It’s hard to describe their flavor, which strikes us as sweet and honeyed, something between a kiwi, a pear, a cucumber. That’s to say, it’s mellow but compelling, and an easy pairing for many cocktail ingredients.

By Carey Jones and John D. McCarthy
February 28, 2019
Photo Researchers/Getty Images

You know the pear, of course, but do you know the prickly pear? A fruit from the cactus family, they’re native to the Americas but now thrive in the Mediterranean, especially parts of Italy—like the southern Italian Fico d’India used in the production of the Washington, DC-based Don Ciccio & Figli’s excellent prickly pear liqueur

It’s hard to describe their flavor, which strikes us as sweet and honeyed, something between a kiwi, a pear, a cucumber. That’s to say, it’s mellow but compelling, and an easy pairing for many cocktail ingredients.

Given the fruit’s spiny exterior—cactus family, don’t forget!—they’re not the easiest ingredient to play around with. So if you’re looking to incorporate them into drinks, it’s only sensible to reach for a great prickly pear liqueur. Here are three cocktails that make the most of it. 

Easy: Prickly Pear Margarita

Due to the fruit’s long history in Mexican cuisine, it makes perfect sense to reach for tequila when making prickly pear cocktails. We’re using a high dose of the liqueur here—more liqueur than tequila, in fact—which leaves this drink fresh and juicy, with the fruit’s distinctive flavor coming through loud and clear.

Carey Jones

Instructions: In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine 2 ounces of prickly pear liqueur, 1 ounce of blanco tequila, 1 ounce of fresh lime juice, and half an ounce of agave syrup (that’s just agave nectar, cut 1:1 with hot water, stirred until dissolved). Shake that all up, strain it into a rocks glass with fresh ice and garnish with a few lime wheels or half-moons.

Intermediate: Prickly Martini

We’re not a fan of the ‘00-era tendency to call any fruity drink with vodka a “martini.” But we do, in fact, think this qualifies: It’s high-proof and nearly translucent, with the prickly pear flavor, mellow as it is, almost a supporting flavor to the vodka, rather than a sweet fruity mask. Don’t skip the bitters or the lemon twist here, both of which are essential to elevate the prickly pear’s flavor.

Carey Jones

Instructions: In a mixing glass with ice, combine 1.75 ounces of prickly pear liqueur, an ounce of vodka, and a quarter-ounce of simple syrup, plus two dashes of orange bitters. Stir until well-chilled, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Take a long lemon peel, squeeze over the surface of the drink, and garnish.

Advanced: Irish Prickly

You won’t see many prickly pears growing in Ireland, but it turns out the fruit’s rich sweetness is a lovely, if slightly unorthodox friend of mellow Irish whiskey and a judicious dose of honey. Stir them all together and you’ve got a drink that any fan of an Old Fashioned or Manhattan will appreciate, but with a hard-to-pinpoint fruit element slid right in.

Carey Jones

Instructions: In a mixing glass with ice, combine two ounces of Irish whiskey, an ounce of prickly pear liqueur, and a quarter-ounce of honey syrup (equal parts hot water and honey, stirred until dissolved). Stir until well-chilled, then strain into a rocks glass with fresh ice. Take a long lemon peel, squeeze over the surface of the drink, and garnish.

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