Bottoms Up: Sambuca

Recently turned 21 and returning to the College for the first time in more than a year, I decided it was time to shake things up, alcoholically speaking. I wanted to let my taste buds in on the fun for once. I wanted to class things up on a budget. This line of thinking led me to Sambuca, a formidable, unique and Italian anise-based spirit.

I first had the pleasure of tasting Sambuca a few years ago at a house party in London while visiting my cousin. Rumor has it that Sambuca is in fact very popular in British clubs. It was a pretty standard party: I was mingling with the Brits and sipping some nice beers, but then a bearded kid came up to me with a bottle of clear liquor emblazoned in blue with an image of the Roman Coliseum.

This bearded fellow was so enthusiastic about this drink that he had started a Sambuca appreciation club at his high school and was planning on establishing a chapter at Oxford once he got to school. Even his enthusiasm, as well as the image of the majestic Coliseum, did not do Sambuca justice. I pledged this would not be the last time I tried Sambuca.

The first week back at Williams called for a celebration. Instead of rolling out the pong table and toasting with the same old same old, I decided I should introduce my friends (and reintroduce myself) to Sambuca.

So I purchased a bottle from West’s Wine & Spirits on Spring Street liquor store. It’s not as cheap as Popov or even more mediocre liquors, but the price is well worth it.

The bottle was very user-friendly, pouring at the perfect speed and allowing one to see just how thick and oily Sambuca is.

After I poured my shot I generously wafted the scents of the shot glass, which brought forth incredibly strong aromas of spicy mint and licorice. I may not have the finest nose or the proper training to accurately discern the various flavors that I’m sure are present in the nose of the drink, but it was enjoyable nonetheless.

I decided to sip the Sambuca; if there were ever a drink worthy of being savored it was this. The licorice-mint flavor is so strong that should one choose to take a shot, his sense of taste may disappear for the night.

It should be noted that the bottle suggests consuming a drink of Sambuca with three coffee beans for good luck. According to our much-loved and of course trustworthy source Wikipedia, Sambuca and coffee beans is referred to by the exotic Italian name, Sambuca con la mosca or “Sambuca with fly.” Sambuca can actually be added to coffee as a sweetener instead of sugar, if one wishes to have a little something with which to warm the belly while reading the morning newspaper.

It is an alcohol that can be served in versatile ways – feel free to stray from the standard shot glass. Serve it on the rocks: The ice enhances the flavors and intensifies the alcohol’s transparent color to pure white. Or, for less alcoholic bite, mix the Sambuca with fresh water.

As I sipped the Sambuca (unfortunately, with no coffee beans in sight), again I noticed how thick and oily it was, like cough syrup. This may sound disgusting, but it’s really not. The sweet mintiness is what I first noticed on my palate. This was quickly followed by a fiery, peppery licorice jolt, which really knocked my socks off. The fire stays with you for a while, and as much as I tried to be a man and take it, I found myself resorting to the occasional sip of Coke, which served as a good chaser.

The really great thing about Sambuca is that it’s good for other things besides drinking. I have the occasional penchant for lighting things on fire, and one can in fact do this to Sambuca. Sambuca is 84 proof, which makes it more flammable than your standard 80-proof liquor. So basically, Sambuca is meant to be set on fire. Doing so actually increases its flavor, not to mention that flaming alcohol is almost as good as some elegant flambe dessert. As I tend to be pretty clumsy, I asked for an assistant to turn the lights off and light up the shot glass of Sambuca. A blue flame floated on the meniscus, and my night was finally complete.

375 mL bottle of Sambuca: $18.75 from West’s Wine & Spirits

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