continued to produce it in secret. We all know there are few better ways to create demand than telling people that they can’t have something, and in this case it worked. The potion became extremely popular among the upper echelons of Roman society, where it was referred to as Licor Mirabilis (“Marvelous Liquor”), and it became a hot commodity in the farthest reaches of the Roman Empire.
Today that potion is known as Licor 43, or Cuaranta Y Tres. The recipe is a secret, but we can gather that it’s still made with a variety of citrus fruits (highly prized in the Roman era, but more commonplace today) flavored with vanilla and various spices. The trademark is owned by Diego Zamora, a Spanish producer of wines and spirits, and the headquarters are still in Cartagena.
The nose of Licor 43 ($26; 62 proof/32% ABV) can only be described as sensual: Aromas of vanilla, bitter oranges and wildflowers waft up from the glass. In the mouth, the texture is rich and viscous on entry, giving way in the mid palate to a fascinating interplay between sweetness and spice. The flavors layer your tongue and expand gently onto a surprisingly long finish.
Because it is a liqueur, Licor 43 has a very wide range of cocktail recipes, and the blend of citrus and vanilla gives it a sweet-sour note that presents some interesting possibilities. As always, the best cocktail is a simple one that you invent yourself, but these three are a starting point:
1/3 oz. Licor 43
1/3 oz. maraschino liqueur
1/3 oz. Triple Sec
1/3 oz. Yellow Chartreuse
1/3 oz. Benedictine
Combine ingredients in mixer with ice; stir, and strain into a cocktail glass.
2 oz. sweet Sherry
1 oz. Spanish brandy
.5 oz. Licor 43
1/3 oz. lemon juice
2.5 oz. lemonade
Add ingredients to an ice-filled highball glass. Garnish with a slice of Seville orange speared with a cherry.
2 oz. Jose Cuervo 1800
1 oz. Licor 43
.5 oz. Curacao
.5 oz. sour mix
Dash orange juice
Shake with ice, and serve in a chilled Old-Fashioned glass.
ABOUT THE BOOK: Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History, by Mark Spivak, is published by Lyons Press (Globe Pequot). Writing in an engaging and appealing style, Spivak chronicles the untold tales of twelve spirits that changed the world and forged the cocktail culture. While some are categories and others are specific brands, they are “the best kinds of stories---the type a writer could never make up.”
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