Italy can be thanked for numerous exquisite spirits and liqueurs.

Among them is Sambuca, a potent anise-flavored liqueur that falls into the same broad licorice-based category as Pastis, Raki, and Ouzo. Viscous in texture, the liqueur is generally sipped on its own, but when applied judiciously, it offers a singular flavor to cocktails.

Historically, Sambuca has been served as an after-dinner drink, ice cold or flaming, as one prefers. Perhaps the most traditional offering is Sambuca Extra con la Mosca served with three coffee beans floating on top to signify health, happiness, and prosperity. Sambuca also pairs naturally with coffee and espresso. Various brands are available, among them Molinari, Luxardo, and Averna.

Sambuca con Mosca

Sambuca con Mosca

Photo Courtesy of Molinari Sambuca

Italy’s Molinari distillery follows a centuries old recipe that includes adding flavored oils to straight grain alcohol, along with sugar and elderflower. Still, the predominant aroma holds a distinct licorice note.

Molinari Sambuca Extra is the world’s best-selling brand. In 1945, Angelo Molinary, a talented liquorista who lived in the port city of Civitavecchia that historically had received many spice shipments. Enamored of the flavor of star anise, Molinary started making his own anise-flavored liqueur, a DIY labor of love that eventually blossomed into Molinari. Today, the formula is still secret and the Molinari name is synonymous with La Dolce Vita, aka the good life.

Sambuca Extra

Sambuca Extra

Photo Courtesy of Molinari Sambuca

Molinari Kiss

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 oz. Molinari Sambuca Extra
  • 2 oz. Cognac
  • 3/4 oz. Antica Formula Carpano (Sweet Vermouth)
  • 1/4 oz. Aperol

Preparation: Shake all ingredients over ice and serve in a rocks glass.


Molinari After Eight

Ingredients:

  • 1 oz. Molinari Sambuca Extra
  • 1 oz. White Crème de Menthe
  • 1 oz. Cream or Half and Half
  • Ground Coffee, for Garnish
  • Mint Sprig, for garnish

Preparation: Shake all ingredients with ice until well chilled. Strain intoa martini glass. Sprinkle a little ground coffee on the top and garnish with a mint leaf.


Luxardo began selling spirits almost 150 years back, and its Sambuca became a fixture decades ago. In 1998 Sambuca dei Cesari won the Gold medal in the Liqueur category at the International Wine and Spirit Competition in London. Come 1999, the Beverage Tasting Institute USA awarded Luxardo’s Sambuca a 90 out of 100 in the Buying Guide to Spirits.

The distillery likes to celebrate its long history by tying its founders to the spirit that made it famous. One of its signature cocktails, the 666, pays some devilish respect to the six generations of Luxardo distillers, combining Sambuca with the complementary flavors of raspberry liqueur and pineapple juice. Their Liquor ‘ish Martini balances the Sambuca with Crème de Mure and lemon juice to make what is essentially a Sambuca Sour.

Liquor’ish Martini

Ingredients:

  • 35 ml Sambuca Passione Nera
  • 15 ml Crème De Mure
  • 4 Fresh Blackberries
  • 25 ml Fresh Lemon Juice
  • 25 ml Gomme Syrup

Preparation: Shake with ice. Strain. Serve.


Averna is a relative latecomer to the Sambuca world, introducing its varieties in 2008. It offers three variations on its Sambuca – Agrumi, Liquirizia, and Anice Stellato. The latter is a classic Sambuca with a strong, sweet licorice finish. Liquirizia opts for a dryer, aged, minty flavor, while sharing the smooth consistency of the Stellato. Finally, the Agrumi is the most traditional Sambuca from Averna, a sort of entry-level Sambuca.

Whether you freeze it, flame it, and mix with it, Sambuca is worthy of solo sipping or as a surprising cocktail ingredient.