Of all after-dinner drinks out there, Sambuca is one of the best known. Generally colorless, the anise-flavored liqueur is served neat or with water, or sometimes as a shot with three coffee beans—known as con la mosca, of "with the fly."
But let's get beyond shots. Sambuca pairs well with any number of spirits. Give it a try in these three simple cocktails and see if you can't come to appreciate Sambuca in its own right. We're using Sambuca from Luxardo. The Italian distillery is best known for its incomparable Maraschino, but produces other liqueurs that are just as tasty.
Easy: Sambuca Sazerac
As classic and boozy as a cocktail can get, the Sazerac relies on a stiff pour of whiskey, and both absinthe and Peychaud's Bitters (a bit anise-y themselves). Here, we're changing it up a bit. Just a rinse of absinthe is traditional; but since we're using the less-potent Sambuca, we want to use a full ounce. You also need a powerful whiskey to stand up to the anise flavor. We like how it turned out with the high-proof Booker's Bourbon, though an overproof rye would work as well.
Instructions: In a mixing glass with ice, combine 2 ounces of overproof bourbon (we're using Baker's) and an ounce of Sambuca. Add 4 dashes of Angostura bitters. Stir until well-chilled. Strain into a rocks glass over ice. Garnish with two big twists of lemon peel—twisting both over the surface of the drink to spray their citrus oils all over.
Intermediate: Sambuca 75
The French 75 is not only one of our favorite cocktails but one of our favorite templates for cocktail experimentation. Sambuca’s anise bubbling up alongside lemon and sparkling wine makes a perfect combination.
Instructions: In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine 1 ounce Sambuca, 1/2 ounce of freshly squeezed lemon juice, and 1/4 of simple syrup. Shake that all up and strain into a champagne flute. Garnish with a long, skinny lemon peel—add this before the sparkling wine, or it'll bubble up too fast when you put it in—and top with 4 ounces of sparkling wine. Add a brandied cherry too, if you like.
Advanced: Sambuca Summer
We feel that good tequila is heavily underrated as a mixing spirit. (For most folks, it stops at the margarita.) But silver tequila, like the Patrón Roca Silver we’re using here integrates beautifully with the herbal-anise flavors of Sambuca. To round out the cocktail? Lime and agave.
Instructions: In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine 2 ounces silver tequila, an ounce of freshly squeezed lime juice, 3/4 ounce Sambuca, and a quarter-ounce of agave syrup (equal part agave dissolved in hot water). Add two dashes of orange bitters, if you have them. Shake that all up and strain into a tall glass with fresh ice. Top with half an ounce of soda water. Garnish with lime wedges.